As teachers, individually or collaboratively, design instructional plans for learning, their work should be guided by planning backwards from desired student learning outcomes. Knowing the desired learning outcome, a teacher can focus on what learning production behaviors on the students’ part will generate that outcome. Knowing the necessary learning production behaviors, a teacher can design the teaching strategies and actions to gain those behaviors.
Teachers should consider how the learning outcome goals differ for students, considering their entry level of understanding and experience prior to the start of instruction. At a minimum, a teacher likely has some students who are prepared to engage in the work necessary to produce understanding while some are lacking prerequisite skills or experiences. Some students may be advanced and will quickly master the new content and some students may already have internalized the knowledge or skills.
Based on a teacher’s experience with students or on a preassessment prior to the beginning of a unit, she might consider setting outcome goals in these categories:
- Students on level with necessary previous experiences.
- Highly proficient students who will likely master new understanding quickly.
- Below proficient students who will need scaffolded learning opportunities.
- Advanced students who may already have learned the ‘content being introduced’.
- Intensive students who will need maximum learning support to show growth but are unlikely to meet the grade level standard.
As a teacher establishes these goals it is most appropriate to create the summative assessment process that will be used to identify mastery and progress. Often curriculum materials will provide the assessment for grade level proficiency, but the teacher may need to add items to measure the growth of high proficient and advanced students and possibly some items to show the growth of intensive learners. This is a valuable time for teachers to be working collaboratively reaching consensus on indicators of desired learning outcomes.
“Identifying the end product students will complete to demonstrate mastery of the target and how teachers will assess it provide both teachers and students with a clear path toward reaching that target. It also provides the foundation for a curriculum that is guaranteed and viable for all students, no matter to which teacher the school assigns them.”
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Standard – Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems (Grade 5)
Performance Expectations: Students can develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants (producers), animals (consumers), decomposers, and the environment.
As a starting point, the teacher(s) decide upon the assessment tasks that can be used to assess mastery of the skill at grade level proficiency for the standard and at advanced learning outcome levels. This can guide the design of tasks that will provide the teacher with a preassessment of students’ knowledge and experiences with the content of the standard. (Are students familiar with photosynthesis?) The preassessment will assist the teacher in setting differentiated outcome goals and identifying needed learning production behaviors.
What are possible learning experiences that will engage students in key learning production behaviors?
- Students working in small groups will analyze teacher created energy food chains (simple and complex) and identify the reasons for the order of items in the chain.
- Students will create an energy food chain cycle from their lunch.
- Students will view a video clip on decomposers and then research and create a list of plant and animal decomposers. Students will share examples from their list explaining why the example is a decomposer.
- Students will be provided with the daily nutritional requirements for heath and growth at their age and then identify how they gain those elements. They will then trace the flow of energy/matter prior to their consumption of the food.
What teacher actions will maximize student engagement in the critical thinking elements for learning?
- What vocabulary should be introduced? When? How?
- What questions will probe students search for connections and understanding?
- How might increased student choice increase student learning?
- How should students gain feedback on their application and solutions?
- How can the teacher assess students’ understanding throughout the process to best guide “next steps?”
As a summative evaluation is made, how will a decision be reached regarding the need to extend time on student mastery of this standard or proceed to other standards in the curriculum? Is this a power standard? How key is it to future content mastery.
Thinking through the backwards process at the start will guide critical teacher decision-making at the important spots throughout the student learning process.