Much of my work with PLCs includes setting learning goals for students and then collaborating to plan the paths to achieve those learning outcomes. This is where differentiation is built into teachers’ planning. First, the identification of different goals depending on a student’s starting point. Different learning outcome goals will require different student learning production behaviors. Even students with the same identified learning goal may require different learning production behaviors based on their previous learning, motivation, and style preferences. When looking at the start of a school year it is often helpful to engage the previous year’s teacher in setting the learning goals because of her knowledge of the students. As teachers are working on the last quarter push to the year’s end, it can be the perfect time to engage with the next grade level teachers to set goals for the upcoming year.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
Consider fourth grade students in April completing a writing task on which fifth grade teachers provide some comments on strengths and recommendations for improvement. The students rework the piece and submit it again. Fifth grade teachers then score the work on the beginning of fifth grade rubric. The 4th and 5th grade teachers now meet and set next year’s writing goals for the new 5th graders. Such shared goals, especially set prior to teachers knowing which students will be in their individual classes, are a great start toward functioning as grade level and vertical teams. A similar process can provide a great way to link middle school and high school teachers. Writing samples of 8th grade students that receive feedback and are eventually scored by freshman teachers provide great communication between the teachers as to “what’s important”. Freshman teachers with those students’ results in hand can set goals for incoming students and plan for initial instruction. I could envision freshman teachers at the beginning of the year engaging the students in goal setting as they compare their entering “best work” with required grade nine standards.
I believe this early goal setting is especially critical for students with advanced achievement. Without teachers having focused goals for these students, they can often be overlooked as the teachers’ immediate attention is on the grade level or course standards and then drawn to students who are missing prerequisite skills and knowledge. The teacher beginning the year with goals established for the advanced students will plan for the needed learning opportunities.
A primary school team developed a plan for the end of the year reading assessment, in this case running records, to be conducted by next year’s teachers. On an assigned day, Kindergarten teachers take charge of 5th grade classrooms and all the teachers move to the preceding grade level. So, 2nd grade teachers complete a running record on 1st grade students. Then with those results and input from the 1st grade teachers they set goals for students’ reading achievement next year in 2nd grade. This should prepare teachers to begin the year with instructional plans in place — hitting the ground running. Imagine the value when a new teacher joins the staff and is handed her class list along with goals for each learner. It takes a long time for a teacher new to the system to understand the curriculum and assess students to sufficiently set goals. The new teacher being handed goals that were set by colleagues is more likely to approach those colleagues for support when a student’s initial engagement seems to not align with the goal. Hopefully teachers begin and persevere with higher expectations.
A principal shared with me that students at one grade level had made a surprising increase in their achievement during the school year. We discussed the importance of next year’s teachers being aware of that level so that the instructional plans for the fall are adjusted appropriately. An unaware teacher starting “as usual” could be missing the opportunity to maximize the learning advances.
I think that bringing teachers together to look at student work and performance, reaching consensus on current achievement and creating target goals builds teams. It encourages a respect of each other for roles played and a commitment to ‘do what it takes’ to reach targeted student achievement outcomes — a more than one year process. Consider a middle school Language Arts department assessing sixth grade student writing and setting goals for the end of eighth grade. Then planning backwards to set goals for the end of seventh. This department can be examining seventh grade writing next year, deciding if students are on target to achieve goals set by the department. Changes in teaching can be planned in the conversation that includes last year’s, this year’s and next year’s teachers.