Visible Learning or Teachers, advises us to begin any initiative with the success criteria--what will the completion of the initiative look like when it is done successfully? As I think of school year 2018-2019 and the school and systemwide goals, I have identified my teaching/learning success criteria which is that the year will result in happy students who are aware of their learning goals, the rationale of those goals, and the progress they are making towards those goals.
For example, it's my hope that at the end of the year each of the students I teach will be able to say, this year I learned ____; I learned this because _______, and the progress I made was _________.
How will I teach so that my students will reach this success criteria? What will I do?
First, with every teaching unit and learning experience (lesson), I'll make the time to think about the rationale--why are we learning that specific information, skill, concept, or process? I'll also think about the many paths available related to that learning and the ways that students can assess their own progress toward the learning goal.
first lessons of the years students learn and use variables as they figure out the numerical value of their names. Using A=1, B=2, C=3. . . Z=26, students determine the point value of their first names. This is a fun way to learn about variables and a good way to get to know each others names. Later as the learning experience continues students find the values of their last names, their teachers' names, and later they work to find words that have an exact value of 100. As they look for those 100-point value words, they can also think about an algorithm or simple computer code that will figure out 100-point words easily. I like this lesson as it has a good reach from simple to complex, and it also introduces variables, provides practice with simple computation, and encourages algorithmic thinking. From a teacher's vantage point, this lesson also provides a nice opportunity for assessment as to how a child navigates a multi-step math problem including the way they question, persevere, collaborate, and complete the project.
As I think of reformatting this learning experience to match the year's success criteria, I am thinking of how I will discuss these questions:
- What am I learning? You are learning what a variable is and how to use a variable to solve a simple problem. You are practicing the use of variables and becoming comfortable with their use, and if you are ready and willing, you are learning how to write an algorithm and/or computer code to solve a math problem.
- Why am I learning this? Why is this important? You are learning about variables as you will discover that using variables helps you to understand, organize, and solve all kinds of real world problems. For example if I wanted to know how much it cost to fill each goody bag at a party, I might write the problem: the cost of balloons + the cost of candy + the cost of a yo-you = variable X where the variable X = cost of a goody bag. To be able to solve problems well is a very important life skill as there will always be problems to solve, and the more exact and efficient you are at this work, the better.
- How can I learn this best? With every learning event, there are many paths you can create and/or take to learn. It's good to think about those choices upfront at the start of the learning by creating a learning path. In this case you may decide to try the exercise yourself, work with other students, or work with a teacher. You may decide to read all the directions first, then reread the first direction and get to work, or you might break down the exercise into pieces by delving into the first section, then the second, and so on.
- How will I assess my progress? How will I know if I am making progress? With this exercise we'll help you with this. To make progress, you need to complete the following steps, and as you complete those steps, if you need help, ask a classmate or teacher. Remember, don't stay stuck, but also don't be afraid to give yourself some time to think on it and problem solve on your own.
- Find the value of your first name. Use the paper chart and a calculator to help. Double check your work, then check in with a teacher.
- Find the value of your last name and teachers' names? Double check and check in with a teacher.
- Try to find words worth 100-points. As you do this work, try to figure out a system or rule that will result in a 100-point rule every time. Share your findings with a teacher--that thinking will demonstrate your progress towards becoming a creator of algorithms or mathematical formulas that produce specific, desired results. You can chart your success by how many rules you can come up with that help you to find 100-point words.
- You will be able to define what a variable and algorithm is? A variable is a symbol for a number we don't know yet. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to follow.
- As I add numbers together in my head or with a calculator, I am becoming more accurate and efficient with that process--I am not as slow or as inaccurate as before. I am building my ability to be precise and systematic.
Of course in a teaching year, there are lots and lots of discrete learning goals and it's impossible for children to think deeply about every single goal, yet if the language of goal setting, rationale, and progress is repeated again and again, they will begin to use that language and think that way too when it comes to each and every learning endeavor?
In fact, as I think of this, I am thinking of the overarching goals of the year. The first is to become a better mathematician. Why is this important? I believe it's most important because to become a good mathematician is to become a strong problem solver, observer, and leader of the world around around you. When you can interpret your world with a mathematical lens you are better able to discern the precise patterns, relationships, and equations that exist, and to be able to precisely see and understand your world, is to be better able to navigate, problem solve, enjoy, and lead in that world. To make progress overall is to be better able to use mathematical knowledge to solve real world problems in efficient and effective ways.
When thinking about the overarching science standards, the big goal is for students to apply science and engineering design processes to solve problems and create solutions. This means that to make progress students will need to understand and apply the steps to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) inquiry, problem solving, and creativity regularly so that they naturally think and act systematically and holistically to better their circumstances and ability to live well in their world.
Further as I think of my third main teaching goal which is to elevate social-emotional learning, I am thinking about students' need to focus on CASEL's five main areas of SEL. Students need to understand the overarching rationale which is to understand and get along with others is essential to success and happiness in any realm. Then they need to understand that it is not necessarily natural to be good at all areas of social emotional learning, instead we have to learn and practice to develop our skills and abilities to be self aware, manage ourselves, be aware of the people around us, build positive relationship skills, and make responsible decisions. Progress will be determined by the way students use the language of SEL as they navigate their world, and how we as a class use this language and the related activity to work together to build a positive, proactive learning/teaching community. We can further this work through the school-wide service learning emphasis.
So central to all of this work will be the fact that learning is a lifelong proposition that doesn't only happen in school, but happens in all areas of life, and that learning is strengthened by our individual and collective awareness related to these central questions:
- What am I learning?
- Why am I learning this?
- How can I learn this best? What learning paths will I create and/or follow?
- How will I assess my learning to know if I am making progress and to understand what else I need to do to make more progress?
To embed the language and action of learning into the overall teaching/learning year is to meet the main goal of any teaching program which is to elevate students' ability to happily and successfully learn, live, and contribute.