Lesson Mastery Part I: Having a Clearly Defined Destination

Back in August I did a post in regards to establishing procedures for students as a basis for a successful school year – today’s post will be part II of the time Harry Wong spent speaking to our teachers.  Remember that he identified three characteristics of effective teachers:

  1. Good Classroom Management (note, this is not the same as discipline)
  2. Lesson Mastery
  3. Positive Expectations

I ended that previous post with this question:

[F]or now answer this question for yourself, “What’s my procedure for _________?”  If you don’t have one, create one.  And once you have it, teach it, model it, reinforce it, and require your students to demonstrate it.

I trust that at this point in the school year – approximately 30 days into the year – you have your procedures established and you have progressed beyond teaching procedures in your classroom to actually teaching your students the content they need to learn.  One reminder the Wong’s made on August 17th is that “Learning has nothing to do with what a teacher covers but with what a student accomplishes.”  So let’s look at that a little bit.

You should begin all your lesson planning by asking the question “What do I want my students to do as a result of this lesson?”  Answering that simple question will make the difference between planning an engaging learning experience for students and an entertainment show that students watch.  If you begin your planning by asking, “What will I do on?” you have missed the boat.  Begin by asking “What do I want my students to be able to do on?” and then ask yourself, “So now what do I need to do to make sure that happens?”

There is a major emphasis in education right now – partly as a result of the Race to the Top grant – on Teacher Effectiveness.  And everyone is asking, “What makes an effective teacher?”  Others are asking, “How do we measure effective teaching?”  And, let’s just be honest, a lot of people are making a lot of money by examining this question.  The Wong’s gave one of the best definitions of the word “effective” I’ve heard yet: To be effective is to produce the intended results.  Which begs the question, what is our objective (our intended results)?  And, do students know the intended results (objective)?  Are you aware that telling students their learning target for the lesson can increase students’ learning by as much as 27% (a statistic shared during the presentation)?

Yet something so simple is so rarely found in classrooms.  This past week I was out visiting schools and meeting with teachers and administrators from across my district.  As I was walking around one building I noticed that of all the classrooms I entered not a single one had a daily objective posted and not once did a teacher communicate to the students what the learning objective was (and when the students were asked by an observer what the objective was they couldn’t answer the question!)  My question is, “Why?”  Why don’t students know what they are supposed to learn?  Why don’t they know what they are supposed to do to show they have mastered the objective for the day?  We as adults want to know how we will be evaluated (which is one reason we have such a lengthy evaluation document), and we want specific examples of what it is we are expected to do.  Yet too often – far too often – we fail to give our students the same level of specificity in regards to their objectives.  Just like we do better when we know where we are going and what is expected of us, our students perform better (learn more) when they know where they are going.

As you plan your instruction, plan it so that if an observer were to ask the questions listed below any student in the room could answer them appropriately (thanks to Jake Burks, a consultant I met this summer, for sharing these with me):

  1. How will you be asked to show the teacher that you really understand and can use this learning?
  2. Why do you think it is important to learn this today?
  3. How will you use this learning?
  4. If you do not understand or use this knowledge well, what will that mean for you?
  5. How will you be asked to use this learning tomorrow or in the future?
  6. Can you teach me what you are learning right now?

Trust me, if your students can answer those questions when asked then they are authentically engaged in the learning experience you have planned – and you have empowered them by giving them a clear objective.

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