Can best practice result in malpractice?

Matt Coaty’s recent post on learning experiences has caused me to reflect on posting the daily objective on the board and a district’s mandate. Is there room for discussion regarding what an appropriate learning target looks like across grades? For example is an explicit “I can…” statement be too low level for most middle schoolers? Can we challenge their thinking by reframing it in the form of a question? Is an image or anagram appropriate? Can it be process based rather than content based (i.e. mathematical practices, thinking strategies). If a teacher has strong rationale for not posting the daily objective at all isn’t that okay?

Here’s an example of one of my daily objectives–“You will be able to express equivalent ratios.” This is what I think of it:

It’s a low level, non-intellectually engaging bunch of words forming a lousy, declarative sentence that describes what I’m doing going to do to you this class period. There. Done. I’ve checked it off my to-do list.

Instead, what if I posed this image with a question? It’s not the greatest, but it is a tad more perplexing.

equiv ratios

My point is that learning targets should be crafted to evoke thinking. Simplifying them into ordinary “I can…” statements turns them into trivia.

Additionally, there are other times when I think posting the daily objective on the board is equivalent to “Spoiler Alert!” It can stop curiosity dead in its tracks. If the day’s learning experience is discovery based have I not given away the ending by posting the objective? Even if the lesson is direct instruction, wouldn’t it require some critical thinking on the student’s part to close the lesson with a reflection and the specific mathematical practices applied, rather than the teacher explicitly posting the purpose at the start? Let’s have the students create their own understanding in an exit slip, journal entry, or think-pair-share with a closing prompt, “Demonstrate what you learn today. Describe the mathematical practice(s) you applied.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for an incoherent lesson. A clear lesson objective and linking it to the math practices are at the heart of lesson planning and instruction. I’m suggesting at times it’s appropriate to save the story’s resolution for the end of the story, and that a good question evokes more learning than a declarative sentence.



7 thoughts on “Can best practice result in malpractice?

  1. Mary, I think your post brings up some good points. I agree with your “spoiler-alert” statement and the idea of using pictures to introduce topics. Encouraging student curiosity and creating opportunities to ask questions is important. How the learner objective statements are used truly depends on the teacher. Similar to your thinking, I find that summarizing a posted math objective at the end of class can help bring closure to the learning experience. It also allows opportunities for student reflection.

  2. I don’t post my daily objectives for the exact reason you mentioned – spoiler alert! I, of course, know what I want to accomplish, but I keep it to myself. I also find that not posting an objective makes me feel more flexible. If students are curious and want to have a worthwhile mathematical discussion, I feel more comfortable to go there with them and change my planned timing if I don’t have a narrow objective statement staring at me from the board. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it!

    1. It’s vital for students to articulate a skill or concept they are learning, not be confused, etc. I get that. An argument can also be made for not posting the objective–such as the one you state. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  3. I think the learner objective statements are used truly depends on the teacher. Similar to your thinking, I find that summarizing a posted math objective at the end of class can help bring closure to the learning experience. this article is very awesome for me. Thanks for sharing.

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