When planning a lesson or unit of study, the first question we ask ourselves is, “What do we want students to know and be able to do?” Followed shortly by, “How will the students and I know when they are successful?” From there, we plan for instruction; I think of this as creating that pathway that will serve to direct students toward mastery. And we can all agree that when the students follow that pathway, then the learning that results is deep and transferable. Often, once that pathway is created, the teacher tends to lead, but if it is self-direction that we crave for our learners, then we have to start thinking about approaching instruction differently.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how teachers might continue to make that shift from being keepers of the knowledge to facilitators of inquiry. While many of us diligently share the “what” and “how” with students in the form of objectives, learning targets, and agendas, a void still exists somewhere between those expectations and the students. Much of the responsibility of learning still falls squarely on teachers’ shoulders. Students need a plan, and they need to be the captains of that plan. Since it is our responsibility to bridge student to content, I thought I’d take some information from Rick Stiggins’ body of work. He proposes facilitating students to ask three questions when approaching learning targets: “Where am I going? Where am I now? How can I close the gap?” These are questions students must be spurred to ask. So, how do we get them started? A couple years ago, I created, or rather adapted an organizer of sorts from Carolyn Chapman and Nicole Vagle’s text, 25 Strategies to Light the Fire of Engagement (2010) where they too explore Stiggin’s questions:
My intention with this organizer was to ensure that my students understood the learning targets before putting on their thinking caps. Another reason was to engage students in self-assessment throughout the learning process, to put them in charge of their learning, to make them work harder than I did. And this self-assessment needs to take place almost daily, or at least whenever new learning targets are being introduced so that students can master the standards. Even if you don’t have students put pen to paper around the three questions, a “turn and talk” also serves to ensure student ownership of learning. Once students have committed to learning the targets, I have them keep this organizer on top of their desks. This serves as a reminder for them as to where they are going and how they intend to get there.
Another we might use this is to have students reflect on the outcome of an assessment. Do they understand the content? Will they be able to transfer this learning? Might they need to revisit the content to learn more? Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to , Myron Dueck, author of Grading Smarter Not Harder (2014), as he highlighted the importance of connecting students to learning targets, about how they must note the target, assess where they are, and make necessary adjustments to get there. “We don’t move the target; we make appropriate adjustments.” Here too, the emphasis is on the students addressing the content and evaluating where they are in relationship to that content. It is not about teachers “closing the gap”, but rather students doing what is necessary to learn, freeing us up to facilitate that deep learning.
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