Afl, lesson objectives, and the 3-part lesson.

There was a fascinating debate on Twitter last night about what should be expected from a lesson. I kicked off after chatting to a colleague from another school who told me his lesson was deemed a failure as he only wrote up his lesson objectives after giving feedback on a homework.

@informed_edu: Heard about a school today who insist all lessons *must* be 3-part, *must* have objectives written up before tchr starts speaking! <Sigh>

Not everyone agreed, of course (and I very much respect the following person’s leadership and teaching opinions):

@LeeDonaghy: I’m currently trying to introduce the accelerated learning cycle at my school: what’s wrong with a structure & objectives?

Personally, I don’t believe in requiring teachers to do these things. I feel very strongly that doing so “puts the cart before the horse”, and I wasn’t the only one in last night’s debate to feel this way.

@kalinski1970: too prescriptive…teachers need to concentrate on three simple things…what do I want them to learn?… What activities will help them learn it? How will I know if they have learnt it? However structure helps weak teachers

Now of course there’s nothing wrong with saying that you want to use the first part of your lesson to jog students’ memories and brainstorm ideas, followed by a one or more activities to explore/extend, and then a dual-purpose assessment/revision plenary to help firm up the learning and give you information about strengths/weaknesses to help plan your next lesson. For that reason, your lesson may be 3-part, or 2-part, or 4-part. It probably won’t have a gimmicky “get them thinking about something random” 10-minute starter which (in my humble opinion) wastes some of the most fertile learning time of the lesson.

With lesson objectives, the opinions were still pretty one-sided:

@IRIS_behaviour: writing objectives on the board = starting a joke with the punch line!

@Davy_Parkin: there are several ‘musts’ that just aren’t realistic or are tokenistic, so they only happen when needed ie observations!

@LeahJames21: I believe children should tell me what they’ve learnt during the plenary. Usually this is a lot more than my plans 🙂

I said I objected to compulsion…

@informed_edu: Because “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” (with apologies to cat-lovers). Optional=good.

but not everyone agreed (and again this opinion from some who I very much respect):

@SusanDouglas70: but sharing your lesson objective doesn’t stop you skinning the cat anyway you want to in the lesson?

Now I do understand that the idea here is that kids take control of their own learning. You set a course for them, they steer, and they decide how well they did at the end of the lesson. However, I’ve heard so many times where schools insist on lesson objectives at the start, and insist on ‘how well have I understood these’ traffic-lighting sessions at the end, while missing out the vitally important part of giving the students the means and the training to take control.

If you tell kids “by the end of the lesson you will learn X”, and then you teach them energetically but at the end they say “but I don’t understand X” then it does both them and you very little good. Also, traffic lighting in their books is also remarkably inefficient way for the teacher to gather information to plan the next lesson.

I love the idea that you can supply differentiated support and materials to all students who can peer-support each other (with teacher intervention) to learn new topics. If you’re doing this, then by all means give them an extremely clear steer on what they should be focussed on, and let them carefully reflect on how much they’ve learned in order to inform their own homework-planning and home-study.

However, this isnt’ the best approach for all learning. In fact whole class teaching has been showing in many cases to have the largest effect sizes in learning (see Geoff Petty’s Evidence-Based-Teaching or Coben et. al.’s research into adult teaching). Whole-class discussion, assertive questionning, mini white-boards etc. are all excellent whole-class strategies in situations where totally student-led-learning may be less effective for promoting understanding, learning and engagement. In whole class methods the teacher is driving the lesson (and rightly so).

Why should the teacher be obliged to write up the lesson objective at the start here? Perhaps they’d like to begin by brainstorming things the students have previously learned, then verbally explain the aim of the lesson, and finally use creative ways to do some form of end-of-lesson formative assessment, without reference to any written outcome.

Perhaps an effective educator may, weekly, refer students to a syllabus where they can look together at how effectively they have been covering material? Perhaps students will construct ‘what we have learned’ wiki entries, or mind-maps, or question-materials?

I have no doubt that, in some cases, writing up a learning outcome/lesson objective can be valuable. But it is (in my opinion) a nonsense to suggest that every lesson must begin with one written up, and even more of a nonsense to accuse a teacher of being unprofessional if they refuse to do so.

To my horror, another tweet I saw was:

@Mallrat_uk: ours *must* be in 5 part and we also *must* have objectives!

I think this is a nonsense, and a gross misunderstanding of AfL. I am certain that Ofsted do not call for any such thing. No wonder imaginative, effective teachers end up leaving ‘troubled’ schools if management teams impose such measures on every member of staff in the race for better numbers and judgements.

I believe neither 3-part-lessons nor written learning objectives/outcomes/aims are a panacea for educational success…. but as always I am happy to be contradicted, and informed to the contrary. In fact I’d actively welcome dissenting opinions – best way to learn.

3 Replies to “Afl, lesson objectives, and the 3-part lesson.”

  1. A number of years ago I was introduced to this whole writing a learning objective on the board. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but then I was just starting out in the profession so really wanted to impress the rest of the staff and fall into line. Now, I don’t fall into line in general, I’m quite the opposite. So after a couple of years using these LO’s I began to question who they were actually for. They werent for me because I knew what I wanted the class to learn, they werent for my class because I never restricted learning to specific outcomes (apart for the damn LO on the whiteboard) so they were for the management, for observations, for inspectors. When I first stopped writing them my class told me I had forgotten to write one on the board. That’s when it struck me, the LO had become engrained in their psyche, almost to the point that they wouldn’t know what to do without one or at least had gotten so used to writing them into their books they had to ask where it was. Learning should never, ever be restricted to a course of predefined objectives, unfortunately due to assessments and league tables this country has ensured that the LO is some sort of prerequisite without which learning cannot be measured. That, is a sad state of affairs. How have we in our professional capacity have let such a nail be driven into learning? I’ve stopped using them, my class haven’t missed them and you what? They are still learning.

  2. We use the Cramlington cycle based om Accelerated learning cycle but evolved a bit since then- agree with one of your participants in discussion last night- what’s wrong with clear learning outcomes and a well structured lesson plan ?

Leave a Reply