Friday, July 3, 2009

Plan-It School Series: Writing Objectives, Part One

Often times when preparing to teach, we think primarily of what we, the teachers, will do. We ask ourselves, "How will I present this information?" I have found that lessons run more smoothly and my children retain more when I think instead about what they will be doing during a lesson. Writing objectives helps me to do this.
Before writing objectives, I write a series of learning cues called "essential questions", also called "EQ's". Some teachers write an EQ for every lesson. That is one way to go; however, I find it works best for me to write an EQ for each unit of study. For example, our history curriculum calls for a three-week unit on the American immigration boom of the late 19th Century. My EQ for this unit is "Why did people leave their homelands for America and how did immigration shape our country?" It is a very broad question and can be answered by any student at any level of learning. Younger children's responses will not be as detailed as older one's; however, they will support their answers using information acquired during the unit just the same.
At the end of the unit, I use the EQ as my final evaluation. I have younger students answer orally or create a project that answers the question. During this particular unit, my younger son's studies will focus on geography. I will have him complete a mapping project that shows population changes and reasons for immigration such as famine or revolutions. My older son will write an essay that answers this same question. Also, he will create a picture slide show about the time period using Power Point. In a presentation that will accompany the slide show, he must answer the EQ.
Objectives are the stepping stones along the path of learning. How do you get your younger child from point A where he knows little to nothing on the topic to point B where he can formulate an educated response to the essential question? How do you guide your older student from point A where he has a more basic understanding to point B where he can formulate a more sophisticated answer to the essential question?
First, I look through my teacher's guide and select the activities that I think best support the learning goal. I think it is very important we remember that a teacher's guide is called that for a reason. It is there to guide us, but we need not feel obligated to complete everything listed. Curriculum writers have to develop programs that meet a variety of learning needs. If we try to do everything that they suggest, we will find ourselves feeling burned out quickly. Know what you want your children to accomplish and pick accordingly.
This year, I am using the TOS 2009 Schoolhouse Planner's "Weekly Planning I" form for organizing my objectives. There is a place for labeling the week number and date, and there is a column for each day of the week. Each row allows you to designate the subject area. There are nine rows. I write in each box what my child will complete that day for the designated subject. I am very specific in what I write, too. For instance, if he will be completing a lap book over the duration of the week, I write in which element of the project he will finish that day. If he needs to read, I write in exact page numbers or chapter numbers. If he is working on a project, I write in the stage of the project he will complete that day… such as "research immigration online and fill in graphic organizer # 3." I do my best to keep my focus on what he will be doing instead of what I will be doing as often as possible.
Next, since I want my students learning by doing, I look at a list of verbs. Sometimes I need more than what the teacher's guide offers. This list is a driving force in my planning and has helped me so much over the years. I want to dedicate a post to this topic, so I will end here and ask you to return soon for Plan-It School Series: Writing Objectives, Part Two.
Blessings and Happy Planning!

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