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Talking Inquiry - Learning Goals and Success Criteria

Today I wanted to focus on learning goals and success criteria and how they are the center of your inquiry teaching practice.  I talked about a lot of things today on my broadcast and wanted to share my notes with you and some pictures of how these look in my classroom.  Check out the video here if you missed it.

What is Inquiry:
Inquiry is student-centered teaching that turns student interest and curiosity into real learning through questioning, investigating, observing and collaborating.

Learning Goals and Success Criteria
a learning goal is your big idea often based on your curriculum expectations or standards.  They are sentences written in student-friendly language and often start with key-word sentence starters such as

  • "We are learning about..."
  • "We want to know more about..."
  • " I can...."

Some examples that we have used in my classroom about learning goals are

  • First Nations and Early European Explorers - "What was life like for the First Nations before contact"
  • Human Body - We are learning about the digestive system and how it helps to keep your body working and healthy
  • Structures - "We are learning about internal and external forces that impact the strength of a  structure"
Here are some examples of the process we took to get from student questions to Learning goals to the criteria for success.  As you can see it is not alway pretty or ideal.  Sometimes they are not worded perfectly but they reflect the conversations that we had together.  Sometimes it is a multi step process to refine your ideas down to key big ideas and sometimes they change but in the end we knew where we were going together. This process took some leading by me to get us here.  Less than was needed previously but with the lack of background knowledge that my students had on this topic there was more to do to support them.  
Summarizing and narrowing down student questions
Our Learning Goals in the center of our bulletin board with the picture of the wonder wall surrounding it.  For this unit we used questions as our learning goals instead of typical learning goal "We are learning about..." statements.  
This is the list we co-created about the success criteria for the first learning goal of our unit.  Again not perfect but it reflected our conversations and understandings of what we needed to explore.
Although they are too small to read here, this is a picture of our whole human body unit with learning goals and success criteria for each system and learning activities.  We added our learning as we went along to our wonderwall board including evidence of activities that showed our learning and accomplishment of learning goals and success criteria.  

Why are learning goals important?
Students need to know where they are going and what they are doing.  Learning Goals and Success criteria are the road map you give you students at the beginning to know what they will be assessed on as they learn.  This is very explicit.  These are the test questions that you give them weeks in advance and a guide to have them show what they know by the end.  If they can show you that they have learned what you set out to have them learn then they have been successful.

How to use them in an Inquiry Classroom.

  • Co - create them with students and have them contribute their interests and knowledge to the learning decisions.  This will increase engagement because you are helping them learn what they tell you they are interested in.  
  • This part of your inquiry journey happens after your knowledge building circle and Wonder wall session.  This is the step that guides the rest of your learning.  
  • take their questions from their wonder wall and group them into categories and try to make sense of the themes of their questions.  This is not totally on them your selection of the questions help you to manipulate the direction of the learning while students may identify the themes or focus.  
  • Introduce the subtopics to your students and have them discuss the themes of where they are going in their learning.  Have them help you to explore where they will be going and what they will be learning about.  Ask them what they think the big idea is.  We want to know more about..., or We will be learning about...
  • From there organize your sentences into an order for learning.  What organ system will you learn about first, second, and third.  What makes the most sense to learn first.  Often this should start off from simple to complex allowing students to build the necessary background knowledge that will be needed and necessary prior to them using higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, and applying what they are learning to solve real world problems.  
  • Once they have developed the learning goal statements it is time to break down the first learning goal and determine how they are going to accomplish this task.  Depending on your students comfort level and knowledge of the topic they may need more or less support from you to do this.  Make a list of things they need to know.  This may change as you go along and they gather more information.  This can often be a messy part of the learning and sometime the most difficult but pay attention to what your students are saying this will give you a lot of insight on where students need and want to go with their learning and what gaps you will need to help them fill.  Again you may need to provide more support for them at this stage if all you hear in your classroom is crickets.
  • Remember that you are going to use this to help you students build their knowledge that stems from their own interests (or at least the interest of the collective group) Stop checking curriculum boxes and start helping your students meet their goals.  You are there to guide them and facilitate their learning.  Stop doing all of the work.  It is time, that your students take ownership of their own learning and share the load.  This will, in fact, reduce your planning time or at least change it as you are not preparing lessons but are finding resources to help students guide their own learning. 
How to get them to use it?
  • You need to use it.  
  • You need to make it the center of your conversations with students 
  • you need to reference it 
  • you need to point out that this is what they will be assessed on
  • you can follow the cycle of assessment to help keep them focused on this learning through regular conferences, check-ins, and observations.  
  • Assessment of inquiry seems difficult, but in reality, if you have strong and explicit learning goals and success criteria, that forms the center of your learning. Then it is very easy for students to show you what they know.  They can use them as a checklist for their learning and you can simply just check off when they have accomplished a learning goal when they show you what they know about that topic and meet the success criteria.  It becomes easier as you do this more often to evaluate whether or not they have shown a thorough understanding, a good understanding, or a simple understanding of the concepts that they have been learning.  

Talking Inquiry - Knowledge Building Circles

So I just completed my very first live video in my Let's Talk About Inquiry Series on Facebook Live.

My first video was about how I used  Knowledge Building Circles with Wonder Walls in my classroom to help facilitate inquiry.  I wanted to share my notes with you so that you would have an additional copy of the ideas that I shared in my video.

WonderWalls and Knowledge Building Circles

These two components of my inquiry unit help to start off my unit.  

Knowledge Building Circles - Start off you inquiry

Summer Sneak Peak

This summer I am getting ready to get back into the swing of things and have dedicated more time to sharing my products and tips and tricks with other teachers that like me want to use an inquiry approach in their classroom in both social studies, science and even language.  I have had a great response to my WonderWall video that I posted last summer on how I get started with inquiry and am looking to put out more videos this summer on my inquiry journey and how you to can teach with better inquiry approach to teaching and learning in your classrooms.

It is my hope to get a new video out to you each week which will be cross-posted to both facebook, here on my blog and on my youtube channel for people to watch and learn from.

But before I got started I needed to move my office space out of my spare room upstairs and into my basement to make room for my son who will be born in November.  So I couldn't just use my old tired stuff.  No I decided that I needed a whole new work space so using some of what I had already and a quick trip to the local IKEA I was able to put together my new office space.  Check it out I am so excited to get to work here each day this summer as I share with all of you.

For a sneak peak on what is happening at Madly Learning over the summer check out my sneak peak video below.  

Stay tuned and I hope to see you later this summer for my free inquiry in the classroom series. 

Amazing Benefits of Tech in Your Classroom

Over the past few years, I have adopted more and more technology usage in my classroom.  This year so far has been my year of more technology integration in my classroom then ever before.
Currently, in my classroom, we have a hybrid 1:1 at times.  We have a school board supplied kit of 6 iPad minis for student use and one for teacher use.  We have multiple school kits that can be signed out when needed.  As well as the addition of students that bring their own device (BYOD) this brings me up to a complete one to one ratio when I need it.  I wanted to share some of the unexpected benefits of using technology in my room.  I also believe that this would be possible if I only had half of the iPads as well.

No More Split Grade Planning Stress

You just found out you are teaching a split grade class next year.  For most teachers the idea of teaching a split is overwhelming.  You have twice as many curriculum expectations or standards to teach and no more time to teach it within.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to get independent students.  However if you are in a small school like me you just get all the kids in two particular grades.  This will again be my fourth year teaching a split.  I have been given opportunities to organize the classes into straight grades in the past however I have always negotiated that two splits were better than two separate straights.  This has worked out for many different reasons including the benefits for the students and the opportunity to work with a teaching partner.

Reducing stress when you are preparing for a split grade classroom can make some of the challenges of a split class less stressful.   Here is how I reduce my stress when getting ready for September and planning for a split grade classroom.

1) Long Range Planning - This is a vital step in reducing your stress come September.  Developing a plan that outlines what you are going to teach when and managing your pacing and timing to help to keep you on track is also very important.

2) Teach Things Together - This is necessary to save your sanity.  Math and language can easily be taught together.  Looking at the curriculum and mapping out the curriculum to find where the differences between the two curriculums for each grade level.  Many boards have this done for you.  The guides to effective instruction in Ontario have this in the math curriculum for you already.  This makes it easier.  Language is also very similar between grades.  Find the slight differences between the grades and teach them together extending the older grade where necessary.

3) Differentiate - Plan open-ended tasks that can easily be adaptable to various levels.  For math this means increasing or decreasing the difficulty of the numbers in the questions depending on where students are.  This means that everyone gets the exact same page but the numbers that they use to complete the worksheet or assigned problem changes depending on the students needs.  In language that means meet them where they are in their language development and conference with them more than teaching the to support them in moving forward in their writing and reading development.  Lots of conferencing and less time standing in front of them teaching will save you planning time and stress.  Using an inquiry approach in writing and reading allows students to work at their own pace and develop their skills in a more natural way.

4) Flip Flop Instruction -  sometimes when the curriculum does not match so you cannot teach it together.  Subjects such as science and social studies are much harder to combine completely.  In this case, I find that the best strategy is to plan for 20min of teacher supported instruction followed by 20min of student independent work tasks.  With an inquiry approach that is occurring in classrooms these days, this allows for wonderings and conversations circles during your teacher supported time and opportunities to research and search for information while you are working with the other group.  Using techniques such as interactive notebooks for independent work time and research booklets help to support this and provide students with some structure when working independently.  

5) No More Stress - Don't reinvent the wheel.  Let me do the planning for you.  Long range plans for a 4/5 split are available in my TPT store.  Specialized science and social studies units that are specifically designed for split grade teachers helps you to reduce your planning and get a head start on enjoying your summer and free time a bit more.  Whether you teach a 4/5 or another junior split the units in my TPT store will allow you to use a framework to support your planning at least reducing your planing by half.

How do you reduce your planning stress with a new assignment?

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