This week I had the honor of filling in for a primary teacher for about a half hour. We were learning about lions. As expected, several students wanted to share their experiences and knowledge with the class.
One student commented that he went to Africa with his family and saw a lion’s skull during their trip. “Really?” I responded. He went on and explained that they brought the skull home with them on the plane. “Well, that’s something!”
Obviously I didn’t take this information as gospel. Even though his story was interesting, we moved on to the next part of the planned activity. And yet, the creativity in his thinking was something that, if I had more time, I might have encouraged him to put down on paper if he felt so inclined.
There was not a learning target posted for the lesson, but if there was, it would have likely stated something like “I can identify important facts about lions.” That’s great. Kids need background knowledge in order to develop a deeper understanding of bigger concepts that can relate to many areas of life. For example, interaction as a concept that can be revisited over and over throughout a unit of study on biology and the environment. That lens might accommodate more diverse thinking such as the students’ story about the lion skull.
Where do we start? Maybe we can rethink how we craft our learning targets. For instance, what if an “I can” statement became a question? I saw an example of this in a 4th grade classroom (see picture, second target). Posing questions vs. learning statements can invite new ways of thinking while still guiding students to focus on the content or skill to be learned. In my example with the lions, what if we asked, “What is important to know about lions?” Now we could not only build knowledge but also explore author’s purpose and/or generate more questions with students. Engagement goes up, thinking becomes deeper.
My belief about learning targets has changed. I used to think we needed to spell out exactly what we want our students to know and be able to do. “I can” statements are supposed to be in kid-friendly language. Now I’m wondering if in our efforts to ensure students meet standards, we are also diminishing the potential for creative and complex thinking in the classroom. Not so kid-friendly after all.
What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments.