"Ok, class. Today we will learn how to bake cookies." So might begin a traditional home economics lesson.
Students would likely have unanswered questions about grading and learning in this setting. What does the teacher expect for me to pass? To get an A? What if I've never baked before in my life? What if this is old news for me, as I've been baking for years?
Participants in this week's workshop simulated student experiences, both as traditional students in a situation similar to the one detailed above, and as students who understood four clear, targeted levels of achievement.
Where students in a traditional setting might be lost or bored, having such clearly defined lesson targets and standards for mastery should help to answer the types of questions above. Not only do these standards and targets give students a clear idea of where they are going next on their learning journeys, but when properly employed they also make the whole classroom experience more about learning and less about grades.
For example, perhaps students are beginning bakers and the initial goal is simply to follow a recipe and produce something that is edible. This could be a decent place to start the semester and students at a "beginning" level should not feel discouraged.
On the hand, perhaps a student foresees a boring semester ahead as they have already learned to bake cookies at home or in a previous school. In a traditional setting, they might repeat their learning from previous experiences and easily receive a passing grade. But, with clearly defined and tiered learning targets, learners can now look forward to "extending" their learning, perhaps by varying the recipe to meet individual preferences or dietary restrictions.
After exploring this culinary example, workshop participants were ready to explore academic scenarios in social studies and mathematics. It is our hope that this practical and hands-on workshop not only introduced parents to a common language the middle school is utilizing but also further shapes an understanding of the roles of targets and standards in creating engaging, individualized and challenging learning trajectories for each and every student.
We hope to see you at our next coffee scheduled for April 1, 9:30 - 11:00 in the ES Conference Room!