I was checking out the Google searches that were leading people to my blog today, and I saw an overabundance (over the last month) of people searching for “posting ‘I Can'” statements. Once the images of automaton teachers and automaton students reciting the daily learning objectives in monotonous, synchronized voices subsided, I decided I needed to address this issue head on.
There is a difference between sharing learning targets with students and turning the Common Core standards into a checklist.
Deconstructing is a process by which one dives into the very broad, non-specific, somewhat convoluted Common Core standards statements (a phrase ODE is shying away from) and tears them down into manageable learning targets that a teacher can envision. The process that I posed, which has gotten tremendous traffic on this blog, is only one kind of process, one that works in my very linear mind, but one of only many processes to try and understand the expectations of The Core.
Deconstruction amounts to specific learning targets for knowledge, reasoning, performing, or producing.
2. Sharing Learning Targets
It is important that learning targets are shared with students because they need to have a clear understanding of the expectation. What is it, exactly, that you are asking them to know and/or do? When they know this information, they can focus on the outcome. If, for example, you want them to trace the development of a theme, and you tell them to “trace the development of a theme,” they should know they will be assessed on their ability to trace the development of a theme and not their spelling and grammar. The beauty of clear expectations is it makes your grading easier (you know what you are looking for) and their work and progress toward learning easier (I know exactly what I need to work on).
I would actually avoid using the “I Know…”, “I can….”, “I understand…” sentence starters for the learning targets because 1) they are boring, 2) they produce a sense of completion when the target is reached as if no further learning can/will occur in the future, and 3) any student over the age of 10 is going to feel demeaned by the childlike redundancy.
3. Posting Learning Targets
When I see that people are concerned about posting learning targets, I immediately worry about this checklist mentality that develops when the standards are broken down into such manageable pieces. It would be easy to create a looooooooong checklist of all the learning targets and check them off as they are taught and assessed, but this practice (one that has been the ill of the standards movement) is in stark contrast to the cyclical progression of the Common Core standards. I would hate to walk into a classroom and see lists of learning targets and checkboxes around the room.
The beauty of the Common Core is the interwoven nature of the standards themselves, which also applies to the deconstructed learning target statements. It would be impossible to teach the development of theme (RL) without also addressing what the text says explicitly and what is implied (RL). It would be impossible to write an argument in response to a text without first understanding how the author uses claims to support his argument (RI). Any good ELA lesson would combine learning targets from standards throughout the ELA strands. When planning for assessment, though, you could zoom in on one target at that moment in time, but signifying to students that this target has been taught, assessed, and completed by checking it off on a poster in the classroom does not recognize this interconnectedness. Students aren’t “done” learning that target, but that is what they think when this happens. Heck, I’d say some teachers may check off the learning target and consider it a done deal once it has been taught and assessed at one point.
Consider the expectation that levels of text complexity should increase throughout the year–can you ever really “check off” a “cite what the text says explicitly” learning target if the texts are increasingly more difficult? No, because the expectation is that students will struggle again and again with the same learning targets as the year progresses.
So, yes, I’m a little nervous when I see these kinds of search phrases. We need to move away from the checklist mentality of learning and think about learning as a spiral in which we will revisit, revisit, and revisit learning targets as they become more challenging through the school year as well as in subsequent years. Take those checklists off your walls, please!