Sometimes my devotion to my beloved learning outcomes has come at the cost of ridicule from more experienced teaching staff. Many teachers see using such strategies as a performance fit only for Ofsted; they see it as just another hoop that has been invented for the purpose of making teachers jump for their money. Such members of the profession seem to see every development in teaching pedagogy as a “new fangled craze that will be abandoned in a year or two”.
I recently came across a blog on Twitter named Stop Writing the Objectives on the Boardby Joe Bower. His ideas seemed to cause so much controversy during the discussion that followed that I was forced into a moment of reflection. Writing out learning outcomes on the board was something that I did because I believed it was the right thing to do. I had read Dylan Wiliam’s work on the use of effective learning outcomes; I felt that how I was using them was correct and had never thought to question it further until now.
I had always held the belief that because my learning outcomes were clearly displayed and because I referred to them throughout my lesson, this was enough to make clear to my students what they were learning in that lesson. I would have welcomed any member of our senior management into my room and not flickered an inch when they asked the pupils: “What are you learning today?” However, after my recent research project, I now think differently.
The initial study was carried out on my English and Media classes; since then, other subject areas in Joseph Swan School, after reading the results of the study, have come on board to broaden the research. Put very simply, I wanted to know what pupils thought they were supposed to have learned during their hour with me. I wanted to compare their version of the lesson’s outcome with my own.
The shocking result came unanimously from all classes; regardless of ability, all pupils had ignored my outcome entirely! Almost every pupil in every class chose to focus on the overall subject matter being studied rather than my specific learning outcome for that lesson. For example, I was teaching a top set year ten English class the specific skill of how to identify the features of an A* essay by using analysis and evaluation (see image); not one pupil recognised the skill within my intention. They instead chose to respond by stating we had been learning “more about spoken language”. It is true that the essay we were using had been based on spoken language, however, we did not learn any more about that topic than we had previously learned.
As a result of this revelation, I planned to present the outcomes of all subsequent lessons using a carefully planned series of different delivery methods; each time, noting the changes in response from pupils and adapting the delivery of the outcomes accordingly, in an attempt to eventually get all pupils to engage with my learning outcome. My research provided me with the following:
1 The most effective learning outcomes are created by you but driven by your pupils. If they are able to use your topic and set their own level of challenge, they are more likely to understand their learning journey within that lesson.
2 It is far easier to set a level of challenge and get pupils to engage with their own learning if they understand at what level they are thinking. SOLO taxonomy was by far the best thinking tool to use; classes that understood SOLO could clearly express their progress over the lesson better than those who had used Bloom’s or Anderson’s.
3 Separating the skill from the topic gives pupils more focus on WHAT they are actually learning. For example: “We are learning to explore spoken language” can be translated to: “we are learning the skill of exploration”.
My learning outcome has remained the central part of my lesson. However, after this study, the delivery of my learning outcomes has altered dramatically. My study has not concretely answered every question ever asked about learning outcomes. It has instead led me to ask further questions about them that, I hope, will help to make learning much more transparent for our pupils.