Is it over for the L.O?
Generally speaking, I do not include anything personal in my posts (that’s not to say that I don’t see the huge value in it). However, my own experiences in school and college have no doubt influenced the way I teach. As a young student, I often had comprehension difficulties and would need a teacher to tell me, show and ask me to repeat something until I understood how to do it myself; and quite often, I still didn’t get it despite nodding along. I was never once shown an assessment objective, or a learning objective or told what specific skill I was supposed to show in particular pieces of work. My teachers failed to identify with me as a learner and could not see things from my perspective. Nor could they dive out of the security of their own context and years of learning into the abyss of nothingness that a lot of students have when they are told they have to explore the significance of 19th century texts or how Shakespeare uses language to have an effect on the reader. Thankfully, I connected with a straight talking teacher of Law at my college and the scales fell from my eyes.
When I started teaching, Learning Objectives were coming out of our ears; the first 3-4 minutes of each lesson was spent with the students furiously scribbling them in their books, highlighting the key words and discussing what they meant. The problem with this has been pointed out a hundred and one times by hundred and one teachers – it wastes time. Not only does it waste time, it can affect the energy in the classroom and begins a routine that for many students, particularly those that struggle with writing and comprehension, that can be very negative. It also took me a good few years to learn how to write a productive and thoughtful LO that considered all learners, did not fall (God forbid!) into the all/most/some trap that was inexplicably popular a few years ago, AND that focused on a skill not an activity. Phew!
Having said this, when I was at school, had I been provided with a focus or direction even a vague or inarticulate one, I would have had more success with my understanding and my confidence. During my PGCE, we were asked to draw a house, any house we liked. Mine had two chimneys, an apple tree and a fence. Only those who had one chimney, a pathway and a flowerbed were awarded marks, thus revealing that with no clear objectives, how do our students know what to aim for?
Just tell them is an obvious answer and, naturally, we all tell the students what we are learning in that lesson be it life in London during the Industrial Revolution or persuasive features in a speech. However, these tiny learning points are all part of a bigger picture, which is why it’s so important to think about the core skills we are teaching and not the content or generally reading or generally writing. Students have to know the skills they are cultivating; these should be consistent and regular. The way that we teach them can be varied and exciting, but the skills must underpin everything. Here is an example Curriculum Plan where teachers are given the key skills (noted in coloured text); it is then their prerogative as to how they are taught – and if they are presented as a Learning Objective, then that is fine. (These skills are detailed in a chart from grades 1-9 so teachers know specifically how progress can be made).
It seems that in teaching, new strategies are often met with rolling eyes and frustration (not all of them!) and old ones are gleefully dismissed. I think there is life in the Learning Objective yet, but perhaps it needs a new shiny name.
Thank you for reading.