Jul 20

Sharing Learning Expectations

After retweeting this Science Teacher’s blog post on Twitter about sharing standards with Science students I had this conversation with David Grossman:

Sharing Learning Expectations is one of the strategies of formative assessment or assessment for learning (AfL) and I’ve often questioned that particular strategy in a Science, or inquiry based, classroom. I’m not saying keep students in the dark but rather, as I tweeted to David above, give students a chance to discover a learning target for themselves then share the learning expectation or learning target with them instead of giving it away. The chance to discover something for themselves is something I don’t want to take away from my students.

Here’s an example of Middle School Life Science NGSS:

LS1A: Structure and Function
All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular). (MS-LS1-1)

Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell. (MS-LS1-2)

In multicellular organisms, the body is a system of multiple interacting subsystems. These subsystems are groups of cells that work together to form tissues and organs that are specialized for particular body functions. (MS-LS1-3)

The above standards are very similar to the WA State standards that I used before the NGSS came out:

Life Science (6-8 LS1A): All organisms are composed of cells, which carry on the many functions needed to sustain life.

Life Science (6-8 LS1B): One-celled organisms must contain parts to carry out all life functions.

Life Science (6-8 LS1C): Multicellular organisms have specialized cells that perform different functions. These cells join together to form tissues that give organs their structure and enable the organs to perform specialized functions within organ systems.

Life Science (6-8 LS1D): Both plant and animal cells must carry on life functions, so they have parts in common, such as nuclei, cytoplasm, cell membranes, and mitochondria. But plants have specialized cell parts, such as chloroplasts and cell walls, because they are producers and do not move.

If I start by sharing those standards with students they will see that living things are made up of cells. A harmless bit of knowledge but after years of starting my 8th grade Life Science course with the question, “what is living,” I’ve noticed that living things being made of cells is one of the characteristics that students don’t think about as being a specific characteristic of being a living thing.

We spend time discussing what it takes to be considered a living thing. We look at microscopic organisms as well as use our prior knowledge of multicellular organisms. Different classes have come up with different numbers of characteristics of living things, such as living things need to consume food to rebuild and for energy, living things need water, living things respond to stimuli or move with a purpose, etc. Figuring out that all living things are made up of cells is something that we usually figure out later in the process. That discovery helps students understand why the cell is the basic unit of living things, which is a rather abstract notion.

It is at this point that I feel confident sharing the standards as the goal for their learning. Considering that all the learning we’ve done up to this point, learning that has been fraught with errors, learning that has been excellent formative information to guide my instruction, makes it unnecessary for rubrics or for formal assessment. I wouldn’t score anything done during this time because I will NOT penalize students for what they haven’t learned yet or for what they are in the process of figuring out and discovering.

Once they’ve discovered it and learned it, then the teacher can craft a more summative assessment based on the learning target/standard using a rubric of some sort. David’s idea is also an excellent one, have students write their own learning target which the teacher can then compare to his or her learning target.

So sometimes it’s best to share learning expectations after some learning has occurred and NOT at the onset of new learning experiences.

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