Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Helping students with ‘learning targets’ and ‘best practices’

Standards for teaching public schools refers to “learning expectations for students at each grade level that explain what a student should know to be ready to move to the next grade.”

Relatively recently Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were created (2010) to get rid of discrepancies that existed between states. The first group of states to adopt Common Core included Kentucky, West Virginia, Hawaii and Maryland. The state of Idaho adopted CCSS for Mathematics and English/Language Arts in 2011 (Idaho Core Standards).

How those standards are taught is left to the decision of Idaho school administrators and teachers, as well as the many school districts situated across the United States. Since states are working from the same foundational skills at each grade level through CCSS, administrators and their faculties are discovering some of the “best practices” in achieving classroom objectives.

The latest of “best practices” is one referred to as “learning targets.” Through “learning targets,” teachers can actually raise level of student achievement. With this device, they can better establish lesson goals, break down instruction into small, teachable parts and facilitate selection of best assessment methods (multiple choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank vs. written responses). This way students are put on a pathway toward mastery of subject content; they can also demonstrate learning through quizzes, chapter tests or other methods of “formative assessments.” It is believed students, through “learning targets,” increase probability of improving their scores on both standardized and nonstandardized assessments which determine whether students have reached intended learning goals (“summative assessments”).

The four “learning targets” are knowledge targets which gives factual information about subject; reasoning targets which indicate thought processes; skill targets which demonstrate learning practices (e.g., speaking, collecting, exhibiting); and product targets which lead to creation of something by student that requires intellectual effort emphasizing what specifically has been learned.

Ordinarily, schools in this country resort to Bloom’s Taxonomy in teaching today’s students. It points to specific textbooks, materials and basic instructional practices in teaching of standards. By utilizing “learning targets,” however, research has shown students learn even more subject content. “Packing in” more knowledge precisely is what CCSS aims to achieve in public schools.

I disagree that teachers today are not trained or are ill-equipped to carry out expectations as set forth through CCSS. For I believe by employing “best practices” such as “learning targets,” as well as guidelines of Bloom’s Taxonomy, along with a good dose of creativity, teachers should get good results. Also, if the curriculum dictates the use of technology, all students should be properly trained in computer literacy skills.

Through graduate research of my own (“Merit Of Studying The History Of One’s Own Backyard”), I discovered Social Studies teachers can accomplish gains by doing things such as locating alternatives to textbooks, conducting sessions outside classroom and finding new connections linking the history and studies to students’ lives. Changing the methods used to teach Social Studies to ones that better capture the attention of students — especially secondary students — can increase their motivation and raise the level of performance. By enhancing instruction in this subject, students not only get good grades, but they also strengthen their competency in other subjects and experience the overall feeling of success in school.

Michael Johnson earned his master’s degree last year from Post University of Waterbury, Conn.. He works as a substitute teacher in Lakeland Joint School District No. 272 and lives in Coeur d’Alene.