Sunday, May 6, 2012

Learning Goals and Exit Cards

Learning goals seem to be the fastest growing classroom tool in our school board these days. I’ve used them at the beginning and end of PowerPoint presentations – particularly when the language is new and the concepts are dense – and I’ve tinkered with developing them along with students before completing a new reading or discussing a new concept. Students have also posed questions as learning goals on several occasions and that has worked quite successfully. However, I still thought that I wasn’t always hitting the mark when it came to using learning goals as effectively as I could with students.

The other day I was chatting on the phone at my colleague’s desk and I saw a chart that not only outlined learning goals but also allowed students to organize their thoughts correlated to each goal. It also created a ranking system for the students to circle what they believed was their level of understanding of the learning goal by the end of class. Conveniently, this formed a built-in exit card that required almost no extra work to set up.

Added to this, I had recently discovered a brief PowerPoint presentation online that outlined the changes in the Chinese sport policy since the Second World War. Since we are in the middle of a unit looking at the Olympics and international sport, there was a link here that could also support how we understand the changes in the Canadian sport system that have occurred through programs like Own the Podium and Quest for Gold and thereby lead to a focus on high performance and elite sport. The challenge was to make the information on the seemingly distant Chinese sport system accessible to Canadian students and to create some take away points for these students so the whole lesson was actually related to what we’ve been discussing. 

Fast forward to seeing the learning goals chart and then taking a stab at making my own chart, complete with the information I wanted them to be able to leave with by the end of class. I found the five key points that I felt were most important and created the goals around these points. These became the first column, then the second column was space for students to write supporting points on each of the key points and then a third column was added for a self-evaluation on a five point scale (1 for lowest and 5 for highest) of learning at the end of class.

It was a little awkward working from two documents – the slides from the PowerPoint and the learning goals chart – and overall I think we got a good result for this first time use. I continually asked questions about the information as we went through it like, “What learning goal could this fall under?” or “Does this meet any of our learning goal criteria?” which was a little more structured than I would have liked…however, I felt it necessary to help create the link between what we were learning and what the outcome goals were.

Finally, students were able to evaluate themselves on the “scale” of their learning – a sort of metacognitive measurement – in the last column of the learning goals chart. In a totally unplanned moment, I collected the learning goals sheets at the end of class and leafed through them afterwards. Almost all students had completed the sheet and had evaluated metacognitive portion on the strength of their understanding at the end of class. Voila, exit card! And, I was able to quickly see that the majority of students had comfortably grasped four of the five learning goals.

I handed back the learning goals sheets at the beginning of the next day, addressed the fuzzy fifth goal that most of the class rated as less understood and then went on to step into the next lesson. I definitely plan on using a learning goals chart again in the future as they helped me make some tough concepts seem simple in the class and made the learning more clear for the students.

One final thought is that this type of learning is exactly what I do when I’m coaching, although not with pen and paper. We start an activity, we define the goals that we need to achieve in order to be successful and then we evaluate ourselves on these goals through key points or indicators when we play during practice and in games. What I can’t figure out is why it took me so long to apply them in the classroom rather than just on the rugby pitch!

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