Monday, October 31, 2011

How Learning Targets Can Motivate Students...What Halloween Can Teach Us.

Trick or Treat!  Happy Halloween to all my education friends.  Isn't it amazing that even the students who are not so motivated to participate in classroom activities or extra-curricular groups are excited about Trick or Treating and wearing costumes?  My own daughter has been planning her costume for a month and knows what route to take through our neighborhood to collect the most candy in the least amount of time. She has a clear target - acquire as much candy as possible - and a clear plan to achieve that - wear a costume, go to lots of houses, get mom to carry extra bags for overflow candy.   Not all the kids out and about tonight will be moving at the same speed, have the same level of costume design or collect the same amount of candy - but they all have the same clear target....Using my knowledge of neighborhood geography and my public speaking skills, I will be able to collect as much candy as possible in one evening.

So, how can we use student friendly learning targets to motivate our students on a daily basis?  Remember the purpose of a learning target is to set the learning outcomes for a lesson - what the student should be able to do at the END of the instructional time.  Kids like to know where they are going and be included in the planning of how they are going to get there.  Learning targets should be specific and be standards based.  Learning targets need to be measurable or observable so that the teacher and students can provide feedback (formative assessments) as they work toward their target.  Students who have a clear understanding of what it is that they need to be able to do and why they need to be able to do it are more likely to be motivated to do the work involved with reaching that target.  Once students see value in their learning, they can begin to see that what they are doing in class also has value. Once they recognize this value, they are more likely to work in collaborative groups, give specific feedback to peers, participate in class discussions and spend time learning outside of school.  So, we do not need to dress up in our favorite seasonal sweaters and ties or pass out candy everyday to motivate our students.  We need to make sure that we are helping them to grow as learners by identifying what they need to know, why they need to know it and supporting them along the way.

Guiding Questions for Writing Clear Learning Targets

  • What have I done to make sure that the learning target is specific and standards based?
  • What scaffolding might I have to do in order for all of my students to achieve the target?
  • What extensions do I have in place for students who are ready to move on to a new target ahead of their peers?
  • How can I incorporate Bloom's Verbs into the writing of my learning targets to help differentiate them for students of all ability levels?
  • How will I assess or measure student mastery of the learning target?  
    • Will I use a rubric?
    • Will I use a project?
    • Will I use peer evaluations/feedback?
    • Will I use a checklist?
    • Will I use some sort of common assessment?
  • What is the time frame for mastery of the learning target - is it a single lesson or part of a larger unit, or maybe even a year long target?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of a lesson to help me differentiate the learning opportunities my students will be given?
  • How can I use the learning targets at the beginning of the lesson to help activate prior knowledge and experiences my students have had with the topic or skill?
  • How many "formative assessment" activities will I need to put into place to make sure my students are on the right learning path to master the target?  What will the activities be?

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