What Is A Learning Goal And How Do We Think About Learning Goals At PS1 Pluralistic School?
Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to read all of the PS1 progress reports, from Youngers to Olders. Rather than it being a chore, it was a pleasure. It is evident from these reports how well our teachers know our students, socially and cognitively. Each report offers a complex snapshot of where a student is at this moment in time. One way that teachers are able to capture this information is because they are thoughtful and purposeful about the learning goals that they set. In this blog, I describe learning goals and how I work with teachers to plan them at PS1.
Setting learning goals is the process of establishing a direction to guide learning (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). Learning goals are the backbone for all lessons. It is the focal point for planning instruction. When teachers communicate learning goals to students, students can then make connections between the steps they are taking in class and what they are supposed to learn. They can gauge their starting point in relation to the learning objectives and determine what they need to pay attention to and where they might need help from the teacher or others. This clarity helps decrease anxiety about students’ ability to succeed and helps to support intrinsic motivation.
Learning goals are specific, and the language that teachers use to articulate them is essential since it requires actions that are measurable and observable. The language of learning goals is precise, objectives are set for specific tasks in particular, and there is a range of activities for the accomplishment of a particular task.
Learning goals are developed on three levels. The broadest goals occur at the unit level. These are created as an essential question that will help interweave social studies, science, and specific academic content. The next level (monthly) goals come from established research-based curricular standards and benchmarks. The third level of learning goals (weekly and daily) is determined by teachers to meet the needs of their students. For example, an essential question might be, "Why do people move?" This question acts as a unifying theme. In this example, geography and history learning goals come from the National Social Studies Curriculum Standards. The final level of planning integrates standard academic curricular goals with students’ academic and or developmental levels. These goals cover a range that is appropriate for all of the students in the class.
Middles Math Example:
The unit level goal is an essential question. For the Middles Cluster, it is: What are relationships? Specifically, the goal is that students will be able to identify relationships as a concept, how relationships impact their role in the community, how relationships impact objects scientifically, and that students will explore relationships between people and the places where they choose to live. Through this example, you can see the rich opportunity we have to use these large goals to interweave academic and social learning.
At the monthly goal level, we have broad learning goals related to the topic that are based on standards and benchmarks. An example from Middles Math is: Investigate the relationship between multiplication and division. Use a variety of strategies to build subtraction fluency (including looking for patterns and relationships, determining unknown quantities on both sides of an equal sign). This is one example of a monthly math goal and is in no way comprehensive. There can be a number of monthly math goals.
The weekly level contains specific lessons and strategies. In this example for Middles math, these include but are not limited to: practicing facts and fluency with interactive math journals, differentiated stations to review skills related to subtraction fluency, determining unknown quantities on both sides of an equal sign, math learner glyph’s to extend and illustrate thinking, and enrich thinking, having students choose tools to demonstrate their thinking, and continued practice with interactive math journals.
The daily plans are iterative and change based on formative assessments that are ongoing and whether a student needs more or less time on a given skill or concept.
As students become familiar with specific learning goals, they gain experience in self-reflection about their learning. They can self-select learning targets, self-monitor their progress, and self-assess their development (Glaser & Brunstein, 2007; Mooney, Ryan, Uhing, Reid, & Epstein, 2005).
As you can imagine from the paragraphs above, all of this planning takes a lot of time and professional expertise. Teachers are expected to know their pedagogy and the strengths and challenges of their students. One of the hallmarks of the PS1 program is the level to which our teachers truly know each student and have an in-depth understanding of each student’s development. The process of setting and following through on learning goals in this manner enriches that experience by facilitating students’ growth and their ability to progress.