Course Reflection: EDU 6150 – General Inquiry, Teaching, & Assessment Methods

4.2 Setting Instructional Outcomes

All the instructional outcomes are clear, written in the form of student learning. Most suggest viable methods of assessment.

Program Standard 4.2 addresses the need for educators to plan lessons with clear and definite outcomes in mind.  An effective lesson is built around specific statements of what teachers want students to know or do.  When such statements are strong, they will naturally identify a specific method of assessing student progress toward the instructional objectives. An insufficiently specific instructional objective like “Students will learn to read better,” won’t help an educator select assessment methods.  An objective that is specific and measureable is easier to assess.

This partnership between instructional objective and assessment method lies at the heart of “backward design,” the curriculum planning sequence laid out by Wiggins and McTighe (1998) who have pointed out that “Teaching ‘moves’ must be made in light of our goals and what they require” (p. 159).  In other words, every decision an educator makes about a lesson should be tied to a clear learning objective.

I’m excited about backward design. I haven’t talked to anyone who isn’t.  Backward design is dreamy.  It’s logical and precise; I almost want to call it sleek.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of backward design is its exquisite usefulness.

Ironically, backward design is also difficult to execute.  It is intuitive, but it is not simple.

During my first attempt to write a lesson, I forgot all about the principles of backward design, and rattled off various practice activities.  Something about that burst of energy induced a miniature post-traumatic stress flashback to a humbling coaching experience.  The short version is that a group of 10-year-old girls’ had to be rescued from my coaching style.  I was all over the place – my basketball practices featured a turbulent assortment of meticulously thorough, but entirely unrelated, drills.  I was trying to teach a comprehensive theory of basketball through repetition of the game’s smallest movements.  It was zero fun.

You see, I really love basketball; so I like the fundamental pieces of basketball, too.  I can enjoy drills without having any particular goal, without motivation, even without fun.  Unfortunately for an anonymous group of middle school students, I love language arts even more than I love basketball, and am likely prone to the same manic style of instruction I exhibited in the gym.

Before I received some very helpful feedback, my Mid-Quarter Lesson Design featured a two-pronged learning target which failed to indicate a specific task, let alone particular form of assessment.  But somehow, every “practice activity” field was filled in.  Somehow, I wrote out some different things for students work on without knowing what I wanted them to work toward.  My process was nothing like the dreamy backward design I’ve described above.

My first stab (and I do mean stab) at lesson planning has dramatized and reinforced the cornerstone of backward design:  effective lessons are built around clearly defined instructional outcomes.  Writing a solid learning target (or the central focus, or essential questions, big ideas, etc.) is the necessary first step because every other element of the lesson must directly support the objectives specified in the learning target.

Work Cited:

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J.  (1998).  Understanding by design.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.