8 Questions to Tackle in Setting Instructional Outcomes

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

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The tale of two districts…as told by an over active planner!

One district spent all its money on a new elementary building, but not updating curriculum. The other district spent all its money on curriculum and the school buildings were in major need of repair.

As a new teacher, I navigated creating instructional outcomes for my students in a brand new school. The curriculum I was required to use was the same as what I was taught 15 years prior. In fact, so much had happened in the world that the history books contained a multitude of bias and changes in geographical borders that it was comical. At this time, the state of Montana only had standards for grades 4, 8, and upon graduation. School districts were supposed to fill in the blanks in between. Our district paid a curriculum consortium to support us in filling in the blanks. My principal at the time gave me the latitude to design my own curriculum as long as I followed the consortium's devised standards. Looking back, I think this would be extremely difficult for a new teacher to tackle. I believe it was one of the best self-described professional development opportunities in my career. The ability to create curriculum that followed standards and built on prior learning was powerful. I could tailor each year to the students seated in front me.

In contrast, I taught in a school where every word of my language arts curriculum was scripted. I had cards to read that led all students down the same curricular path. This curriculum was tied to the Reading First grant our school garnered. I did not spend much time in planning as the Harcourt Curriculum and the subsequent cards told me what to do and say. This was actually easy to teach. The downside to this curriculum was that it only worked for a certain percentage of my students, maybe 70%. I had to do something different with curriculum to get all students to learn…the other 30%. Outside interventions only supported a small percentage of these students. Luckily, my school district moved away from this requirement.

As a principal now, I stress to teachers that the standards should drive our instruction. Having students meet these standards requires differentiated materials. One textbook company is not going to get all students to meet these standards. On top of that, students are going to be at different readiness levels and we are going to have to study our students as much as possible to create viable learning experiences for all students. Master teachers connect the art and science of teaching…connecting with kids to create a strong relationship, and teaching them the required content using engaging strategies!

Here are 8 questions you can tackle in order to Rock your Evaluation in Setting Instructional Outcomes:

1 - How Are Goals for Students Selected?

We should not simply open our textbook to page one and begin. We know that textbook companies do a have a logical sequence, research based, and they are built on the Common Core Standards. What we also know is that textbook companies cannot create a curriculum that covers all the given standards. Most importantly, we know that textbooks cannot decipher what type of learner it has in front of them…insert teacher! We will, hopefully, always need a live person to teach to the student in front of us. We need that teacher to light a fire of engagement in the content, as well as providing differentiation of this curriculum to connect with all students.

We must select goals that are rigorous for the learners in our classroom. Master teachers set high expectations for all students. They understand how to select goals that push students. They use data gathered from academic, demographics, as well as social and emotional areas in order to select goals that are appropriate for all students. They use the standards set by their state or school district to guide the goals they implement.

Knowing that students have all different readiness levels, the teacher groups students as best they can to create goals that are both effective and efficient for the chosen time line. Master teachers include students when they devise the goals and subsequent learning process.

2 - How Are Goals Connected to Other Subject Areas?

The ability to be so engaged in a lesson that cannot decipher whether you are learning only science content, math, or English-language arts is a true art form. The compartmentalization of learning does not just happen with 45 minutes of strictly science, or 45 minutes of fiction reading. The ability for master teachers to connect their learning goals to other subject areas is powerful.

Many textbook companies plan for some cross-curricular learning experiences in the designed lessons, but not a lot…insert teacher! In fact, one alignment study in the spring of 2015 showed that only 11 of 80 textbook companies covered most of the common core standards. Exemplary teachers plan learning goals that cross subject areas and create multi-layered learning experiences for students as much as possible. They use multiple resources to meet the standards, as well as the different learning styles of the students. They create units of study that connect goals in a strategic fashion that build off each other. When done at a highly effective level, students are highly engaged in the learning and they are meeting expectations of multiple standards.

3 - How Does Prior Learning and Skill Development Play a Role in Selecting Goals?

What students bring to the table of learning is important to note. We must decide what they know about the content before we start teaching. We must select goals that are at their readiness level. This might seem insurmountable, but if we can spend time up front assessing what students already know, we can become more effective and efficient teachers.

Prior learning, or schemata as Piaget coined, is the ability to build content or skill knowledge from what students already know. Schemata can be assessed in several different fashions; teachers must decide what this data tells them about deciding on the next instructional goal.

For example, a 3rd grade class has an instructional goal in math of mastering single digit multiplication. The school district recommends 14 weeks of instruction to move students to mastery. When you pre-assess the students, you find that a group of the students is still mastering the prerequisite skill of double-digit addition with regrouping. As a teacher, you must decide to forge on with the required curriculum or go back and reteach. For example, as you dig deeper, you find that it is five of your 25 students who need more work in this given area. You must decide if going back and reviewing the addition goal is worth stopping the other 20 students, or should you pull small group to go over this content goal. A master teacher will design lessons based on this prior learning and skill development.

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4 - How Are Goals, Rationale, and Outcomes Communicated?

The communication of the goals to parents, community members, and students are vital to teaming around the students for success. Master teachers use several different strategies to communicate the goals or objectives for what students are to learn, the rationale on why they are going to learn it, and the expected learning outcomes. They also communicate with administration on what they are teaching and when they are teaching it, much of this through weekly lesson plans and unit plans.

Exemplary teachers communicate with parents the content coverage for the year, as well as updates towards the goals monthly or even weekly. Parent newsletters, emails, Facebook updates, Remind App updates, Dojo App updates are some of the most popular used communication tools with parents. Multiple communication strategies is key; master teachers find out what the best ways are to reach the parents of their students.

Communicating to community members about teaching goals may seem fruitless, but in reality, building a community of learners starts with classroom teachers creating opportunities to showcase student learning. Branding your school as one with a strong culture of learning can only occur when parents and community members can talk about your school. Some examples of highlighting teaching goals to community members could involve the following projects: 1) cultural heritage night, 2) wax museum projects, 3) Chromebook presentations, 4) music performances, and more. Inviting not only parents, but also other community members helps build the bond between the community and the schools.

Lastly, and most importantly, how teachers communicate the learning goals to students is crucial to their learning progress. Master teachers put learning goals into student language so they understand what they are learning. They post their learning goals and communicate the rationale why students need to learn this content. Students are able to communicate back the learning goals.

Master teachers involve the students in devising these learning goals, and are able to create a sense of agency within students so they take on their own learning.

5 - How Are Learning Goals Sequenced and Adapted to Student Learning?

Selecting instructional goals can be daunting without district or state requirements. In fact, some teachers may chose to teach anything they want at any time of the year. Without regulations, annotated state codes, and expectations, student learning would be random and done haphazardly. Learning goals should be sequenced so that they meet two main requirements: 1) build on prior learning, and 2) take into account the learners in the classroom.

If you spend time looking at the Common Core standards, you will find that they build on each other. What is expected at each grade level is sequential and gets more complex as the grades progress. For example, the math concept of number sense. At the kindergarten level, students are expected to know the following:

Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects).

At the first grade level, it builds on this kindergarten standard built above:

Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120. In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral.

This strand obviously gets more complex at each grade level. These standards can be used as goals for teachers and can be adapted to the students in each individual classroom. Master teachers involve students in devising the individual learning goals.

6 - How Is the Effectiveness of the Instruction Assessed?

Assessment can be reiterated in many four-letter words…..like, "test." It is not a secret that students, parents, and even educators think we over assess our students. The number of days we assess as compared to instruction seems to be getting larger as the accountability increases. We must remember why we assess and only assess if we are going to do something with the data gathered. Too many times teachers give tests to meet district or state requirements.

Master teachers build formative assessments into their lessons. They assess at the beginning to see where all students are, then they assess during the lesson to see if students are on the right track, and lastly, they assess at the end of the lesson to see how well students learned the content. They use the data gathered to make instructional decisions. For example, they decide to spend more time exploring with manipulatives to understand 1:1 to correspondence at the kindergarten level. The ability to make instructional decisions "on the fly," or changes that are not in the lesson plans, comes from experience and knowing the students in your classroom. Teachers must not be afraid to scrap a lesson, be humble that what they had planned was not effective.

Exemplary teachers track not only student achievement data, but also track overall classroom effectiveness data for each lesson. They determine how many students mastered the content and have a predetermined goal. They understand that their effectiveness is directly related to the instructional decisions they make before, during and after each lesson.

7 - How Can Students Show What They Know?

Planning and selecting instructional goals should always start with the end in mind. How do you want students to show what they know? Master teachers understand the goals they set and how best the students in the classroom can be assessed. Teachers can use both formative and summative assessments.

Formative assessments give data on how well students are progressing towards the goals the teacher sets. Formative data can be easy and quick to gather, and can be vital for teachers in their instructional decision-making. For example, if the teacher uses a quick five question pre-assessment and 80% of the students get the same question incorrect, the teacher can then spend time re-teaching that content area. These types of assessments should not be used in determining final grades. These assessments are given while students are forming their knowledge or working on skills.

Summative assessments also give data to teachers on what students know. These should be given at the end of a learning progression to show what students have already practiced and are able to do. Refrain from conducting summative assessments in the middle of lessons while students are still forming their knowledge around a concept.

When master teachers write their lesson plans, they label the different types of assessment they will be using to determine instructional effectiveness, as well as tracking student growth. Lesson plans can be used to track all the standards assessed. The use of TSWBAT (The Student Will Be Able To) or LO (Learner Outcome) in the lesson plan format describes what the outcome will be for the learner. The assessment should mirror the described learner outcome. One great online lesson planning tool that puts all this together is www.planbook.com.

8 - How Do You Determine next Steps After the Lesson?

A teacher has three decisions after any lesson: 1) they can go back and reteach the same content a different way, 2) go back and reteach prerequisites to this lesson, or 3) go on to the next piece of content in the learning progression. Formative and summative data should give you direction on what step to take next.

Master teachers know exactly where all students are with proficiency of the learner goals. A good rule of thumb or goal is to get 100% of students above the 80% proficiency level of the content. That is a good indicator for the teacher to move on to new content. When that goal is not met, master teachers decide whether a small group of students who were not proficient is an effective instructional plan or whether there is a large number of students, and a whole group re-teaching might be more appropriate and efficient. Exemplary teachers must think about back filling some missing concepts or holes, usually concepts that were not mastered in prior grades, or re-teaching the same content in a different fashion.

Exemplary teachers understand the ability to make a lesson more accessible to students who did not meet the proficiency level. They can usually change the lesson in one of two ways. The progression of learning usually starts on the concrete level, then advancing to the pictorial level, and finally ascertaining the abstract level. Making a concept more concrete for a learner is one of those ways. Another way is to change a lesson using the concepts from Bloom's Taxonomy to make the content more accessible. A teacher must alter the lesson by working backwards from the level they were trying to teach first. The levels on Bloom's Taxonomy are as follows from lowest to highest levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. For example, if a teacher is asking students to apply an algorithm to a math problem, but the students are not understanding this transition. The math teacher must go back to the knowledge level or comprehension level to remediate.

(Charlotte Danielson Model: Domain 1 Component c)

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