Tag: learning targets

Giving Students The Map

October 15, 2013 by

photoOne of the reflection questions I routinely present to teachers to use as they develop their customized classrooms is the following:

How am I making learning targets as transparent as possible in my classroom, instruction, and assessment? 

When I visit classes I routinely ask students the following questions:

1.  What is your target?

2.  How do you know when you reach that target?

3.  How do you know what to do next?

These questions get at one of the essential elements of competency-based learning: the transparency of learning.  In a successful customized classroom, everybody has the map.  The destination — a learning target — is clear to all.  The route to the destination, the foundational knowledge and expected reasoning level, is given to everyone.  Everybody has a map, and uses it.

Getting to the point where everybody in your class has the map can be a bit of a journey in itself.  Change takes time, especially the change from a traditional classroom to a customized classroom. Take small steps.  Here are some tools that you can use: (more…)

Pre-Assessment: A Key to the ZPD

January 3, 2013 by

photo The Zone of Proximal Development is the sweet spot of education; this is where meaningful learning happens.  We all read about Vygotsky and Social Development Theory at some point in our teacher education.


The ZPD is at the core of performance-based learning, individualized learning, and customized learning. So, how many of us still keep the basic idea of the Zone of Proximal Development at the forefront of our thinking and planning for teaching and learning?  Well, when’s the last time you gave a pre-assessment and used it to plan instruction? (more…)

Exceeding Is More Complicated Than Adding Glitter and Flash

November 29, 2012 by

There are different ideas about the best way to report student progress towards targets, or competencies.  One of the most popular methods is to use a 4 point scale with levels described similarly to the example below:

4 = Exceeds
3 = Meets
2 = Partially Meets or Developing
1 = Does Not Meet or Emerging

In the book Making Standards Useful In The Classroom, Marzano lays out the following scale:

4 = In addition to score 3, in-depth inferences and applications beyond what was taught
3 = No major errors or omissions regarding any simple and complex information/skills that were explicitly taught
2 = No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler information/skills
1 = With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler information/skills and some of the more complex ideas and processes

In our school, we are beginning to use the following descriptions for performance levels, based on the Marzano scale:

4: Advanced (I can use what I learned in a new way)
3: Proficient (I learned the foundational and complex parts and can apply them)
2: Foundational (I know the foundational parts)
1: Dependent (I can show what I learned with help)

If you are in a school or district that uses a scale like any of the ones above, then sooner or later you and your colleagues need to figure out what it means for students at your particular grade level and in your particular content area to “exceed” on the targets.

I know, I know, someone out there is thinking that in a truly competency-based system a student would never be “partially meeting” or even “exceeding” because as soon as a student demonstrates proficiency for a target they would move on the next level of difficulty in a learning progression.  Unfortunately many of us are not yet working in a truly competency-based system where this is possible. Further, in many cases it is more appropriate to encourage and push students to go deeper with knowledge and applications rather than moving them along to the next target. (more…)

Application of Learning: It Doesn’t Have To Be An Outhouse

November 12, 2012 by

We know that mastery happens when skills or knowledge are applied in new situations or contexts.  As adults, we have these natural opportunities all the time. For example, I’m reminded of the time I figured out that I could grind my own quinoa flour using a hand-held coffee grinder, just like I had learned to do with oats for oat flour.

In school however, we need to start making them a regular part of our student’s lives.  Asking students to apply skills and knowledge from their classes in new contexts is essential in ensuring that our students have mastered the skills and knowledge we have mapped out in our learning targets and learning progressions. We can ask our students to put their skills and knowledge to use, and it can be simple to do.

An application of learning, as my principal Bill Zima says, doesn’t have to be an outhouse. It doesn’t have to be someplace we are hesitant to go; nor does it have to be a huge, complicated project, like actually building an outhouse. The meaning of the word apply is, simply, to put to use.  Here is a process for working out how to get your students to put their skills and knowledge to use:

Step One:  Go back to the learning target(s) from your unit of study and review the reasoning level (see my earlier posts for a brush up on learning targets and reasoning levels). This is important!  You don’t want to find yourself suddenly asking students to apply skills and knowledge in a new context while using a higher reasoning level. (more…)

Be Reasonable!

November 5, 2012 by

Defining Targets With Reason

In an earlier post I talked about what a learning target is, and how to write one.  Whenever I run a PD session about learning targets, someone points out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure “being skilled at” or “understanding.”  I am sure some of you were left with that same sentiment after reading Target Practice.

You know what?  You are right!  A learning target on its own is not enough. A target needs to be defined in terms of reasoning levels and foundational knowledge.  Without doing so, we are in danger of pontificating on and on about what it means to understand… and setting a college level bar for our sixth graders!  Here is a step-by-step on how to set an appropriate reasoning level for a learning target. This video shows me working through the process.

1. Select a target
You may already have a set of targets, or you can create them based on your current standards.

2. Think about what you want students to do in order to show you that they “get” it
You already do this.  We’re just making the process transparent so that we can be more precise in our measurement of targets.  Think about what you have had students do in the past.  Keep in mind their age and developmental stage.  Consider what is reasonable and realistic.  Take into account where they came from in their learning, and where they are headed.


Dancing Out Front

October 30, 2012 by

A lesson in leadership from a dancing guy

I’m in my fourth year in my teacher leader position here at MAMS.  It wasn’t until about a year ago that I had an overwhelming aha! moment about who I was, or wanted to be, as a leader.  My principal showed me the dancing guy leadership video, and all I can say is that it spoke to me.  Since then I have strived to be the kind of leader who dances out front. I picture myself as a suave tap dancer some days, and other days as a lithe ballerina.

Dancing out front means being the vision.  If I’m supposed to be helping colleagues figure out what a learning target is, I need to give them a learning target about targets.  If I want them to start using progress tracking tools, I need to use progress tracking tools when I work with them.  If the English teachers are supposed to be using a workshop model, I need to use a workshop model.


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