Objectives: the secret to great teaching

It seems like being a good teacher should be easy. There are so many books, websites, and kits available to help teachers ply their trade—day to day lesson plans for every canonical text under the sun, boxes of workbooks and five pound teacher editions of textbooks that provide us with enough materials to occupy our students for a full year. What more could we want, right?

Well, here’s the thing (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know it): being a good teacher is not easy. Sure, resources are available, but the sad fact is that the vast majority of them do not support effective pedagogy. Packets of reproducible worksheets and by teacher, for teacher lesson websites quickly accumulate in a disjointed, purposeless pile. All these resources commonly supply are pieces of paper that will get me through the day while the kids fill in blanks like robots. The point of teaching, though, is not to get through the day. The point is to get students to achieve the learning objectives set before them. And, by the way, “Students will complete a worksheet” is not a learning objective. A person cannot be a good teacher without understanding that. Consequently, this also means that a person cannot be a good teacher without working—hard—to find and create quality classroom materials that support true learning.

I’m fortunate enough to have a colleague and friend, Ms. J, who is on the same wavelength regarding objective-based lesson design and the necessity of creating new teaching materials. She also happens to teach one of the same classes that I do, so we get to have the experience of collaborating as we plan new units. We spend real time discussing what we want students to learn and how we will get them there. We’re currently designing a multigenre writing project in which students will track a thematic topic (such as love, violence, loyalty, or fate) through the five acts of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a complex endeavor, but if we manage to pull it off, it will get our students to do some really specific, impressive things. Students will demonstrate analysis of a Shakespearean text. Students will use classical literature as a vehicle to understand and comment on the human experience. Students will examine the ways in which genre effects the author’s message and the reader’s perception. These are some of the unit learning objectives that we trust to help shape our lessons into something meaningful, designed for a purpose, linked to previous purposes, and moving toward the ultimate goal of making smarter readers, writers, and thinkers. It’s hard work, yes, but that’s the secret. To be a good teacher, every move you make must have a reason. This requires a ton of thought and planning, but it also yields amazing results: students who know what they are doing and why.

I always tell my students that their first and biggest question should always be “What’s the point?” I also tell them that there’s always an answer to that question. We as teachers need to ask that question, too. Our lessons need clearly communicated purposes, and should be built specifically to target those purposes.

Whether you’re a veteran objectives-based teacher or someone who is just starting to really learn what that means, consider these questions pulled from my notes as an undergraduate at UW-Milwaukee. Being a good teacher—not easy, but deceptively simple. These five questions are what I use as my cognitive frame for quality objectives-based teaching.

 What should I teach? (Content/skill, described by learning objectives)

 How should I teach it? (Methodology and resources)

 Why should I teach it? (Rationale, supported by research and standards)

 How will I know my students have learned it? (Assessment)

 What will I do if they don’t? (Re-teaching/accommodations)

Happy planning, fellow power teachers! And know that, if you’re working for hours on end to find or create new materials for your students, you may not be in the majority, but you’re definitely not alone. 🙂

1 comment
  1. The most important question is WHY. Why am I teaching this? Why am I asking my students to do this thing? Far too often we let outside forces answer this question for us, and yes, even standards are outside forces. The art of teaching is knowing who our students are and what they need from us. If we know our content and we know AND love our students, we will choose wisely because we want what is best for them, much like parents.

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