During my recent visit to Europe, I was able to tour Yewlands Technology College, a STEM Academy, located in an underserved neighborhood of Sheffield. It was one of the “Building Schools of the Future” new academy schools, opened in September 2011. Yewlands was fantastic.
The school website articulates there are clear expectations for what students must do, and this is accompanied by a virtual learning network. In every classroom I entered, teachers had clearly articulated the learning objectives – what students needed to know and do.
When I asked the ICT (information, communications and technology) and Creative Media teacher giving the tour about designing learning objectives, she said, “The U.K. national curriculum gives us very general statements. We have learned to take those statements and make them very specific to what a student needs to be able to demonstrate.”
Here are some interdisciplinary examples:
- In one class, as part of a multidisciplinary approach, students were focused on design technology (yes, design). Here’s the assignment – the learning objective was to create a “rubber skin case” for their smartphone. This involved using English, math, the CAD design software, graphics software, and technical skills to create a personalized rubber casing for the phone. What the student needed to “know and do” – actually create products—was happening in the classroom with the help of two 3-D plastics fabricating machines. In the addition to phone cases, kids were creating personalized plastic key tags – for key chains . . . .it was amazing!
- For music lessons – a group of four students were practicing upstairs in an area devoted to music. They were in a small “band” room riffing on electric guitars, drums, and a saxophone – think basement/garage band. And there was a recording studio right next door where students were ready to record and demonstrate their proficiency (students also ran the digital recording studio with the ICT teacher). Kids will compete in the lunchtime “battle of the bands” near the year’s end.
- Written on the white board in the gymnasium were the learning objectives for gym class or “active health: Understand scoring systems for cricket; score a series of cricket games.” The students either played cricket themselves and scored it, watched live cricket, pulled up archived video streams of cricket games, went online to learn, or learned the scoring system from classmates or the teacher. No matter how they learned it they had to demonstrate that they knew how to score a game. I still haven’t developed my own proficiency in understanding cricket but evidently the score involves systems of scoring runs and losing wickets over multiple games.
The building was modern with wide, open, spaces for multiple uses . . . groups of computers, like small cyber cafes, were throughout the school, with students encouraged to use them at any time throughout the day on academic work (not for playing games). Computers and tablets were found in most classrooms as well. Teachers had digital content, tools, and technology everywhere. Blogs are used for communicating with students, parents and the community.
At Yewlands, transparent learning objectives are at the core of their personalized pathways.
Here are some interesting resources that relate to writing learning objectives and assessment in the UK:
- How do teachers learn to write learning goals and objectives in wording that is specific for students? Here’s a great post from Doug Belshaw’s How to Write Better Learning Objectives.
- How are national assessments constructed? At the very end – what students have to “know and do” will be evaluated by a national assessment, the National Qualifications Framework. This paper on Grading for competency reports that England “sets out the levels at which qualifications are recognized, enabling comparisons to be made about the levels of different qualifications and the identification of clear progression routes.” At the end, students know they will be asked to demonstrate what they know and can do.