"Are we doing anything important today?" My Instructional Shift From Doing to Learning
In my college education classes—roughly a thousand years ago—I was taught to identify and note behavioral goals in my lesson planning, such as "students will read and discuss Ch. 10 of To Kill a Mockingbird," or "students will write a paragraph discussing characterization in The Great Gatsby." And I would write these activity goals on the board to answer students' perennial question: "What are we doing today?" or more annoyingly, "Are we doing anything important today?"
But now, I write one to two key learning goals on my classroom whiteboard, identifying learning goals, not activity goals. This is shifting our focus—mine and the students'—from what students will be doing in class today to what they will be learning in class today.
Now, my whiteboard might read: "Today's learning goals: (1) Identify and analyze the author's purpose in Ch. 10 of To Kill a Mockingbird. (2) Analyze the author's use of character foils in Ch. 11.
Or, instead of: "We will view and discuss a film version of The Great Gatsby," I might introduce our activity as: (1) Understand a director's use of juxtaposition by comparing and contrasting scenes in a film version of The Great Gatsby."
Instead of my former: "Today, we will watch a speech by Colin Powell and discuss his ideas," I might write: "Today, we will learn to name the rhetorical strategies used in an oral argument."
This daily articulation of learning goals, not an activity list, which I read to students at the start of class, has helped to focus students—and place my focus—on students' learning. It informs and reminds all of us of exactly why we are doing a learning activity. It focuses instruction, practice, and assessment on skills and knowledge attainment and acts as a continual reiteration of our GVCs.
I attribute this shift to a process that at times seemed an annoyance, just another district “hoop” to jump through, passed down from our principal to our department PLCs. To my chagrin, however, our department’s continual defining and refining of our GVCs to precise statements of desired learning for our students has resulted in better-focused instruction and communication to students.
I like this change so much that I also now type learning goals at the top of every assignment, which I read and clarify when introducing an assignment.
This articulation is helping shift the entire culture of my classroom to learning, not just doing; to skills mastery, not just points accumulation.
My grading is following this shift, as well. My grading measurement has shifted from a jar of points for completed assignments to a scale of proficiency for demonstrated learning of our PLC’s identified essential skills; and raising a grade has shifted from "do another assignment" to "demonstrate greater proficiency."