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Saturday / July 22

3 Decisions to Make 2016-17 Your Best School Year Yet

Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. – Malcolm Gladwell

As teachers, success in our classrooms and schools comes down to the decisions we make each and every day. To have the greatest impact on learning outcomes, these decisions have to strike the ideal balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. We make deliberate decisions about what and how to teach content, all while relying on our instincts as we build positive relationships in our classrooms and schools. The end of the school year provides a perfect opportunity to think back and reflect upon those experiences and events.

Next time, I will introduce this before that.
I will use a different approach when teaching that particular topic.
Next year, I want to use this strategy more frequently than I have in the past.

How do we take these reflections and deliberately think about what we would do differently in our classrooms, and then mesh this thinking with our instincts about our own students? In other words, how do we channel these reflections into future decisions about teaching and learning that have the greatest impact on student achievement? The answer is to focus on the most important decision points of teaching and learning:

1. For each classroom learning experience, what are your learning intentions and success criteria?
2. Which opportunities will you offer students so that they can recall, reorganize, and make meaning of their learning?
3. What type of feedback will you provide? And when will you provide it?

The decisions we make regarding these questions will have a significant and lasting impact on student learning. Let’s quickly unpack these three big ideas..

What Do You Want Students to Learn? How Will You Know They Have Learned It?

Before we can develop and implement any learning experience, lesson, or unit, we must establish clear learning intentions and success criteria. This is the first of the three decision points and sets the stage for successful decision-making on the other two points. Learning intentions articulate what we want students to learn and, as stated by Larry Ainsworth (2014), learning intentions inform all subsequent decisions in teaching and learning.

Success criteria clearly map out the evidence students must provide to demonstrate whether they have or have not reached the learning intention (Ainsworth, 2014).

In Table 1 you will find examples of learning intentions and the success criteria tied to them.

Learning Intention

To understand how the use of figurative language contributes to an author’s intended meaning To understand the relationships between the angles and sides of different types of triangles.

Success Criteria

Students will be able to generate examples of types of figurative language. Students will be able to describe different types of triangles based on the relationships between their angles and sides.
Students will be able to identify figurative language in fiction and non-fiction writing. Students will be able to compare and contrast different types of triangles based on the relationships between their angles and sides.
Students will be able to evaluate the use of figurative language and the contribution to the author’s intended meaning. Students will be able to calculate missing angles and sides using the relationships between their angles and sides.

Notice that in the above examples of success criteria (based on the standards and curriculum specific to the topic and grade level), each statement provides clear, measurable tasks that the learner must do to demonstrate success. The learning intentions and success criteria should be clear to us, as the teacher, as well as the students. Only then can we deliberately decide which opportunities to respond we will offer students so that they can recall, reorganize, and make meaning of their learning.

What Opportunities Will You Offer Students to Demonstrate Their Knowledge?

Once we have decided what the learning intention and success criteria are for the learning experience, lesson, or unit, we can’t simply shower learners with information and then expect them to perform the success criteria. This belief is equivalent thinking that standing in a forest will make us botanists. Ridiculous, right? So why do we do this with our learners? After determining the learning intention and the success criteria, the second decision we need to make is to identify what opportunities to respond will we offer students so that they can recall, reorganize, and make meaning of their learning. We must offer frequent opportunities for our students to make their thinking visible so that we can monitor their progress towards the learning intention and success criteria. Strategies include: jigsaws, carousel brainstorming, value grouping, think-pair-shares, concept mapping, writing prompts, non-linguistic representations, student questioning, teacher questioning, inside outside circles, three-minute pauses, pairs check, entrance tickets, or exit slips (Almarode & Miller, 2013).

Effectively navigating this decision point completely depends on the first decision point.   If we have identified the learning intention and success criteria, then the opportunities to respond should require students to engage with the content at least at the same cognitive level that is expected in the success criteria. That is, the verbs should match. If the success criteria uses the verb describe, the opportunities to respond should require the learners to describe. If the verb is compare and contrast, learners should have multiple opportunities to compare and contrast. Effectively navigating this decision point requires us to offer multiple opportunities to respond at the same cognitive level as the success criteria. Only then can we deliberately decide what type of feedback and when to provide feedback to students during those opportunities to respond.

What Types of Feedback Can You Offer to Help Students Achieve the Success Criteria? When Should You Offer That Feedback?

And now we look at the final decision point: what type of feedback and when to provide feedback to learners. Every opportunity to respond offered to students should make their thinking visible so that the teacher and the learner can clearly see his or her progress towards the learning intention. Therefore, every opportunity to respond is an opportunity for feedback. That takes care of the question when to provide feedback.  How about the type of feedback?

Great job!  Super work!  Now you’ve got it!  — Those statements don’t work. This type of feedback leaves learners asking, Great job at what? Super work doing what? I’ve got what?  Feedback during the learning experience, lesson, or unit should answer three main questions for both the teacher and the student: Where am I going?; How am I getting there? and Where do I go next ?(Hattie, 2012) Where am I going? refers to the learning intention and success criteria. Therefore, the feedback should be specific to both the learning intention and success criteria. Extraneous feedback that is not related to where the student is going provides cognitive overload and is detrimental to the learning process. How am I getting there? refers to the current location of the learner in his or her progress towards the learning intention. This feedback should be constructive and concise so that the learner has a realistic view of his or her learning. Finally, feedback focused on the question Where am I going next? provides timely information about the next area on which he or she should focus. Effectively navigating feedback is crucial in sustaining learning and should align the two previous decision points.

Making the right decisions regarding what students will learn and how they will demonstrate their knowledge, what opportunities you will offer to allow them to demonstrate their knowledge, and what type of feedback to offer will have a significant impact on student achievement. These decisions cannot be haphazard, leaving the learning outcomes of our students to chance. Instead, each of the three decision points must be made deliberately. So, as you think back on the year and reflect upon past experiences and events, focus on specific decisions made before, during, and after each experience and event and what you might deliberately do next year.

References

Almarode, J. T., & Miller, A. M. (2013). Captivate, activate, and invigorate the student brain in science and math grades 6 – 12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Ainsworth, L. (2014). Unwrapping the common core. A practical process to manage rigorous standards. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Hattie, J. A. C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Maximizing impact on learning.

New York, NY: Routledge.

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Written by

John Almarode conducts staff development workshops, keynote addresses, and conference presentations on a variety of topics including student engagement, evidence-based practices, creating enriched environments that promote learning, and designing classrooms with the brain in mind. John’s action-packed workshops offer participants ready-to-use strategies and the brain rules that make them work.

John is the author of Captivate, Activate, and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math, Grades 6-12.

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