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Getting Clear on Clarity of Learning Objectives

06 Jun 2017 by Becky Danis

When conducting a CLASS training, there are always a few dimensions I know participants are probably going to struggle with more than others. For instance, Concept Development is going to be tricky for some, followed closely by Quality of Feedback. Usually though, as we progress through training, these dimensions become more clear.

But this post isn’t about a challenging dimension. It isn’t even about the Instructional Support domain. This post is about Clarity of Learning Objectives (CLO), a pesky indicator for some, hiding in the Instructional Learning Formats dimension.

CLO’s behavioral markers include three mostly unfamiliar terms: advanced organizers, summaries, and reorientation statements. While the manual provides examples in the descriptive pages, and Teachstone offers several videos to help participants make sense of these terms, I often end this dimension with participants still asking questions. What do these terms really mean? What do they look like in Pre-K classrooms? What is the difference between a mid and a high-range example? 

I decided to talk with some CLASSy people about this indicator because it can be challenging to clear up the confusion during a busy, content-packed training. Here are some great takeaways from that discussion! These examples concretely illustrate the three behavioral markers and other interactions that provide evidence of Clarity of Learning Objectives at a variety of ranges.

Remember: the behavioral markers aren’t a checklist, so teachers do not necessarily need to use every one of these statements to demonstrate highly effective CLO; however, they do need to focus children on tasks and learning objectives and may often use these strategies to do that!

Behavioral Marker #1: Advanced Organizers

The teacher prepares the children for what they are going to do before the activity begins. Teachers typically only use advanced organizers at the beginning of a lesson or activity.

High-range examples:

  • “We just read The Snowy Day. So we are going to do an art project and pretend our paintbrushes are like the stick Peter dragged in the snow, and we are going to use white paint, so it looks just like the snow! Do you remember that part from the story?” The children then paint with the white paint and call out to the teacher or each other: “I did it like Peter did!” and “I made footprints like in the book!”
  • While children are transitioning to free play the teacher says to a group of children heading to the block area: ”I put some of the blueprints we were talking about yesterday over by the blocks. You can use them to plan and build your structures, just like Sam’s dad does.” The children go to the block area and consult one of the blueprints hanging on the wall before gathering their materials. They refer back to the blueprints several times during free play.

Why high range? 

The children know why they are doing the activities and how to focus their attention during them. 

Mid-range examples:

  • “Let’s paint with white paint.” The children then paint with the white paint, creating a variety of lines and shapes. One child paints a snowman and snowflakes, while another asks for pink paint, and another paints a smiley face.
  • While children are transitioning to free-play, the teacher says to a group of children heading to the block area, “Check out the blueprints.” When the children get into the block area, one child briefly looks at the blueprint on the wall while the other children sit down and get to work building. He then joins in with the others, not referencing the blueprint further.

Why mid range?

While children are correctly focused on particular tasks, they are mostly unclear on the learning objectives behind those tasks.

Behavioral Marker #2: Summaries

The teacher summarizes for the children what they just did after the completion of an activity. Teachers typically use summary statements at the end of a lesson or activity.

High-range examples:

  • “You just made paintings by pretending your paintbrushes were like the stick Peter dragged through the snow in our book, The Snowy Day. And some of you even did footprints, like in the book. Why did we use only white paint? We usually use lots of colors.” The children reply, “For the snow!”
  • As free play comes to an end, the teacher joins a group in dramatic play that has been busy making soup, adding a variety of vegetables to the pot and stirring vigorously all morning. She summarizes for them, “I see that you have been busy making soup all morning. You used so many fresh vegetables and even eggs and chicken! You certainly made a healthy soup today! You must have remembered what we talked about during circle time today—heart healthy foods!”

Why high range?

The teacher clearly summarizes what children have done and the children could clearly explain why they did it. 

Mid-range examples:

  • “You painted snow!”
  • “You made soup! Yummy vegetables!”

Why mid range?

The teacher makes an attempt to summarize the activites, but these statements are brief and superficial, so the learning objectives are never made clear to children. 

Behavioral Marker #3: Reorientation Statements

The teacher reminds the children what they are doing and why during the activity or lesson. Reorientation Statements can happen at anytime during an activity, and may be in response to children’s wandering focus, or not.

High-range examples:

  • “I am using the white paint and pretending my paintbrush is a stick that I’m dragging, dragging, dragging through the snow, just like in our book,” the teacher says to the children as she paints with them.
  • When a child asks to practice letters, the teacher reminds him that they are practicing paint snow, but when he is done, he can practice letters by signing his name on his painting.

Why high range?

The teacher clearly refocuses the children’s attention on the learning objectives and tasks throughout the activity. Children are reminded how to focus their attention and the purpose their activities.

Mid-range examples:

  • Almost all of the children are focused on painting. When a few children start painting rocket ships and the moon, the teacher says, “Keep making your snow pictures!”
  • The teacher asks the group, “Who remembers why we are using white paint again?” When no one answers, the teacher says, “snow, right?”

Why mid range?

Most, or all of the children know what to do and how to focus their attention, but the learning objective isn’t clear. While the teacher mentions the snow pictures, the link isn’t explicit or obvious. Some children might have made the connection on their own, painting snowmen or making footprints and snowflakes, but others might be making flowers or hearts instead, showing their lack of clarity on the objective, even though they know how to focus their attention.

Additional CLO Considerations:

  • Are the children focused on the task at hand? How do you know?
  • Are the children asking questions or making comments, either to the teacher or their peers, that are connected to the material or task?
  • Do the teacher’s questions or comments stay on topic and focused on the material or activity?
  • If I asked one of these children right now why they are doing this activity, would they be able to tell me? How do I know? 
  • If the children only know what to do, but not why they are doing it, that is usually considered mixed effectiveness.
  • If the children know what to do and why they are doing it, that is usually considered more effective.
  • In a Pre-K setting, if you are unclear of the purpose or objective of an activity, or how the children should be focusing their attention--chances are the children don't know either. Depending on what other evidence you see throughout the cycle, this may be evidence of low or mid-range Clarity of Learning Objectives.

I hope these examples are helpful in your journey to train and coach others on the CLASS measure. Share some examples you like to use when clarifying this tricky indicator!

 

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