Friday, January 3, 2014

Using Learning Goals to Focus BYOD

One of the unintended benefits of going BYOD with my math class this year, was that many of the best teaching practices I had learned about over the past few years - learned, but never really figured out how to incorporate into my teaching - seem to naturally come to the forefront as I planned my units.

The most notable, for me, was the use of learning goals in the classroom.

When I was first introduced to student-centred learning goals, I hated them. We weren't given clear instruction on how to create them, or how to really use them, but we were expected to post them at the beginning of the lesson, in every class. Some teachers just added them to the first slide in their note for the day, some had a dedicated space on the chalkboard, but many did nothing.

I can't speak for every teacher, but I think many of us found it to be just another extra little thing that in theory was supposed to help our students, but in reality, did nothing. It was tedious, students never paid any attention to them, and because we weren't sure what to do with them, teachers never followed up. Useless.

That is, until I suddenly had to turn the learning over to the students. How could I keep them on track though a unit? (Or really, how would they keep themselves on track?) How would they tell when they had successfully mastered a concept? With every student learning differently, how could I make sure they were all able to demonstrate the same level of mastery on a given task? How could I make sure there were no surprises on unit tests and the students knew they would be well-prepared? 

Learning goals took care of all of this nicely.

I should mention here how I create my learning goals, since every teacher/school/board does it a little differently. I take each course expectation (directly from the provincial curriculum document), and then adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Start the learning goal with "I can..."
  2. Use student-friendly language;
  3. Use a "demonstrable" verb (determine, graph, make a t-chart, describe, compare, sketch, etc.);
  4. Ensure that the learning goal can, in and of itself, become an exit slip.

Curriculum document: By the end of this course, students will solve quadratic equations by selecting and applying a factoring strategy.

Learning goal: I can solve a quadratic equation by factoring.

Exit slip question: Solve the following quadratic by factoring.

Once I have the learning goals laid out the for unit, I build the unit around them. What is the best way to master each learning goal (through skill mastery, investigation, design)? What resources can be used to master each learning goal? Does the exit slip match the learning goal? Do the quiz and test questions match the learning goals? I don't want there to be any surprises - the students should know exactly what to expect on all evaluations in order to demonstrate mastery!

Not only has my personal use of learning goals changed in terms of planning, but also how we refer to them in class (although, I still won't post them on the blackboard!). Each step through the unit is referred to by the students by the learning goal (ie. "What learning goal are you on?" "Do you have the handout for learning goal 8?"). Sometimes, when the students are stuck on a question, I ask them to re-read the learning goal, and that gives them a clue (or triggers a reminder) of how to solve the problem.

One of our exit slips, prefaced by the learning goal.

Our master unit list (our current one is here), has all the learning goals in full. Review sheets, quizzes, tests and exit slips all preface each question with the particular learning goal, and each of my mini-lectures start with the learning goal. Our course now revolves around them.

The main result is greater focus - both on my part when it comes to organizing course content (and boy, does it make test generation easy!), but also on the part of my students as they move through the unit at their own pace. It helps keep them on track, especially when it comes to reviewing for quizzes and tests. 

Having completely integrated learning goals into this BYOD course, I can't believe I got by without using them before. Now, when I approach any planning, then first thing I do is take time to create the learning goals. I think this will become even more important as I begin teaching applied-level students next semester.

Do you use learning goals? How do you use them? How do your students relate to them?


  1. Love this idea! I teach high school chemistry. I have been trying to wrap my mind around a different way of scoring my students. I have been reading lots about standards based learning. I really like how you have organized your class. Thanks for sharing!

  2. BYOD as a trend is changing how learning takes place in the workplace. Thanks for sharing ways of ways to align learning goals to this new way of learning. Here is an article we shared earlier this year sharing our views on the emerging trend of BYOD -


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