This post is based on AQA’s Literature specification, but can easily be adapted
Here’s a situation we all know too well: you’re sitting in your classroom, having marked a no doubt enormous pile of books and you think of a letter or something admin related that needs sorting in the office. You pick yourself up, perhaps pull off a piece of loose display on your way and walk to the office. By the time you arrive and step through the doorway, you feel confused and have completely forgotten the purpose of your journey. This forgetting happens many times and we all know why – time has passed, we got distracted, or we are feeling tired and stressed. Also, walking through doorways makes us forget!
How many doorways does an average student walk through each day? The encoding specificity principle (Google it) tells us that memory works best when the context of testing matches the context of learning. Therefore, to direct your students back to their previous learning and then forward to their future learning promotes improvement over time enormously. Using a strong, consistent pattern of learning objectives is a great way to do this.
I’ve put together some thoughts on using learning objectives to paint a big picture of learning over time. Learning objectives are no doubt done in many different ways; I am sharing what I personally have found successful.
Firstly, I decide on what I want students to be able to do at the end of the unit of work. Each lesson should be another step towards expertise, particularly now that memory recall is so important. It is also imperative that students see the new courses as interconnected, rather than separate parts – the AOs are the same across both papers (except AO3 is not marked for the unseen poetry and AO4 for Section A only). Here’s an example:
Outcome: students to write a well-structured, analytical response including integration of context, to English Literature, Paper 2: Section A, Modern Texts (AQA; An Inspector Calls, by J.B Priestley)
Skills: AO1, AO2, AO3, AO4
Learning objectives need to be: clear, not activity based; demonstrate a LEVEL of skill and linked to the previous lesson. They should not be an afterthought or phrased differently to other lessons that teach/apply the same skill.
Here are the words used to describe the progression from Level 1 to Level 6 for AQA’s Literature Paper 2, Section A:
This is a good place to start when planning the learning objectives for lessons. Students should be able to begin the unit of work by making “simple references” and be “descriptive in their approach” and move forward to their potential, which may only reach “relevant” but could also reach a “conceptualised” approach. Naturally, some students may already have a “developed” skill, but won’t achieve this without knowledge of the text, so everyone has room to improve.
I find that whatever activities you choose that aim to facilitate students’ learning, learning objectives tend to fit into certain categories (I’m sure there are lots more!):
- Knowledge Acquisition (e.g. context, character)
- Skill Acquisition (e.g. analysing language)
- Personal growth (e.g. exploring opinions based on learning)
I have tried out ‘All’, ‘Most’ and ‘Some’ LOs, but I find this happens naturally without it being explicitly stated. If it is explicitly stated, in my experience some students will choose the easy way out or others may feel pigeon-holed. Here’s a short sequence of lessons from the beginning of a SOL with the LOs and what they might look like as outcomes – these are real responses from a second set student across four lessons.
Lesson 1: To make simple comments on the importance of the Inspector’s presentation at the start of the play
- The Inspector is presented as intimidating at the start of the play. The lighting becomes “brighter and harder” which shows he is not easy to manipulate.
- His name “Goole” has connotations of someone ghostly or mysterious.
- He is classless which makes his position in society ambiguous.
“There will be simple identification of method with possible reference to subject terminology. Simple comments/responses to context, usually explicit.”
Lesson 2: To make a relevant explanation of the Inspector’s presentation at the start of the play
Priestley uses words like “massiveness” and “solidity” to present the Inspector as a powerful influence on the Birling family. The atmosphere, caused by the lighting becoming “brighter and harder” also reveals he is a difficult man to manipulate and will not put up with Birling’s attempt at influencing him. Furthermore, as an Inspector, he is presented as classless which makes his position in society ambiguous. Priestley does this to project his message of socialism to the audience.
“There will be identification of effects of a range of writer’s methods supported by some relevant terminology.”
Lesson 3: To show you clearly understand the impact the Inspector has on Mr Birling at the start of the play
Priestley employs a powerful semantic field to demonstrate the unobtrusive authority that the Inspector has over Mr Birling. Words like “solidity” and “massiveness” and “purposefulness” quickly convey that Mr Birling will be out of his depth if he attempts to take on the Inspector. His classless position puts Mr Birling at a loss as to how to deal with him; this brings out his elitist attitude as he attempts to both flatter, offend and command the Inspector but with no success. The impact of this on Mr Birling is pleasing for the audience who have just witnessed his arrogant speech dismissing both war and declaring the Titanic ‘unsinkable’.
“It uses a range of references effectively to illustrate and justify explanation; there will be clear explanation of the effects of a range of writer’s methods supported by appropriate use of subject terminology.”
Lesson 4: To show you clearly understand and can develop your ideas about Priestley’s presentation of the Inspector at the beginning of the play
Priestley employs a powerful semantic field to demonstrate the unobtrusive authority that the Inspector has over Mr Birling. Words like “solidity” and “massiveness” and “purposefulness” quickly convey that Mr Birling will be out of his depth if he attempts to take on the Inspector. His classless position puts Mr Birling at a loss as to how to deal with him; this brings out his elitist attitude as he attempts to both flatter, offend and command the Inspector but with no success. The impact of this on Mr Birling is pleasing for the audience who have just witnessed his arrogant speech dismissing both war and declaring the Titanic ‘unsinkable’. This is significant because an audience in 1945 would immediately identify the errors in Mr Birling’s attitude. Having been through the horrors of war, they may want a harsh and unrelenting impact on Mr Birling who needs to be taught a lesson in responsibility. Priestley then uses violent language when the Inspector describes Eva’s death – she was ‘burnt inside out’; the emotive adjective ‘burnt’ is graphic and disturbing which causes Mr Birling a feeling of shock – The Inspector and audience want him to feel guilty; the Inspector is therefore presented as both the judge and also a possible path to redemption.
“There will be a detailed examination of the effects of language”
Hopefully, improvement over time is evident. He is clearly an able student and as he reads and interprets the text, his answers move from “simple” to “developed” and will no doubt move towards “exploratory” as we continue to read and learn. Asking students to build on previous knowledge each lesson is very exciting. I start each lesson with a form of challenge where they can recall what has been learned before, which allows them to then quickly make the connection to the relevance of the present lesson.
Effectively, when they walk through the classroom door, the learning objective acts as a reminder for the stage in our learning ‘journey’ – it is reliable, consistent and keeps them moving forward. In support of this, the starter activity is not really a ‘starter’, but a reconnection to the topic or text.
Thank you for reading.