Lemme share a funny story with you.
Several years ago, a school that I was working in went through a trend where every teacher was required to post a SWBAT objective on the board every single day. SWBAT stood for, “The student will be able to,” — and each objective was, like a SMART goal, supposed to end with some kind of measure of proficiency.
The system worked pretty flawlessly in linear classes with easy to measure outcomes like mathematics, where you’d see objectives like, “The student will be able to solve multistep equations four out of five times,” or “The student will be able to apply the order of operations with 80 percent accuracy.”
But teachers in subjects with less tangible, direct objectives — read: every subject EXCEPT mathematics — really wrestled with the requirement.
It wasn’t that we were opposed to the idea of having clear learning targets for students. We just couldn’t figure out how to turn objectives like, “Students will recognize the impact that living in the developing world has on economic and/or quality of life indicators” or “Students can explain the spinoff benefits of space exploration” into something that was easy to measure.
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My favorite example of the challenge that teachers in subjects outside of math had at writing measurable objectives came from a former colleague of mine who genuinely TRIED to write good objectives on the board every day.
One that I saw frequently posted on her board was:
“The student will be able to self-select silent reading material with 80% accuracy.”
Think about that for a minute.
Have you caught the problem yet?
Does that mean that on two out of every 10 days, kids are mistakenly picking up staplers instead of books during silent reading time?
If so, we’ve got bigger problems than our test scores!
Now I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to call out my former colleague. She was a great teacher who inspired kids and taught with a passion that was hard to match. I have no doubt that her students were better off for having had her as a teacher. They left with the ability to read texts with complexity, to write with articulation, and to interact in the kind of conversations that result in knowledge-building.
I’m trying to call out a system that simultaneously encourages us to pursue lofty goals like teaching students to critically think or to build consensus or to be creative while asking us to fit every goal that we pursue into some kind of measurable format.
The truth is that the things that are the MOST meaningful are also the hardest to measure.
If you want kids to wrestle with meaningful objectives, you are going to have to back off your demands that everything be measurable in some way, shape or form. If measurement is what you want, simple outcomes is what you need to settle for.
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