It’s “what students do” that generates the learning outcomes and standards mastery that we as teachers set out to accomplish. In this first episode of his new podcast series for teachers, Steve explores how identifying the student learning production behaviors that generate the desired learning outcomes, focus a teacher or PLC’s approach to planning instruction.
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:33 Students cause student achievement. In the early days of the standardized testing push, I heard the phrase that, “teachers needed to work harder in order to raise student achievement.” That phrase just didn’t stick with my observations. In many of the classrooms that I observed, teachers were already working, I thought too hard. And in many cases, students weren’t working hard enough. At that time, I wrote a book titled tapping student effort, increasing student achievement.
Steve: 01:11 Its focus was on the fact that teachers needed to tap into student effort and it was the student effort that would produce an increase in learning outcomes. But then I had the define effort at what? After a substantial amount of effort on my part and experimenting with alternatives, I finally landed on the term, “student learning production behaviors.” Those are the actions, behaviors, experiences that students engage in with effort that will cause the learning, skill development that we’re seeking to happen. Performing arts instructors and athletic coaches helped me to frame my thinking around learning production behaviors. You see, I realized I can’t teach you to have soccer skills. I can teach you how to learn, but if the student athlete doesn’t do the work necessary to learn the skills, then the skills won’t develop. The same is true with a musical instrument. I can’t teach you how to play the flute. I can teach you how to learn.
Steve: 02:41 I had a very personal example of that when my granddaughter came home from school with a flute and it was the beginning of fourth grade and her first learning. And she said to me, “pop pop, can you help me? I need to practice my flute.” And I said, “sure, honey.” And she opened up the case and she didn’t even put the flute together. She just took out the first piece. And she said, “pop pop, I need to make this noise for 10 seconds.” You see, at that point, we knew what the learning production behavior was. It was work to make the noise. And while I couldn’t teach her how to play that flute, I could encourage her in the production behaviors. I timed her. And when we got to eight seconds, I really wanted to say, I think we could roudn it up to 10, but I knew she had to keep working and putting the effort in to get to make the noise.
Steve: 03:45 And so we celebrated getting to eight and then we celebrated getting to 10 and then she went further and got to 12. Little did I know that months later, she would play a song that I could recognize. But I understand that her teacher knew what those learning production behaviors are that are going to cause the student to gain the skill. I laughingly have had conversations with elementary music teachers and asked them how in the world do you give kids approval when they’re starting to learn on those instruments? And a teacher said to me, well, I tell kids all the time, I really enjoy watching you play. And I have to laugh because you know, you couldn’t say that you enjoyed listening to that. But the teacher is totally honest that as she sees the child’s cheeks puffing up and their eyes popping, she realizes how hard the student is working to execute the activity that’s going to produce the learning outcome.
Steve: 04:49 And the teacher sees her role as one, being able to tell the student what the learning production behavior is, and then being able to coach and motivate it. You see, I believe that the same thing is true for math and reading and writing and science and history. The teacher cannot teach you the content. The teacher can teach you how to learn. The student needs to invest the effort that causes the learning. The expertise of teaching is in knowing what the learning production behaviors are and then generating for the student, the motivation, the drive, and the understanding of how executing those learning production behaviors will produce a desired outcome. The motivation of those learning production behaviors can be difficult because initially, the student isn’t a reward. In other words, they aren’t getting better, initially, and they need to contain continued practice, continued effort until those first signs of learning and improvement and growth appear that motivate the student to continue.
Steve: 06:20 So a teacher plans backwards from the desired learning outcome. So looking at the outcome, considering the standard that the student needs to master the teacher then identifies, what are the student learning production behaviors? What will students do that would generate the student learning? And only after understanding what the student needs to do is the teacher now ready to plan the teacher’s actions or the instructional plan. So in implementing, a teacher takes actions that generate the student behaviors or actions that then generate the student learning outcome. That’s why as a teacher, I’m constantly watching my students to see if they are engaged in the learning production behavior that will eventually produce the desired learning outcome. Initially, I’m measuring students’ engagement in the learning production behavior. Further down the road, I begin to measure the learning outcome. Consider a teacher who wants students to develop an important vocabulary base.
Steve: 07:39 She might begin by identifying the student learning production behaviors. As one, hearing the teacher use the vocabulary. Two, engaging in conversations or discussions using the vocabulary. Three, reading material that contains the vocabulary and four, writing for purpose, using that vocabulary. Knowing that those are the learning production behaviors that will produce the desired outcome of increased vocabulary, the teacher now plans the learning activities that will engage students in those actions. So the teacher is dentifying articles for the students to read. The teacher is mapping out paired conversation activities that will engage the students in using the vocabulary and conversation. The teacher is designing the critical questions that will lead to student discussion and student research. And a teacher might map out a project based learning activity that would engage the student in all of those learning production behaviors. It’s often important to communicate what the learning production behaviors are to students.
Steve: 09:03 Much easier to engage them when they understand the reason the teacher is assigning a particular activity. While visiting a school that was focused on improving student writing, I met with a young boy who shared his writing folder with me and I asked him if he had a goal for writing. And he said, yes, he did. His goal was to raise his writing score from a 2.5 to a 3.0. And I said, “Oh, that’s terrific. What will that require?” And he said to me, “I have to have fewer punctuation mistakes and I have to have greater variety in my vocabulary.” And I said, “wow, terrific. I said, “what will you do to make that happen?” And he said to me, “I have no idea.” In other words, the student knew the goal. The student knew the indicators that would say he had achieved his goal, but he did not know he could not communicate what the learning production behaviors were that would cause it to happen.
Steve: 10:04 So I said to him, “you need some learning production behaviors.” And he said, “I do?” And I said, “yeah.” I said, “ask your teacher for a list of all the places that you should be using commas. And if you put that list in your writing folder and on the next several drafts that you do, if you get that list out and you look for where are commas used and you look at the first place they’re using, you check your draft, do you have any of those? You look at the second place, do you have any of those? You look at the third, do you have any of those? And I’m going to guarantee you, if you do that on each writing assignment during the next month, a guarantee that you will find you begin to use commas in the correct place.”
Steve: 10:49 I said, “now take your draft and take it over to a friend and ask your friend to read through your draft and highlight the three
words where they think you might be able to find a more sophisticated way rather than using the words that you did. And if you now seek out and make those changes that your friend suggested, you might want to go to a second friend and do the same thing. And again, I believe that if you’ll do that on each writing assignment during the next month, you’ll find that you’re beginning to use some of those more sophisticated vocabulary words in your initial work.” You see if we want students to put effort into learning, we need to be very clear as to what the behaviors are that the student will engage the effort in. Just like the performing arts or athletic coach would point out to students why they were working out on a particular piece of equipment or why the music teacher wanted them to rehearse a certain set of scales for an extended amount of time.
Steve: 12:01 During the COVID-19 quarantine that drove students to be learning at home online, it was critical that they understand what they were to do as learners, rather than focusing on the work they needed to get done. During that time, I produced a podcast for parents that would encourage parents to converse with their children about what learning actions they were engaged in, rather than what work needed to get done. You see, with the mindset of getting done, it can cause one to look for shortcuts versus putting effort in to the learning production behavior. As you prepare for the upcoming school year, whether it turns out to be face to face with students in school or online, or in some blended combination, consider identifying clearly what students need to do to generate the learning production behaviors. And then how will you teach, coach and motivate the learning production behaviors that will produce the desired learning outcomes. Best wishes on this very important work and thanks for listening in.
Steve [Outro]: 13:37 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.