Clayton Early Learning

What Am I Teaching? What Are We Learning?

Brenda Hoge

Think back to when you were in school. Was there something teachers insisted that you learn that you never used and you wouldn't even know when or why you should use it? For me, it was logarithmic functions. When I was in high school, my math teacher insisted that I must learn how to do logarithmic functions and tried to assure me that I couldn't possibly have a career without knowing this. Well, as it turns out, other than the math modules I had to take in college, I have never had to do a logarithmic function and I’m pretty sure I wouldn't even know when to use one. I’m sure it’s useful, maybe even essential knowledge for some professions. But the one thing my teacher neglected to tell me was, “what is it that I need to know and why do I need to know this?” In other words, what was the objective behind logarithmic functions and how is it relevant to my life?

The lack of clarifying the learning objective also happens in preschool. Right now, we are observing classrooms across Denver using the CLASS™ Pre-K tool and one of the indicators that classrooms score low on is Clarity of Learning Objectives. Most teachers have a plan for what children are going to learn each and every day they are in school and most lesson plans have objectives stated. But do we take the time to verbally explain to the children “what is it they are learning and why they are learning this?” Often times we don’t. So what does clarifying the learning objective look like? Little Girl in Classroom

According to the CLASS™ Pre-K manual, clarifying the learning objective means that “children should be aware of the point of the lessons or how they should be focusing their attention during activities.” The teacher can do this in a variety of ways:

The first thing you can do is use what is called an Advanced Organizer. Basically what an advanced organizer means is that you state what the objective of the lesson is or what children should be focusing on prior to starting the activity. For example, if your classroom is doing a unit on sea animals and last week you talked about whales and this week you are introducing dolphins, you can use an advanced organizer by saying “We are going to read a story about whales and then a story about dolphins. Think about things that are the same between whales and dolphins and things that are different about them. And as we find the things that are similar and different, we will write them down on our chart.”

The second thing that you could use are Summaries. Summaries are stating what the objective was or what they just learned after the activity. For instance, using the same whales vs. dolphins example, you could use a summary statement by saying, “We just learned that whales and dolphins both live in the ocean and that they are both mammals. They also both have a blowhole at the top of their head. They are different in that whales are bigger, they swim slower than dolphins, and they swim by themselves while dolphins swim in groups.”

The third thing you can use is called a Reorientation statement. This is one of my favorites because there is always one child in your classroom that gets the conversation “off-track.” Now whether that child is really getting the conversation “off-track” or whether they are making some connection you aren't aware of is something that you don’t know. So you want to make sure that you acknowledge what they are saying but then you want to re-orient back to the planned objective. For example, if you are talking about whales vs. dolphins and you said that you could see whales and dolphins at aquariums, one child starts talking about their visit to zoo, and how they saw monkeys, and then another child talks about the elephants, and someone mentions the lions, and before you know it, you are talking about zoo and zoo animals. A reorientation statement is a statement you use to bring it all back around to the whales and dolphins while still acknowledging what the child said. For instance, you could say, “Sometimes the zoo has sea animals in it including dolphins. An aquarium is similar to a zoo except that you can see all types of sea animals there, including whales. So let’s think about what size tank you would need to hold a whale.”

Clarifying the learning objective can be used anytime-during group, free time, and even in routines, like meals and snack time. The important thing is to practice because it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. Put up little reminder statements in your centers, write the objective on your board so you remember to tell the children what and why they are learning this, and practice with your co-teachers. You know that you have achieved success when your children can tell you what it was that they were learning.

Brenda Hoge

About Brenda Hoge

Brenda Hoge-Research and Evaluation Mgr/ERS Project Mgr. at Clayton Early Learning Institute in Denver, CO. Brenda has a M.A. in Education from the University of Denver and a B.S. degree in Psychology with a minor in Human Development from Colorado State University. For the past 10 years, Brenda has been the lead evaluator and trainer on the Environment Rating Scale System in Colorado. She is responsible for the training and reliability of all Qualistar Rating Specialist and trains and certifies coaches who are working with programs in the state on the Environment Rating Scales. Brenda also works as a Research and Evaluation Mgr. for the BOUNCE Learning Network at our Clayton Educare site. Brenda is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector and has attended and passed the S.A.F.E certification exam from the National Program for Playground Safety.
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