Goals and Scales Are the Backbone of Rigor

To know what success looks like, you need the right goal.

By: Scott Sterling, Learning Sciences International

Many schools require teachers to post or write their learning goals on the board before each class. Some want those goals in kid-friendly language; others don’t care if you copy the standard’s text word-for-word (obviously students will hardly understand the goal in this case). Unless the teacher is trained in setting appropriate goals that achieve rigor, both approaches will miss the mark.

A focus on creating and posting goals and scales was a critical early step in Dr. Marzano’s educational philosophy. After all, how are teachers supposed to guide student learning if they or the students can’t articulate where they want to go in simple, understandable language? How do they know when they get there if they can’t articulate what mastery looks like in this particular skill?

As we move toward college and career readiness, goals and scales become even more critical because, as we discussed last week, rigor is the meeting of complexity and autonomy. The more complex the learning goal, the more important it is to boil that goal into language that everyone can get behind. Autonomy is easier to accomplish if the student understands what they are supposed to be doing.

Here are some steps for setting an appropriate, rigorous learning goal, then using scales to assess whether the class got there.

The target is specificity

You want a goal that is specific, not broad. “Students will know how to add two-digit numbers” won’t work here. What’s the goal for today’s learning? Then put it in language that your students will understand, even if the sentence in only a word or two.

Aim for moderate difficulty

We’ll talk about scales in a minute, but you’re aiming for the middle of the scale. You want the goal to be attainable (otherwise you’ll have frustration and start losing engagement), but also challenging.

Get their input

At the beginning of class, there’s nothing wrong with making sure the students understand your goal. If they don’t, revise until everyone is on the same page.

Keep the scale in mind

Just like you would plan a route for a road trip based on the destination, you want to write your learning goal with the scale in mind. What does mastery look like? What are the milestones that occur when moving toward mastery? How are those milestones assessed?

Under the Essentials system, most scales are graded on a 3-4 point rubric; the higher the point, the more mastery was accomplished. If a student might be able to perform a certain aspect of the goal, but not the following aspect, they are somewhere in the middle. Although you can use this approach for student summative assessment, the real progress comes when you use the scale system as a formative assessment tool so you know where to devote your precious class time.

Next Week: Working Together: How Collaborative Planning Changes the Game

What sort of issues have you run into when trying to set learning goals for your class? How did you solve those issues? Let your colleagues know in the comment section.

For more insights like this, investigate the Learning Sciences Marzano Center’s Essentials of Achieving Rigor. It’s the most effective way of improving your practice in anticipation of the new college and career readiness standards.

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