Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Circle the Keywords

Unraavel is an acronym used by many teachers I know. It was created by Larry Bell and it has a specific goal to increase test scores. The second “a” stands for “Are you circling the keywords” and this step of Unraavel is really the most important when it comes to reading comprehension questions. Of course, I can only speak from my experience and my classtroom. My students are about half English Learners and almost 100% socioeconomically disadvantaged. Circling the keywords in the test questions guides their focus on “what to look for” back in the text.

I tell my students they have a better chance of hitting a target than just shooting with no target. The keywords may be chosen incorrectly at first, though the kids get wise quickly, but at least they are traveling back into the text with a compass of some kind. Choosing the right keywords can be fun when kids are rewarded for choosing good ones. Here is an example:

After reading a piece of text about the Incan Indians, a question on the test asks,

About how old was the Incan pottery?

The students would circle “how old” and “pottery.”

Now they are armed to go back into the text looking for these two keywords. I tell my kids they have most everything they need by finding keywords in the text. At that point they can find the exact answer in that context.

Unraavel is just one way to teach test taking strategies for standardized tests but I have found with my students in this given demographic, it is a very good one ideed.

Infographic: Key Ideals of Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia

Did you ever wonder what Monstessori believed? How about Waldorf and Reggio Emilia? I was sent this link and it’s a really helpful infographic for understanding all 3.

Click to Enlarge Image

The Big Three: Comparing Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia Learning Philosophies

Brought to you by Quill

Learning Objective

In EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson. It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words. Then I say it and have the class repeat it. You are establishing the goal of the lesson.

IAB_CL1_PX01642Series on EDI intro: Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is a set of teaching strategies assembled by Data Works, a research company in California.  I have been trained and certified as a trainer and have found it a great way to deliver effective lesson plans.  It consists of steps which you will find in each post in the series here.  I hope you benefit by the series.  Please leave a comment, let’s have a dialog.

In the teaching method EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson.  It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words.  Then I say it and have the class repeat it.  You are establishing the goal of the lesson.  This helps the students mentally prepare for the lesson.  Many times teachers do “forward questioning,” or, questioning without teaching.  Forward questioning is a big no no.  A clearly taught learning objective is the best weapon against it. Here are some teaching methods.

Even though EDI is the focus here, a learning objective is an excellent part of any lesson plan. You state what we will be doing and stay faithful to it through all stages of the lesson.  It’s like a target guiding what you do and what you assess in the end. Now, onto the second step of my favorite method of teaching.

Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

IAF_CL1_PX01192If you’re like me, you’ve been to hundreds of trainings, most claiming to be the greatest lesson method. Then, you learned they were good and bad but never universal. Have you ever sat down and tried to piece together the best of the best into something that works for you? Whether you have or not “knowingly” done so, that is the role of the teacher … to synthesize a lot of information, create, and innovate. I used to be a huge proponent of a method called “EDI.” In fact, my EDI posts get the most traffic of any posts here on the blog. I am proud to share EDI because plain and simple: it works! A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

1. Learning Objective: I have to introduce what I am teaching and what the students are expected to do in order to be successful after the lesson.

2. Engagement: This is a step I invented. It is what people often call a “sponge activity.” It can be a story, a puppet show, a short video, a game, anything that gets the learner absorbed into the subject matter.

3. Importance: I have found time and time again that when the kids know the value of learning the lesson, they are more engaged and thus learn more and faster.

4. Steps: Everything in education can be broken down to steps. This is often easier said than done. Taking time with the steps is invaluable toward getting kids to meet the demands of the lesson.

5. Guided Practice: Simply put, SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT. Use the steps and model over and over. I learned to play guitar by imitating Dave Sharp on the Alarm albums. I would move the needle back again and again until I knew every guitar riff. Kids are the same today with academics. Show them and then show them some more. Gradually release them to do it on their own.

6. Independent Practice: At this step they should be doing what they watched you do over and over. Make sure they can do it before you let them go on their own.

20120815-140604.jpg7. Small group intervention: There are usually going to be a group of kids who need extra guided practice. Take them to a side table which the whole group is working independently. Just repeat the steps of the lessons for as long as you have time or until they get it, whichever is first.

This is the lesson method I have developed through the years. I would really appreciate your comments of what you think of it, ie; how I might improve it. Thanks for being part of the Dynamite Lesson Plan professional learning community.

Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

Continue reading “Puppet Communication”

How Much Video Should We Use in a Lesson?

ClipjimideaVideo in education has become a widely used tool but is it as efficient as everyone says? When I was in public school in the 70’s and 80’s there were film strips and movie reels teachers used on rainy days or occasionally to provide better access to the core curriculum. Usually, videos were fillers more than innovation when I went to school. Not that I minded. As a student, where else would I have learned from Jiminy Cricket about “I’m no fool?” Or better yet Johnny Appleseed. With the advent of Teacher Tube and dozens of other well established educational video sites, we can safely see video as a better tool for education than it once was.

Video draws students in.

The culture of Spongebob and Youtube is stimulated by video. Students are reading less and tuning in to video more. I have found that even a quick mention of a character on their favorite show can perk up interest in subjects from the core curriculum. We should use cultural references to hook in interest but that’s another post. Showing kids video before a lesson on volcanoes can capture their attention and make comprehensible input more palatable. This is true with anything you teach. When grownups go to a conference, there is often a video intro for us. It unites us and excites us. Kids are the same way. Some teachers may fear what the Principal or colleagues might think if they see a video playing though. This may have good reason. How much video should we use in a lesson (that is justifiable)?

Video can be misinterpreted and distracting.

If you’ve ever used an analogy to make a point with kids you know some don’t get it. If you tell the story of the tortoise and the hare for example you will have a percentage thinking it’s about how turtles have shells and rabbits don’t. This is magnified with video. There are so many possible interpretations of video. Audio and video combine to lead even disciplined minds astray of the material being taught. I have read a little about the “flipped classroom” but have yet to believe it’s a good model. By teaching through video, you always run the risk of misinterpretation and distraction.

Get the balance right.

In the end, video is a powerful tool. Teachers must accept that it is there if they can use it. At the same time, we must beware that it can waste our class time. Of course every teacher should make she she/he is following their school/district guidelines on using video. As for me, I think a short snippet here and there can be very helpful in giving every child equal access to the core curriculm. Like any othet teaching tool however, you won’t know how effective it is until you try it. The balance for me is a well executed EDI crafted lesson with some audio/visual or realia introduced to interest the kids. A lesson should never be given as 100% video. I know that makes me a bit old fashioned but there it is. Teachers: what do you think?

Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

The Enigma of Setting Up Desks

Every new year teachers ask themselves “How should I put the chairs?” I know this because I have been a teacher for 13 years and I have seen the amazing difference desk placement and patterns can make in the classroom. I think what you decide to do depends a lot on what your goals are with the given group you have. And finally, the way you teach is very important to how you set the desks up.

Pair Share

If you look into my posts here on EDI and the CFU used in that teaching method you will see that pair share is frequently mentioned. There is a reason for this, I use it all the time. Often times kids can clarify new ideas to each other better than I can in my lesson. For this reason, it is important to me to put desks close enough so that they can engage in pair share. I used to think this could only happen with two desks connected at a time. Later, I tried it with 4 desks in a group. Pair share was not always happening in either of these groupings so I tried rows. These rows were just as conducive to pair share as the 2 by 2 setting. My conclusions? As long as students know who their assigned partner is, the desk arrangement matters little.

Behavior

I used to think rows were the worst arrangement for behavior but the last two years have taught me differently. My conclusion is to try rows this year and make observations about it. Students don’t have a small ecosystem, like a group of 5-6, where they can be distracted. I know it sounds old fashioned but I have tried all the newfangled ways from the modern books. They work ok but just about as good as rows.

Accessibility

I could write on and on about this. I think it is pretty self explanatory what it means. My random non-volunteer calling system keeps them on their toes. At the same time, I value a setup that allows me to get across the room easily from any place. The kids learn quickly that I can get to them and there is less off-task time. However this is achieved is not important so play around with that axiom.

My conclusion:

As many as there are ways to decorate your living room, so are there ways to arrange the desks in your classroom. The specifics are up to you. I value: access to pair share and teacher access to get across the room quickly. Of course there are individual concerns but for me and my year, these are what’s most important.