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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Connecting Learning Targets

April 15, 2016 by

MosaicThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 10, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we stop thinking about measurement topics and learning targets as isolated boxes, learning becomes much more exciting. Think of targets as mosaic tiles. Think of measurement topics as mosaic tiles of the same color. In a mosaic, there are a variety of tiles and colors working together to make a work of art. We need to do that with our learning targets.

Start by laying out all the targets you typically teach in a year. Take inventory of the mosaic tiles you have to work with. Which ones seem to go together well? Are there any that make an unexpected collection? Just as certain tile colors and shapes compliment one another, different targets can work together in different ways. And just as mosaics incorporate multiple tiles of the same color, engaging learning experiences hold room for multiple targets from the a measurement topic progression. This allows more multiple entry points to the learning experience. Another way to think of this is that it allows students to work at their readiness level while still engaging in the social processing of learning with their peers.

So let’s step out of our mosaic analogy for a moment and see what this could look like. Below are some targets that one might see in the 5th grade:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the physical features that are common and unique to various parts of the world
  • Is skilled at exploring and inventing art-making techniques and approaches
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

Which of these makes sense together? Even if is it just two, maybe:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather

or:

  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

Go ahead and play around. What other targets from other subjects could be included? Have you had any thoughts about a theme, or bigger topic, or even a question that could tie your groups together? Maybe something about exciting weather stories. Maybe something about health and nutrition trends in a town, or a city. Already either of these ideas invite more wonder and curiosity than any of these targets on their own.

Now think about the targets that come before and after each of the targets in the second group.

  • Understands cardinal and intermediate directions
  • Understands the concept of geographic grid using latitude and longitude
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the health effects of nutritious and non-nutritious beverages
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health
  • Understands information about their individual dietary needs
  • Skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a subject using facts
  • Skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information types
  • Skilled at writing informational pieces that conveys ideas and information about a subject by incorporating different informational genres

If the whole class were working together on exploring something about health and nutrition trends in a place, it is easy to see how students could be working at different readiness levels. The final product, or demonstration of learning, might be different depending on the student, but the experience was social, connected, and much more engaging. There is even room for student choice in what are they study…for geography or nutrition.

It is time to think more about making mosaics of learning rather than pushing though disconnected boxes. Let’s talk about how to do this.

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About the Author

Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.

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