is aimed at “intentional” learning as opposed to “incidental” learning. This implies that target goals and desired learning outcomes guide the design and selection of learning activities. Meaningful learning outcomes are a starting and ending point…because it is against accomplishment of the objectives that the effectiveness of the design is measured. (Gagne, R. M., Wager, W.W., Golas, K.C., Keller, J. M., 2005)
I have been writing about the Common Core Standards for nearly two years, sometimes sharing my approaches to teaching the “Common Core Way” as my teachers call it and sometimes talking more about how to design a lesson using the Common Core Standards as the framework for instructional goals. If you read my post regularly, you know I am convinced that the Common Core Standards can ladder up student achievement and school success in the most struggling of districts. I say this because the approach is not so different from the design of two approaches I have used in the past: Backward by Design in building a Tech Prep curriculum in the early 1990s to bolster students with college and vocational interests and several years later, SAC (Standards Aligned Classroom), an Illinois initiative introduced to promote student achievement in general. In both instances, instructional goals were the focus of lesson design.
My first explorations of backward design, a term coined by Wiggins and McTighe, began with the award of a Tech Prep grant in 1991. My team of five teachers were offered the opportunity to confer with cutting edge educational reformers to develop innovative curriculum using resources that included not only textbooks, but also primary sources, music and other media, authentic text …and more than that, integrated disciplinary content and thinking models. We looked to thinkers like E.D. Hirsch, Howard Gardner, Willard Daggett, and in determining focus and outcomes for our two year curriculum. We wove units of history and economics, literature and art, science and technology into cohesive teaching units that represented the contributions and challenges of intellectuals and social commentators. We approached learning as a promise for the future and in our reading helped students find today’s application of lessons from the past valid in the present as well. We made the textbook a tool and focused on primary sources and authentic text. We embedded field trips into unit design and project based performance outcomes that demanded technologic fluency–outcomes today known as performance assessments.
But what is most important is that we ATTRACTED students who were on the fringes of school. Surprisingly, they were willing to do the extra work the class demanded because of the relevance they saw in the product of their labor: hands on /minds on learning, technology involvement, assessment choices. However, not only did they see relevance in the learning, they knew what they had to do–they had targets. Every unit had delineated lists presented as contracts and students were invited to enter into a contract for an outcome grade. Interestingly, probably 90% opted for A level contracts, willing to do the work because they knew what was expected and they knew the teaching and learning steps along the way would help ensure their success. But the only way we, as teachers, could make this possible was by targeting our standards ahead of time. We, as professionals, determined what the “baby steps” would be that would ensure success for these kids who were willing to put themselves on the line for a new and different kind of learning experience. In reading Moss and Brookhart’s Learning Targets (2012), I was reminded of the relationship between targets and objectives: “A learning target provides a clear direction for the energy of the classroom learning team and results in meaningful learning and increased student achievement” (p.17). As they go on to say, the objective is teacher language but the target is what and how kids know the goal of the lesson. Yet, I find that my teachers cannot write targets; they are writing lesson objectives. The problem is that objectives hide numerous learning targets. We must tease out the targets so that we can hit as many students as possible in the learning process.
But, as usual, I do digress. What got me off on this tangent is a search for guidelines in targeting the Common Core Standards. You see, targeting for me is natural; but I am finding that for my teachers, it is a skill left untaught or unnurtured. Years of scripted instruction and margin filled sidebars offering options for instruction have robbed many teachers of their professionalism and the very skills the Common Core demands: the ability to read closely; the motivation to scrutinize arguments and ideas; the willingness to concede misguided thought; the patience to withhold judgment until another’s idea is fully expressed; the insight to weigh words and their implications; the fluency of writing across purpose; the bravery to take a risk. When I talk to teachers about targeting, the first response IS ALWAYS, “Hasn’t someone done that already?” or “If we wait, won’t it be done by a publisher?” These reactions are antithetical to the descriptors I just listed. Such responses imply a “Just tell me what to do” attitude that divorces itself from scrutiny, mediation and concession, deliberation and documentation.
And so I have looked at the work of states and the work of publishers in their Common Core aligned texts. I have found inklings of what I think we need in the work of the Indiana BOE with its units and “deconstructed standards.” However, I may be off base here, but I do not see the CCSS deconstructed in a delineated fashion, something I believe would benefit teachers and students alike. I have also seen hints of this work in the unpacking work of the North Carolina BOE. I’ve had some suggest the Georgia DOE and though they have copious units, I am not finding the standards broken down into discreet targets that promote student understanding. On the other hand, I believe it is the process of our own deconstruction of standards into teachable units or targets that we as educators learn how to teach. In searching for kernals of instruction (the knowledge, skills, and reasoning students must possess) we come to realize the steps that link prior learning to our instructional objectives and are better equipped to make targeted connections that hit the bull’s eye for kids.
All that said, I offer here a look at what I am working on…the challenge to those who have the persistence to complete this blog post. Although I have only featured the Informational Reading Standards for grades K-4, I have targeted them even more deeply than shown through grade 11. I find that showing a fully developed targeting template is overwhelming at this point. What I am sharing is a simple template that seems to work with teachers. I first ask them to look at a CCSS and distinguish two or three objectives. Then I ask them to list two or three pieces of knowledge that are essential to achieving the standard. The next step is to identify two or three associated cognitive skills or powers of reasoning. And finally, though not yet complete on the template is the means by which one can measure mastery. As you will notice, the objectives are in teacher language while the targets are in student language…or close. I see teacher providing students with the targets at the beginning of a unit to provide a means of self-assessment. Yes, a work in progress that cannot be cloned because depending on a student’s region, textbook accessibility, and teacher background in content, the targets will look different.
If you, like I, am passionate about the need to target, please offer your suggestions and thoughts about my work so far. I know this is “in progress.” As I continue to study standard strands and their implementation with teachers, I plan to devise a means within the corresponding framework to connect the strands speaking and listening, writing, and language. But I am in the early stages of doing work that will be helpful though not directive to classroom instruction. Click here to view my templates and their moving targets: Targeted Reading Literature Standards K-8_Sept 2012_Example