Honing Our Assessment Skills: A Small Change Makes a Big Difference

Learning goals should focus on learning. Seems obvious, yet sometimes we write goals that focus on what the student is doing in order to learn, rather than on the actual knowledge and skills themselves.

Consider the following cluster of expectations from the Gr 3 Ontario Language Curriculum.

Overall Expectation: 1. generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;

Specific Expectation 1.5 identify and order main ideas and supporting details into units that could be used to develop a short, simple paragraph, using graphic organizers (e.g., a story grammar, a T-chart, a paragraph frame) and organizational patterns (e.g., comparison, chronological order)

Here’s a possible learning goal that could be shared with learners:

“We are learning to use a t-chart to organize arguments for a newspaper editorial”.

So, put yourself in the learners’ shoes. What are you expected to learn? I would wager that most would say, “to use a t-chart”, simply because it is the first thing they encounter in the learning goal statement.

Stated this way, the learning goal focuses on using a t-chart, rather than on the skill of organizing writing. While a t-chart is a handy tool for organizing information, it’s only one of several organizational schema. Using a t-chart (and hopefully a variety of other organizers) is what learners will do in order to learn – or show their learning about – the skill of organizing their writing.

What if we changed the focus? “Honing in” on the important knowledge and skills identified in the curriculum expectations, we suggest this as a learning goal instead:

“We are learning to organize ideas and information using different tools.”

An anchor chart showing a variety of tools that could be used, including a t-chart, would support learners in meeting their learning goal.

runner 150One last thought – and a call to action!

Here’s another example of a task-focused rather than learning-focused learning goal.

We are learning to build a drawbridge for a castle.

It’s derived from the Gr 4 Ontario Science & Technology Curriculum  

Overall Expectation: 2. investigate ways in which pulleys and gears modify the speed and direction of, and the force exerted on, moving objects;

Specific Expectation: 2.3 use technological problem-solving skills (see page 16) to design, build, and test a pulley or gear system that performs a specific task

Sample problems: Design, build, and test a mechanism that will raise and lower a flag. Design, build, and test a changing billboard. Design, build, and test a model elevator that could be used in a barn. Design, build, and test a model drawbridge for a castle.

How would you revise the learning goal to focus on the learning in the curriculum? Post your ideas, comments and questions in the comments section below.

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