Friday, January 14, 2011

Classifying What to Teach..

Some teachers have an intuitive mode when it comes to helping kids to learn.  It makes no matter if they are teaching in the high school or "down" in the grades.  The logic of presenting information and problems seems to come naturally to these teachers and I will admit I have been fascinated sitting in the back of some classroom to watcht this phenomenon take place.  It seems to me that many teachers have a goal in the back of their head (along with those eyes) that acts like a lighthouse to their teaching mode.  What is it and how does one acquire this fine turning of teaching?

My objective today is to review "goals" and "objectives" in teaching and learning.  To paraphrase an old song, you can't have one without the other.   One of the problems for lay people in discussing what should be taught in the schools is the confusion between the term, "Goals" when they mean "Objectives and vise-versa.  Let's define our terms before we go further in the discussion of objectives.

We need to discuss goals beyond that of scores in a game as in "our team had three goals."  Goals are a direction or a desired result.  Saying what you want graduates of your school or school district to be when they do graduate is/are goals.  "I want him/her to be able to become a productive member of society when they graduate from our school system."  That is a goal.  It is broad and gives direction.  It should be something to strive for.  And it needs to change according to the times.  Let me give you an idea of what I mean.

I will use the Columbia River as my example, although what I am about to write will work on any navigable river in North America.  Let me suggest that you are a pilot piloting a large ship up the river before there were dams.  Because rivers offer drifting sands and moving sandbars one needs to know where to steer.   To assist the skipper, there are range markers at different places throughout the course.  A range marker is a very large rectangular dayboard painted white with a dark stripe down the center. This normally is placed near the edge of the river.  Behind this dayboard, sometimes as much as a half mile behind, is another dayboard painted in a similar fashion.  The task for the pilot of the ship is to keep those range markers in line so as to stay in the channel.  With me so far?  The problem for the pilot is to look for the next set of range markers before they reach the ones which they are presently headed for.  Since they are on land, it behoves the ship to turn before it reaches the first range marker.  

Goals are like range markers on the river.  They are for navigation, guidance and you need more goals once you've reached your initial goal.  Goals are broad guidelines given for direction of the school system.  

A school board (I was once a school board member) needs to provide goals for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in their district.  The state board of education needs to provide even broader goals for the school districts.  We need to allow the schools and the teachers to design objectives to reach those goals.  And within those objectives there ought to tasks to achieve those objectives.  So we have goals, then objectives and finally tasks or learning activities.  

I've seen one school districts goals which included having the students recite the pledge of allegiance while facing the flag each day.  Actually this is more of a task then a goal much less an objective.  Perhaps the goal might have been....  "Students graduating from this school district will show an appreciation of their country and what it stands for."  Now we can have objectives such as "students will know the history and the making of our government.  They will also understand the three branches of the government as well as the symbols that represent our country.  That is probably not the best written objective but you get to see the different between, task, objective and goal.  

Teachers depend upon having insightful goals to teach.  Interestingly enough there are objectives and tasks written as laws of the land by the legislature.  For example there are laws that say that schools have to teach about the holocaust in the State of Washington.  That is an objective not a goal.  A goal might be to have students understand the history of mankind's inhumanity to mankind which would include the holocaust.   Having been on the writing end, I will say that writing insightful goals is very, very hard.  It is something that I do not enjoy.  However, they are essential to the teaching/learning of our children.

Tomorrow, objectives which all teachers have and use.  

Thanks to all those professors who skillfully taught me to differentiate between goals, objectives and task or assignments.  And my thanks to those teachers who without knowing have a good grasp of objectives for each of their students.  Have you thanked a teacher today?

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