I object to learning objectives

@TeacherToolkit has today published part of this blog post on his site – to view, click here.

When I started as an NQT, I was looking for something to research for the final year of my MA. It needed to be something I felt strongly about and that could I “contribute to new thinking” on. Within a week of starting at my NQT school, it was handed to me on a plate. In one of my very first lessons, I asked a pupil at the end of the lesson if he could explain what he had learned. He said, “L dot O dot…” and then told me what he thought he’d learned. I asked him what ‘L dot O dot’ meant and he said he didn’t know but that, “That’s what the teacher always says.”

One of the ‘non-negotiables’ at the school was that three, differentiated learning objectives were shared with children at the very beginning of every lesson and that they copied them down into their books, whatever the lesson. The children were ability grouped at the beginning of the year and labelled ‘red’, ‘orange’ or ‘green’, and that was the L.O. they copied out. At the end of each lesson, the teacher ticked or ‘dotted’ the L.O. to say whether or not the child had met the objective. When books were scrutinised (and wow, were they scrutinised!) if too many L.O.s had been ticked, work was not challenging enough. If not enough L.O.s were ticked, support and differentiation were not good enough.

I wondered what impact the non-negotiables had on children’s attitudes to their learning and decided to explore this further, from the perspective of the pupils. This formed the basis of my MA action research and subsequent thesis.

I held focus groups of children in my Y4/5/6 class; kept a teaching and learning journal; interviewed headteachers from a range of primary schools; sent questionnaires to all primary headteachers within the county and had a long conversation with Shirley Clarke (she of the WALT and WILF acronyms). I examined the literature with a fine-tooth comb; spoke to a representative from OfSTED and observed the attitudes to learning of the children in my class, especially when I broke the rules and did things a little differently from what they were used to.

At the time, I summarised the findings of my action research as follows:

The overwhelming message from both findings and literature seems to be that pupils and headteachers have very different perceptions of L.O.s and very different understanding of their function. What seems to be of importance to the setting is of little relevance according to the pupils. Further, the headteachers within the LA perceive L.O.s as beneficial in focusing pupils, whilst pupils comment that L.O.s can actually put them off learning and make them “switch off” from lessons.

The findings and the literature both show that there is a general notion that schools perceive external accountability to be a driving factor in shaping practice, and yet the frameworks which oversee school inspections are ambiguous in describing expectations. It is interesting, therefore, that the least amount of prescription within the LA is seen in those schools deemed ‘outstanding’ in Ofsted terms.

It is also of significance that the literature paints a picture of many schools engaging in “surface level” formative assessment: the findings also suggest that there is a lack of deeper understanding of the principles and what is needed to embed formative assessment effectively. Indeed, the findings show that when children engage with the strategies on a deeper level, they are able to reflect more accurately, and with more ownership and engagement, on their own learning.

Further, although pupil perception of differentiation was not a focus of the research, the findings show that pupils have very strong feelings about explicit differentiation: possibly providing a focus for future research.

The recent Twitter thread, and its overspill into a Facebook conversation, showed that there continues to be prescription within schools about how and when L.O.s should be shared with children, and whether or not they need to be copied into books. I decided to tweet a quick straw poll to find out the current situation:

At the time of writing, I’ve had 127 responses via tweets and DMs. Of those, 122 respondents replied ‘Yes’ and 5, ‘no’.

DMs on twitter referred to teachers “cheating” by typing out L.O.s for children and about how teachers were marked down during lesson observations for not getting children to copy out L.O.s into books.

There were 86 mentions of this being done to provide evidence of learning (yes, I did question how writing out, ‘L.O I can…’ provides evidence of learning), and 38 mentions of it being so that children know what they are learning. Again, I questioned whether copying out, “L.O. I can…’ is the only means of sharing with children what they are learning.

@ICT-MrP copied the tweet to his Facebook page, where there were 53 responses: 45 ‘yes’ and 8 ‘no’. Again, there were comments about this being a waste of time, about how much time it does take, and about it mainly being for evidence of learning.

If you would like to read the full thesis, Learning Objectives: Evaluating the role of WALT and WILF in the primary classroom, please email me or DM me your email address via twitter @rpd1972.

Here are just a few of the tweets seen recently about L.O.s:

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