Monday, November 22, 2010

Classroom Tip #4: Communicate the Goal

In an earlier post, I touched upon the need for stakes. Not only do students require them for self-discipline, but classroom activities occasionally require them as well.

Lessons without goals and stakes can feel pointless or meaningless to kids. 

What is the value of learning something if it won't be used?  Why practice, perform or participate in a task that has no foreseeable value or significance? If you're thinking this way about the tasks you do on a daily basis at home or in your job, then it's easy to assume your students feel the same in your class.

This is why teachers often incorporate either individual or class incentive point systems to teach and encourage the value of participation and good behavior.

Stating the goal (and the stakes will follow)

Not all lessons however, need to resort to bribery in order for a student to want to perform. A
goal is a hint of what to expect in the future. Without one, students won't feel that the lesson, classroom tasks and/or activities has any significance or value to their future. Sometimes, getting students to perform better is as simple as stating the goal in advance and letting the students determine their own incentive.

2 Great Things about Goals:

-- It assesses value and importance to a task.
Communicating a goal allows students to determine meaning in their tasks and the resulting and/or consequences of their actions.

--It makes the student responsible for their choice and destiny.
Knowing a goal in advance allows students preparation time, but mostly, it gives your kids a choice as to what they'll attempt: success or failure.

No student wants to be a failure, yet slow learners might choose this stance at the start if they automatically think they can't achieve something.  While springing surprise tasks on advanced students might add to the thrill of their challenge, surprises for slower learners is an automatic way to discourage and defeat them. If however, they can see a goal in advance, feel it manageable, then they have the option to change their decision and attitude towards achieving their task.

A classroom example

Many of our lessons are made of tasks which prepare the students for the final execution. One of my co-teachers occasionally forgets to explain to the class the goals and importance of a task or lesson activity. Instead, she just communicates the task:

Task: Memorize the dialogue/script in this role-play (aka skit).
But the goal is...
Goal: You will perform it for the class.

This goal is built in with stakes every child knows if they don't perform successfully.

Shame & Humiliation in front of their peers.
In the past, we hadn't placed an importance on role play/skit activity, but often dismissed it; we created a bad habit. This taught them that this activity lacked meaning.  When we finally wanted them to memorize and perform the skit but didn't communicate the goal, the students reverted to habit and didn't take the task of memorization seriously.

After a disappointing pattern of our first two classes, I started communicating the goal in additional direction to my co-teacher. The change in the students behavior was drastic-- it went from sluggish and lazy to pens in hand, ears strained to attention concentrating on the dialogue to take notes.

Always communicate the goal.

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