What do our students need us to learn? - Steve Barkley

What do our students need us to learn?

Planning backwards from student desired outcomes eventually leads to identifying teachers’ needs for understanding or learning. I suggest that as teachers study student work and assessments in a PLC, the question, “What do students need us to learn?” emerges. I believe that as teachers we are doing everything we can to have students reach mastery plus. If we knew what to do to gain stronger student learning, we would have done it. Hence, we need to learn something: content, instruction, motivation, personalization, etc.student boy with marker writing on flip board

Having identified a desired “different” student achievement outcome from the one we are getting, we next ask, “What student learning production behaviors are needed?” Student actions/behaviors generate learning outcomes. When we know what students need to do to cause the desired learning, we can explore the teacher behaviors/actions that will generate, motivate, and coach those student behaviors. Teacher learning can be generated by questions asked throughout this process:

  • What goals should we establish for student outcomes? (Are there things about the content depth, breadth, skill sequence that I need to understand better?)
  • What are the student learning production behaviors that will generate the learning? (Are there proven practices that generate deeper, faster, more internalized learning? Are there optional learning behaviors that can provide for choice and preferences?)
  • What teacher actions/behaviors are most likely to generate the critical student learning production behaviors? (What do I know about my students that can assist in selecting teacher behaviors? What are the instructional design options? As I take actions what learning will cause me to make adjustments along the way?)

Authors Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler and Madelyn Gardner (2017) in Effective Teacher Professional Development  reported, “For students to develop mastery of challenging content, problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction, teachers must employ more sophisticated forms of teaching. Effective professional development (PD) is key to teachers learning and refining the pedagogies required to teach these skills… More sophisticated forms of teaching” means gaining teacher behaviors that generate the student learning production behaviors that reward the student with enhanced learning and skills.”

teacher behaviors,student behaviors, student outcomes
We plan from the bottom up and implement from the top down.

Here’s an example:

Student Learning Outcomes

A rubric on student collaboration skills identifies that successful students can: “Consistently and accurately prioritize and monitor individual and team progress toward goals, making sufficient corrections and adjustments when needed and employ a wide range of project management strategies that enhance the group’s effectiveness (e.g., creates timelines, identifies or sets goals, prioritizes and allocates tasks, organizes resource-gathering, monitors progress, and keeps group on task).”

What do students need to do and experience to gain these skills?

Student Learning Production Behaviors

A starter list might include students…

  • Experimenting with surveys and protocols for assessing group member skills and interest to decide tasks assignments.
  • Practicing using time management planning strategies.
  • Reflecting and self- reporting on project progress.
  • Role-playing verbal skills for giving feedback — practicing with sentence starters.
  • Tracking improvements made from team members’ input.

A teacher seeking these student learning production behaviors would need to engage the students in collaborative tasks of sufficient interest and might provide the following:

Teacher Actions and Behaviors

  • Models of backwards planning from project due date, setting key progress indicators.
  • Feedback to groups on their plans.
  • Protocols for giving peer feedback.
  • Coaching during collaborative tasks providing feedback on students’ communications with each other.
  • Teaching and modeling consensus reaching strategies.

Having identified desired student outcomes, needed student learning production behaviors, and possible teacher actions and behaviors; instructional coaches and school leaders should engage in supporting teachers in learning and refining their practice.

Darling-Hammond and Hyler (2017) provide critical guidelines for effective professional development that include1:

“Providing coaching and expert support that involve the sharing of expertise about content and evidence-based practices, focused directly on teachers’ individual needs and time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice. Feedback and reflection help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice.”

How can instructional leaders at all levels partner with teachers to continually engage in educator learning that promotes continuous student present and future success?

1. Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.]

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