I Can...By - Steve Barkley

I Can…By

I had the opportunity recently to spend substantial time observing in classrooms and then debriefing with fellow observers what learning and teaching behaviors we saw. My focusing of the observations and facilitation of the debriefing conversations began with a concentration on the student behaviors and experiences that would produce the desired learning outcomes.

In several classrooms, teachers had learning objectives posted, frequently stated as “I Can Statements”.

I can perform simple probability experiments and draw conclusion from the results. (e.g. rolling dice or flipping a coin)

Jessica Balsley, an art educator, posted, How I can statements can work for you.

She writes:

I CAN statements break down lofty objectives into learning targets students can read and understand.  They cover specific learning for each lesson, and there can be more than one I CAN statement for each Power Standard.

 The neat thing about I CAN statements is that if they are used consistently and accurately, they can help students become more responsible for their learning and more reflective of their own work.  I CAN statements also easily transition into assessments and allow for students and teachers to have a better discussion of their work.

Kurtis Hewson, an Alberta educator shares his use of  “I Cans” for focusing students and engaging students in formative  self-assessments in this video clip. 

As I observed in the classrooms with the I CAN statements in mind I was reinforced in understanding that the instructional design process for teachers requires identifying the student behaviors that would lead to the accomplishment of the I Can, and then deciding the teacher actions and learning tasks to initiate and support those student behaviors.

I believe that we still have too many cases where teachers consider the I CAN statement and begin planning their instructional approach without a clear decision about what students need to do. They begin planning teaching before assessing learning strategies. I had a great example recently where a principal shared that her teachers in PLCs were preparing a list of student achievement outcomes, student behaviors and teacher behaviors for an upcoming unit of study. Two teams said that they had the outcomes and teacher behaviors and needed more time for working on student behaviors. (We definitely have more professional development to provide.)

Here is an I Can Statement posted in a middle school classroom I observed:

I can understand the impact Eli Whitney and the cotton gin had on the industrial revolution.

After the observation I reflected on what I might add as a BY to that I CAN. Here is what I created:

Gathering information about Eli Whitney, the cotton gin and the industrial revolution from reading your text and listening (taking notes) to teacher’s presentations.

 As you explore this information keep asking, ”What connections can I find?”

 Sharing connections you identify with your classmates, hearing what they think and raising questions for them, yourself, and your teacher.

 Now that I am aware of the students actions I want to generate, it’s clearer what teaching decisions I should make. Here are some of my ideas that emerge:

If I provide a mini lecture in class on the cotton gin, I can ask that as the students read an assignment about the industrial revolution they take notes and identify connections.

Or if they read and take notes about the cotton gin, I can then lecture on the industrial revolution and build in time for pairs to identify connections.

It’s clear that I need time for groups to prepare questions and connections for some type of discussion where I’d hope the understanding would emerge.

As I think this process through I realize that without being clear with students ”what they will do to cause learning (BY)”, I may have students thinking that I am going to explain the impact of Eli Whitney and the cotton gin and all they need to do is repeat it back to me. ( I have seen that approach in some classrooms)

Where in coaching conversations and PLC work do you see a need for increased definition of the student learning behaviors?

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5 Responses to “ I Can…By ”

  1. Dollie Mayeux Says:

    Great blog!
    Developing “I Can” statement could really help chunk out learning objectives into manageable, achievable student expectations. The “By,…” helps to focus on the specific behaviors you should expect to see throughout the learning process.
    Not only will teachers have a better understanding of how to manage the learning, those visiting the classroom as coaches or as appraisers have a more specific set of behaviors to look for.

  2. Amanda Campbell Says:

    Thanks for some great resources and thoughts about learning targets and how they impact formative assessment. I often find that the use of the target to impact student learning gets less attention than just the idea of having a target.

    I’ve worked with teachers to add a “This means that…” statement following “I can…” statements in the past, but I appreciate the simplicity of adding “…by…” — I’m also wondering if this could impact differentiation. Students may be able to define their own behaviors to show their learning.

    Thanks as always for a great post!

  3. Eileen Carew Says:

    I am having a problem this year. I am a special education teacher in a small room. I have had students move in and move out this year, but my problem is that I have 13 students. Fifth and sixth grade students on 2 different levels because of the movement. How do I handle this?

  4. Steve Says:

    Eileen… if your question is asking how to do I Cans with the differences among your students, I think the key is I Can …by journals. Students set goals and plans and you provide the coaching.

  5. Kim Hampton Says:

    The “I can…by” statement is one of my big takeaways from your recent visit with us (the Technology Facilitators in Frisco, TX). From the perspective of a technology facilitator, this kind of statement makes it very clear what the teacher’s goals are for a lesson making it easy to identify opportunities for technology integration. This will also help ensure that the technology utilized will be driven by the learning and not by the technology tool.

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