Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Teacher's objectives for learning

The other day I wrote about goals and objective, trying to differentiate the difference between those abstract ideas.  A goal is broader, more distant, and perhaps most important we should not reach our goals but have new ones to give us new direction.  However, it is with the objectives in a lesson plan that become the building blocks of learning.  Where do we start in teaching a four year old to read?  How do you start in teaching a sixth grader beginning flute?  And a most complex problem--where do you start in World History in the secondary school curriculum?  What sort of objectives do we need to teach?

Although I had outlined (to a degree) this blog, in the process I wanted to refresh my memory on the three taxonomies of objectives, essentially started by Bloom, et. al., around 1956.  I googled "Learning Taxonomies" and was overwhelmed by the material available to the reader.  I will let you do your own googling of the term and let you seek your own information.  What surprised me was how much recent material had been done.  You have to dig to find the original concept of objective classification.  Totally overwhelmed me.  

I have used two (cognitive domain and the affective domain) of the taxonomies in my lectures, on my "Blackboard" web page, in assignments and in lesson plans.  Over the years I have studied and struggled with the psycho-motor domain.  Someday I'll feel more confident with it.  This is strange because for years, I taught sailing which is a highly psycho-motor skill.

Before I proceed, we need to define the term, "Taxonomy". [an aside:  the word, taxonomy is from the Greek word Taxis which means arrangement]  It is a term we educators swiped from the Biologist who spent much of their time classifying their material.  Rather than reinvent the wheel we borrowed the technique for the behavioral paradigm.  But the main task for Bloom and others was to classify the relationship between levels of behavior in learning.  How about that!

We academic educators found comfort in the taxonomies--it was something we could hold up to the light much like the mathematics department having their "proofs", or the chemistry people with their substances and properties.  I think every education professor at one time or another had their students study levels of objectives.  For a time I did study teachers in the classroom looking to see if they had learning objectives for their students. The overwhelming result was that teachers have "objectives", not necessarily written in Bloom's behavioral language, but they do have objectives.  

For those of you who haven't read Bloom's Taxonomies recently I highly recommend that you google those terms and see the difference between the old and the new versions.  It's an easy read.  And also, think about "No Child Left Behind" testing--where on Bloom's taxonomy does it fall (fail?)?

For one thing I asked to see teachers' lesson plans.  Mostly they gave me a large notebooks provided by the school district with two pages for each week and boxes for time and day.  Many of the objectives were cryptic like "p 87".  Nothing more.  Some were more complete, for example, "finish health and summarize--give test."  When questioned about these objectives most teachers knew what they wanted to do and in some cases had other lesson plans stashed away from previous years.  The large notebook was for complying with administration edicts.  Indeed, I remember one teacher saying that their principal made it mandatory that it be on the front left hand corner of their desk before going home at night. 

While I ponder some thoughts about objectives, I wonder how many of today's teachers have objectives for their class on the web?   Now there is a good master's degree research project.

The reason I just wrote the preceding paragraph is that I remember Jo Tillia teaching me how to write lesson plans when I first started teaching fifth grade.  Here was her method.

  • Take a standard piece of writing paper with inked margin.  Fold in half lengthwise.
  • Write what you want your students to learn in the top blank of the page (the objective for the lesson)
  • In the margin write the time for each of the following activity
  • On the left had of the fold, write what you (the teacher) will do.  Read, give instruction, show on the blackboard, pass out material, etc.
  • On the right side of the fold, write what the students will do.  Read, listen, start assignment, watch experiment, write a paragraph, etc.  (it has to be observable)
  • On the back side, on the top, list material that students/teacher will need. Scissors, glue, textbook, pencil and paper, etc.  On the lower back side is space for an evaluation of the learning lesson.
Some lessons might take two or three sheets of paper to complete.  Now I could take my lesson plans and put them on a clipboard and carry them around with me with essentially my notes guiding what I wanted to do.

When I first started doing this method of lesson plans (yes, I did the little boxes as well to satisfy the principal), the kids on the early morning school bus would come to class and some being nosy would take my clipboard for the day to see what they were going to do.  I, of course, said, "hey, those are mine for me to use."  But what i found was that those kids who looked at our assignments for the day were getting organized either in the minds or attitudes.  It didn't take me long to write a simplified set of objectives on the blackboard for the whole class to see.

Another good thing about that type of lesson plan was that I could file it in folders under the appropriate labels--reading, arithmetic, health, geography, etc. and save it for next year.

As I look at Bloom's taxonomy today I realize I did little at the grade school level to get my students to the level of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  I know a number of grade school teachers who do reach those levels all the time.

Most of my classroom objectives were in the Cognitive Domain.  Knowledge, Comprehension and Application for the most part.  The real skill was deciding which knowledge came first.  You have to add before you multiply.  You have to read words before you read sentences before you read paragraphs.  Some teachers have an intuitive knowledge of being able to present learning to children.  When I see this I think teachers are born not taught.  But I do see teachers who are constantly improving in the skills.  Then I think, we can teach how to teach.

To the professor that made me read Bloom's taxonomy, my grateful thanks.  To those teachers who taught me how to compose a good lesson, my sincere thanks.  And thanks to all the teachers who push their students to learn knowlege and understand it, to apply that knowledge while being analyitical and then evaluating and creating new knowlege.  You are amazing.

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