Focus, Focus, Focus
In addition to my work with Tch, I spend time coaching beginning teachers. A couple weeks ago I observed a hardworking new teacher teach a lesson that was both engaging and exhausting.
In his 2nd grade Spanish lesson, the teacher took his students through a warm-up song about days of the week, a game about numbers, an art project about colors, and a closing activity about emotions.
All of the components of this lesson were fun—kids were enthusiastically participating and enjoying themselves. But by the end of this whirlwind lesson I was exhausted, and I’m sure the teacher was too!
Afterwards, I asked several students what the lesson was about. “Spanish,” they all said. Sure, that was true. But aren’t all Spanish lessons about Spanish? This lesson was fun, but it lacked focus. The students didn’t know what they were supposed to learn, and the teacher was wearing himself out trying to teach too many things at once.
When I sat down with the teacher, we talked about the importance of focusing a lesson. I had known that clear learning goals help students know what’s expected of them, but I hadn’t before realized how much articulating these goals helps teachers.
Both in individual lessons and when long-term planning, it’s important to know exactly what you want your students to learn, how you want them to learn it, and how you’re going to assess their learning.
Michelle Shields, a consulting teacher in Philadelphia, thinks this last component is key. Ms. Shields is committed to helping teachers create measurable objectives—emphasis on the word “measurable.” As Ms. Shields explained, “How do you know if students achieved the objective if it is not measureable?” Without measurable objectives, we’re unable to truly assess if students meet our goals.
I talked with Ms. Shields and gained a greater understanding of the difference between learning goals and objectives. She said, “Objectives are the day to day (still measureable), while goals are the long term expectations, ultimately achieved through the success of the short term objectives.” In this article Ms. Shields explains more about the importance of stating clear learning objectives.
Communicating broader learning goals and measurable short-term objectives are both important components of a focused and intentional classroom. Watching the Spanish lesson got me thinking about the many ways teachers can communicate objectives and learning goals to their students. In this video 5th grade teacher Madeline Noonan makes her learning goals clear to students by stating “SWBAT: Students Will Be Able To” at the beginning of her lessons. Though Ms. Noonan uses this technique to state learning goals, it can be easily adapted for use with the kinds of measurable objectives Ms. Shields talks about.
Sometimes it’s helpful to simply state learning goals, but other times it can be helpful to focus lessons with key questions. In this video, Mike Rettberg uses essential questions to get students focused on learning goals. By asking students to consider questions rather than stating explicit goals, Mr. Rettberg encourages inquiry and engagement. Both Mr. Rettberg and Ms. Noonan communicate their goals clearly, allowing students to rise to their expectations.
Yesterday I visited the same Spanish teacher I saw a few weeks ago. This time, I was happy to see him start by stating the purpose of his lesson: for students to practice forming present tense sentences. The components of his lesson were streamlined, all working towards this common focus. At the end of the lesson, I asked several students what the lesson was about. Not one of them simply said “Spanish.”
Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She is passionate about making learning fun for both teachers and students. Lily has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, and teacher trainer. Lily is excited to join the Tch team as a writer and hopes to help teachers learn from seeing each other in action!