When more is not good – lesson intentions can make a difference

At year level leadership meetings we often read and discuss shared articles or writing from noted educators. Last week we discussed chapter two of Shirley Clarke’s book on feedback titled  “Learning Intentions”.

One of her opening lines is

“It is generally true that the more covered, the less learnt” [p 17]

Aside from most teachers, who are frustrated when asked to teach an overcrowded curriculum, I would think that the comment controversial for many parents who tend to see more as good and indeed for most politicians who are fond of developing new policies which add to an over crowded curriculum.

Shirley advocates in this chapter strategies for teachers to cope with the overcrowding:

  • that teachers need to plan two types of lessons one on the bits [skills and knowledge] and one on the application and that a sequence of lessons that focus on application then bits then application might take account of both prior learning and maximum student motivation.
  • that lesson intentions need to be made public to students at the start of lessons identifying the core skill, which may be applied to different things, [e.g. how to make a list] and the concept to be learned [e.g. production lines]. These are often muddled for students.
  • invite student wondering [in the form of questions]
  • Start a sequence of lessons with the big picture in some form of diagram or word chart so that students make clearer connections as the lessons proceed

We discussed these suggestions with our reading workshop planners for the coming two weeks. While we have clear lesson focuses around skills and certainly do a lot more application work [students actually reading books not worksheets thank to the recent work on reading comprehension] starting with the big picture and making connections to real life applications is a challenge to be thought about.

Its only when our learning intentions are clear that we can provide meaningful feedback that leads to student improvement. The following link has access to some teacher auditing tools and student improvement prompts that are well worth downloading.

We committed to coming back in 4 weeks and sharing any changes to our planning or instructional practices.