Learning Targets--Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
By Connie M. Moss & Susan M. Brookhart
I highly recommend that you read this book. It will really help your understanding of what Learning Targets are and their importance.
*I found used copies on Amazon.com-very inexpensive to purchase ISBN 978-1-4166-1441-8
I'm going to highlight the important points that I've taken from each chapter throughout the next few weeks so I hope you follow...
Chapter 4: Using Learning Targets to Feed Learning Forward
*The Power of the Classroom Learning Team
What students actually do during today’s lesson, when guided by an expert teacher has an enormous influence on their achievement. Expert teachers have deep content knowledge and a deep understanding of how best to teach that content. They consistently make better decisions than less-expert teachers about the learning targets they design and share, the degree of challenge they build into today’s lesson, the long and short goals they set for their students and the opportunities they employ to feed learning forward. Because they more skillfully monitor and assess student performances, they are able to provide highly effective feedback.
As they plan today’s lesson, expert teachers consider what typical (and not-so-typical) student progress looks like for the lesson’s content and design a range of specific learning strategies that they can use to help students move toward mastery. They create an appropriate degree of challenge in their lessons and prepare for student successes and struggles. Expert teachers spend more of the lesson engaging their students in challenging tasks that encourage students to commit to the target. In contrast, less-expert teachers spend 80% of a lesson talking while their students passively listen.
During a formative learning cycle, both halves of the learning team gather evidence of student progress and use that evidence to improve what they do. When students are trying on the learning target and applying the success criteria with their teacher, they produce evidence—feedback to the teacher—of what they understand and can do.
*Characteristics of Feedback that Feeds Forward
Effective feedback more strongly and consistently raises student achievement than any other teaching behavior. It provides students with “just-in-time, just-for-me information delivered when and where it can do the most good’ and it answers the three central questions of the formative assessment process from the student’s point of view:
-What knowledge or skills form my learning target for this lesson?
-How close am I to mastering them?
-What do I need to do next to close the gap?
*Feedback that Feeds Forward has Nutritional Value
Good food has nutritional value; it feeds our bodies. Think of effective feedback in the same way: it must have nutritional value to “feed” students forward. Stickers, marks, scores or general comments (good job) have no nutritional value—no information that students can use to set goals for improvement and choose effective strategies to meet those goals.
Effective feedback is nonjudgmental, positive, and descriptive. It arrives while students are learning so that they can use it to improve their work.
Feedback that feeds forward shares five characteristics:
1- Focuses on success criteria from the learning target for today’s lesson.
2- Describes exactly where the student is in relationship to the criteria.
3- Provides a next-step strategy that the student should use to improve or learn more.
4- Arrives when the student has the opportunity to use it.
5- Delivered in just the right amount—not so much that it overwhelms, but not so little that it stops short of a useful explanation or suggestions.
**There is a nice, “Feed-Forward Nutritional Chart” on page 65, 4.1.
It’s a chart that would let you keep track of…
What % of your feedback information…
-Compares what the student did with the learning target
-Describes what the student did well
-Suggest a specific next-step strategy
-Arrived during or close to the performance of understanding so that the students had a chance to use it to improve his work
-Uses developmentally appropriate, student-friendly success criteria language that the student understands
**The Mirror and the Magnet in the Meaningful Moment: Another way to think about Feedback that Feeds Forward
Feeding students forward helps them recognize the quality of their work and what they should do next to succeed while they still have time to use feedback to improve. The metaphor of the “the mirror and the magnet in the meaningful moment” is a great way to envision this process.
-The mirror—acting as a mirror, effective feedback provides an accurate picture of where the student is in comparison to where she needs to go. The student should be able to say, “Here is my distance from the learning target. I can tell where I am because these are the things I can do well, and these are the things I have yet to master.”
-The magnet—once your feedback mirrors the student’s strengths and reveals exactly where she can improve, you are ready to use your feedback as a magnet to pull her forward. Provide the student with a logical, next-step strategy that considers what she can do well and what she should do to improve.
-*The meaningful moment—describing where a student is and providing specific suggestions for what she should do next have little impact if the meaningful moment has already passed. Your feedback should arrive while your student still has the opportunity to use it to improve her performance. The combination of feed-forward information and the opportunity to use that information is what gives your feedback nutritional value. The fresher the food, the higher the nutrients, and the more timely the feedback, the more chance it has to influence student achievement.
*Feedback that Feeds Forward Fosters Student Goal Setting
Feedback that feeds forward helps students both get smarter and learn smarter by engaging them in targeted goal setting, a cognitive process that enhances achievement and motivation to learn—especially when the goal setters have some control over the outcome. The most successful students take charge of their own learning, viewing it as an activity they do for themselves in a proactive, self-regulated manner. An upward cycle of learning happens “when students confidently set learning goals that are moderately challenging yet realistic, and then exert the effort, energy, and resources needed to accomplish those goals.” The kind of goals that students set and work toward determines how they approach their learning.
All students want to achieve and do their best. But the reason why they want to achieve determines how they define achievement. In other words, what they mean by doing their best and how they go about getting there depend on the goal they have in mind for themselves—the why. The two types of goals that are discussed are performance & mastery.
Performance Goals—Some students frame their “why” as a performance goal. They want to look smart to themselves and others and avoid looking dumb. These students are more extrinsically motivated and rely on rewards or praise from others. They measure their progress according to others’ and seek feedback that flatters them. When students aim solely for performance goals, their learning tends to be superficial and short-lived rather than meaningful and enduring.
Mastery Goals—Help students frame their learning from a different angle: the “why” that motivates them is the desire to increase their competence, to “get smarter” by mastering new knowledge or skills. Focused by mastery goals, students understand that it takes effort over time to understand complex concepts and become skilled at a process or procedure. Mastery goals help students realize that they will not be experts on day one. Students who aim for mastery goals tend to challenge themselves to apply what they learn, to regard mistakes as inevitable, and to capitalize on errors as important sources of feedback. They tend to be autonomous, intrinsically motivated, and more productive than are students who aim exclusively for performance goals. They prefer appropriately challenging tasks—neither too easy or to out of reach—and expect to receive feedback on how well they are doing and how to improve. They judge their progress against targeted criteria, not against the progress of others.
*Teaching Effective Goal Setting During Today’s Lesson
Effective goal setting is not a natural part of what students learn to do in school. By design, a learning target focuses on what is important for students to learn today and on the criteria they will use to assess the quality of their learning—not on the score or grade they should aim for. The distinction between a learning target and a grade is crucial—when teachers encourage students to work toward a certain grade rather than to strive to master the important content that will yield that grade, they are selling their students short.
You can teach your students to value and set mastery goals by consistently feeding them forward toward their learning target. Use descriptive language that describes what they are about to learn, and give them specific look-fors to help them access their progress toward the learning target as they engage in the performance of understanding. The level of your students’ achievement will correlate with the degree to which you partner with them in pursuit of specific learning targets (rather than general “do-your-best” goals). It is important to help students commit to your goals and learn how to set goals of their own, remember that the most important factor is the level of challenge you set for today’s lesson. Teaching students to set goals that will not move them forward is an exercise in futility. Make sure that your words, actions, assignments, and assessments demonstrate that you value conceptual understanding and increased skill.
*Feedback that Feeds Forward Increases Self-Efficacy
Feeding students forward teaches them to recognize challenges, take steps to meet them, and set challenging goals of their own. It also increases students’ sense of self-efficacy—a motivational factor that plays a major role in how they approach goals, tasks, and challenges.
Students with a high sense of self-efficacy believe that they can perform well and are more likely to view difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than avoided and to persevere in tackling those tasks. These students are more likely to use effective self-regulatory skills and learn strategies like self-monitoring, time management, self-assessment, and strategic help-seeking. The best way to help students develop theses productive habits of mind is to feed their learning forward during a formative learning cycle.
*Feeding Learning Forward During a Formative Assessment Cycle
A formative learning cycle is a high-leverage process that brings the learning target theory of action to life.
Chapter 1 covered the Formative Learning Cycle’s five general phases:
1- Model and explain
2- Scaffold learning, goal setting, and self-assessment through guided practice
3- Engage students in a performance of understanding
4- Provide formative feedback
5- Give students the opportunity to use the feedback to improve their performance
The learning target figures prominently during each phase: it defines where “forward” is for today’s lesson so that both halves of the learning team can aim for it. The learning target is the reference point for the feed-forward information you provide to your students throughout the lesson as you partner with them to master essential content, recognize the learning challenges and the strategies they will use to meet them, monitor their progress, assess their understanding against specific criteria, and sustain their engagement over the long run.
Phase One: Model and explain
Your mission: model and explain the learning intention for today’s lesson by sharing the learning target, success criteria, and performance of understanding.
-Use goal-directed language that encourages students to set mastery goals for what they will learn and how well they will learn it.
-Dig into your expertise about teaching this content to identify the errors students typically make or concepts that confuse them.
-Explain the content or process in a way that draws students’ attention to trouble spots and helps them avoid misconception traps.
-Name and model content-specific strategies they can use.
Gather evidence of student learning.
Phase Two: Scaffold Learning, Goal Setting, and Self-Assessment through Guided Practice
Your mission: Balance the level of challenge with the support your students need to gradually assume more responsibility for their own learning. Establish the crucial link between explaining to your students what they should understand and be able to do and preparing them for a performance of understanding where you will see them actually do it.
-Provide a level of challenge that is slightly above what students can do on their own, supporting them with hints, cues, and suggestions to build competence and confidence.
-Fade your support as students become more competent to encourage and extend independence with specific concepts and skills.
-Ask goal-directed questions that scaffold critical thinking about success criteria to help students create a “mind map” for reaching the learning target.
-Teach content-specific strategies and reasoning processes that increase the range of strategies students can use during their performance of understanding.
-Observe and respond to class, group, and individual needs.
-Help students set mastery goals by encouraging them to apply look-fors to understand what quality work looks like for today’s lesson.
*Phase Three: Engage Students in a Performance of Understanding
Your mission: Feed your students forward as they use their newly developed knowledge and skills in a slightly different or more challenging independent practice format during a public performance of understanding. Encourage students to gather evidence along with you about what they know and where they need to focus their self-improvement efforts.
-Explain to students that the task or activity will help them try on the learning target, deepen their understanding of important concepts and skills, and make their thinking visible so that they can gather evidence of what they know and how well they know it.
-Encourage students to use look-fors to monitor the quality of their work as they are working
-Gather evidence with your students by asking them to supply reasons for the decisions they make.
-Identify areas of strength and confusion, common questions, and issues that you want to address in your feedback.
*Phase Four: Provide Formative Feedback
Your mission: Provide students with descriptive informative about what they did well, then provide suggestions for exactly what they should do next to increase their understanding and skill and improve the quality of their work.
-Use the language of the success criteria to describe exactly what students did well and why it is important to do more of it.
-To make students’ learning visible, describe the reasoning and self-regulation skills that contributed to their success.
-Ask students to compare their self-assessment with your feedback.
-Describe one or two specific areas where students can improve.
-Explain and model specific strategies that students can use to increase their understanding and skill.
-Provide targeted feedback to groups of students and individual students who need increased support to succeed.
*Phase Five: Give Students the Opportunity to Use the Feedback to Improve their Performance
Your mission: Maximize and gauge the effect of your feedback. Give students the golden second chance—the opportunity to attempt part of the performance again, this time informed by your feedback. This second chance benefits both halves of the classroom earning team: you will be able to gauge the effect of your feedback, and students will be able to improve their learning. Remember that feedback isn’t effective unless students recognize it as such and can use it to improve their work.
-Consider what students did well and what you suggested they do next to improve.
-Give students a specifically designed task that requires them to “do it again” using your feed-forward strategy to fine-tune or redirect their work.
-Stay in the “cognitive coach” mode by using feed-forward information to encourage self-monitoring, self-assessment, and goal setting as students engage in the task.
-Gather evidence that you can use to pint students toward success in tomorrow’s lesson.
Using learning targets that focus on what progress looks like for today’s lesson yields feedback that feeds learning forward, engages students as stakeholders in their own success, and prepares both hales of the classroom learning team for the increased level of challenge that will meet them tomorrow. Without a learning target, feedback is just someone telling you what to do!
Feeding students forward to become accomplished goal setters and confident, self-regulated learners has a tremendous effect on their achievement. To realize the full impact of the learning target theory of action, however, we must truly put students in the driver’s seat. We can do this by helping them become assessment-capable—that is, by fostering the skill and the will to examine the quality of their own understanding and make strategic decisions about how to improve.
Next week: Chapter 5—Developing Assessment-Capable Students
As I’ve said each week, this is a great book with a lot of examples, tables and charts that I’m not including in the post. I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of the book for further information and study.
Until next week…