What am I Supposed to be Learning?

You know that moment when you’re sitting in grad class or in a workshop and you’re thinking “What in the world is the presenter wanting me to learn here?”  Think of the feelings that brings up.  Frustration?  Annoyance?  At that moment, do you have a mindset for learning?

Do you think that ever happens to the kids in our classrooms?

A fifth grade teacher and I recently took her kids through the process of unwrapping standards and developing learning targets. In the past, this is something that the teachers did to direct their teaching.  However, this time, we had the kids unwrap the standard and they developed the learning targets.  They developed the path for their learning.  So, not only do we have a clear path for teaching, students also have a clear path for learning.

Here’s how the process went.

1. We posted the standard and simply allowed the students to tell us what they thought it meant.  The standard was Common Core Standard RI 5.9: I can integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.   Discussions included the meaning of integrate and how one knows whether the writer or speaker really knows the subject knowledgeably.

2. The students had never broken down a standard before so we modeled how to do it with the first learning target.  The students decided that even before they started integrating the text, they had to annotate the first text to understand it at a deeper level. Thus, our first learning target: I can take notes while reading to get a deeper understanding of the text.

3. Then, we put the students into groups and let them run with it.  They decided what the next learning targets were.  This was where the ownership in learning began.  This is when the path of learning was revealed.

Some of the discussions the students initiated at this point were:

  • How do I comprehend a text?  Will I need to determine importance?
  • What graphic organizer should I use?  Is there more than one I could use?
  • What about the text structure of the passage?
  • How do I effectively take notes?
  • How do I show that I really know something well?
  • How exactly do you integrate two or more texts? Find a theme, a topic, etc?

4. The class came to a consensus on the targets.  Here’s the final targets on our self-reflection and feedback document.

Self Reflection & Feedback Document

5.  The next step was to analyze success criteria, which was also very powerful in laying out the direction of learning.  I may expand on this process in a later post. Students were given three students samples of an end-of-the-unit writing applying RI 5.9.  After analyzing them against the learning targets, they put them on a continuum rubric.  Here’s a picture of that.

Success Criteria

Highly effective teaching is tough.  Deep learning is even tougher.   What we have to do in education is work smarter, not harder so that our students can be self-directed learners.   Having kids unwrap the standard and develop the learning targets opened the doors to learning. These students now know where they’re going and they are guiding themselves.  They’re on the path to learning, not just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.

The most amazing parts of this process was the deep discussions students led and took part in and the fact that they can very specifically describe where their learning is about to go.

A question that has been posed by some teaches is a valid one: How do I make time for this when I have so much to teach?  Our answer is “How can you not?”  This process will make the teaching and learning more productive because the students developed the path for learning and they know what they’re working towards.   As opposed to that frustrated and annoyance feeling we’ve all felt when we have no idea what we’re supposed to be learning. If you doubt this, refer to number 9 and 10 on this site of John Hattie’s work, which is a meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies.  It works.

Take a listen from two kiddos in the class:  

7 thoughts on “What am I Supposed to be Learning?

  1. Diane Sweeney

    I feel so lucky that I got to see this learning as it happened. Incredible work by the kids, teacher, and coach. Such a great blog post too. I especially loved the video clip and charts.

  2. Hi Mrs. Palmer, My name is Leslie Evans from Dr. Lomax’s EDM 310 class. I love how you let the students have hands on experience with the Common Core Standard. Using their own thoughts and explaining how to break the standard breaks down just from learning from you and the other teacher. This is a great blog post for the college students that are in process of becoming a teacher. It is also a good source for us and other people as well. Thank you for sharing this post with us!

  3. Courtney Doyal

    Hello Mrs. Palmer. I am currently in college working to become a teacher. This post is very helpful and inspiring. I really like that you allow the students to be hands on and you allow them to think for themselves. Your videos and illustrations were great. Thank you for the wonderful post!

  4. Alison Earley

    Hi Mrs. Palmer! My name is Alison Earley and I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I am currently working towards my elementary education degree. I loved reading your blog post. I think it is a very effective technique for teachers to use to get their students involved in there own learning process. As a future educator, I hope to one day use this method of teaching with my own students and get them motivated to learn!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post and the video of your students!

    Twitter: @alieli_beth
    Class Blog: http://earleyalisonedm310.blogspot.com/

  5. Mrs. Palmer,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. It is truly inspiring the way you involved the children in your class in this hands on activity. This will allow the children to evolve as learners who are capable of problem-solving or detailed research all on their own. The amazing part is that it is because of YOU! I hope to be as effective of a teacher as you appear to be. Thank you for sharing your findings with us.

  6. Hello there, Mrs. Palmer!

    My name is Courtney Browning and I’m a student at the University of South Alabama majoring in Secondary Education/Chemistry and for one of my education classes, I was sent to your blog to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this because it emphasized the importance of letting the student become a more efficient learner and also to help develop critical-thinking skills starting at a young age. “Work smarter, not harder,” is something that I’ll surely adopt in my thinking because although I’m not a teacher yet, I know what’s ahead of me and although there’s a lot to teach, teaching it in an effective way can not only help your students but you, as the teacher, as well because when you teach on a topic, we should make it easy to further their knowledge instead of confuse them. I truly enjoyed reading this and hope to be able to make my students as successful as yours!

    Class Blog: http://browningcourtneyedm310.blogspot.com

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