Friday, August 21, 2015

Objective: The Students Will Examine and Explain

The learner will demonstrate -- or TLWD.

It's the statement and acronym typically used to clarify and create learning goals.   This introductory statement was originally used with Bloom's Taxonomy to identify clearly in which cognitive category students were expected to demonstrate their learning - e.g. The learner will demonstrate knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation.  When Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) revised Bloom's Taxonomy by renaming the cognitive categories from noun to verbs, the introductory statement became The student will be able to... followed by the newly named cognitive category - remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create .  The push for student-centered objectives written in student friendly language once again changed the introductory statement for learning goals to be more direct and personal (I will...) or collaborative (We will...).  

However, with the instructional shift focusing on college and career readiness, it's time to once again rephrase the introductory phrase that set the learning goals for a lesson or unit.  Why?  Because learning is not only about demonstrating knowledge and thinking anymore.  Students are now also expected to communicate the depth and extent of their knowledge, understanding, and awareness of what they have learned.  In other words, learning by doing is no longer the goal.  Now students must be able to explain how it is done, express why it can be done, and expound upon what else can be done with the concepts and content they are learning.
Interestingly, for the most part, the college and career ready standards as they are written and presented do not foster and promote communication of knowledge and thinking.  While there are some performance objectives that begin with cognitive verbs that are synonymous with communication, such as definedescribe, explainpresent, representsummarize, or write,  the majority of the cognitive verbs introducing the standards are more more intrinsic and cerebral than extrinsic and communicative.  Performance objective direct students to demonstrate how they can to analyze, apply, determine, evaluate, integrate, or interpret, but they neither inform nor guide students how to express and share their analyses, applications, determinations, evaluations, integrations, or interpretations.

This is why questions, not performance objectives, are an effective and integral means for demonstrating and communicating learning.  They prompt students to think about what they are about to learn.  They also encourage students to express and share the depth of their learning.

So where do we come up with these questions?  We rephrase the same performance objectives of academic standards as good questions that foster communication of learning using oral, written, creative, or technical expression.

How can we rephrase these performance objectives into questions?  We use the introductory statement The students will examine and explain and convert the cognitive verb of the standard into a question stem.  

The verb examine challenges and engages students to think deeply about what they are learning.  The verb explain prompts and encourages students to express and share the depth or extent of their learning.  These are the cognitive processes that not only address college and career readiness but also foster and promote cognitive rigor -- specifically, the demonstration of higher order thinking and communication of depth of knowledge.  

Now look at what happens when these performance objectives are rephrased as good questions.   They not only foster and promote demonstrating and communicating learning but also increase the cognitive rigor of the learning experience by having students think deeply and express and share the depth of their knowledge, understanding, and awareness of how, why, what influence, and how can you apply.
cess can be made simple by using by taking the following steps:

  1. Identify the standard(s) that will be addressed.
  1. Use the introductory statement The students will examine and explain...
  1. Convert the cognitive verb to the correlating cognitive rigor question (C.R.Q.) stem using the Bloom's Revised Taxonomy Inverted Pyramid. (See the accompanying graphic).
  1. Complete the question with the concept or content addressed in the standard.

These good questions not only serve as summative assessments but also set the instructional focus throughout a learning experience.  The phrases and words are the academic vocabulary, subject-specific terminology, and specific details and elements students will need to recognize and understand who, what, where, or when in order to address and respond to these questions and meet these performance objectives with the depth and extent they expect.

Turning performance objectives may seem easy and simple, but is actually difficult and complex - or rather, complicated.  It will take time and thinking to develop a good question that is so open-ended and thought-provoking that they will drive and determine the depth and extent of learning.  However, this pro

Use the formula for creating good questions from academic standards:

The students will examine and explain + C.R.Q. stem + subject / topic

Watch your students demonstrate and communicate deeper learning!

Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S., is the lead professional education specialist and owner of Maverik Education LLC, providing professional development and consultation on teaching and learning for cognitive rigor. His book Now THAT'S a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning will be published by ASCD in Winter 2016. For more information on this topic or how to receive professional development at your site, please visit

Monday, August 10, 2015

Start the Year with Good Questions!

The summer is over, and the first day of school has come in many parts of the country.  It's time to for all us teachers and our students to head back to the classroom for a new year and for a deeper teaching and learning experience.

So how are you going to start and set that deeper teaching and learning experience that experience that first week?

Let's be realistic.  That first week of school is about getting-to-know-you.  You are getting to know your students academically by giving them pre-tests and placement tests. You are getting to know them personally by having them share who they are or what they did this summer using some form of oral, written creative, or technical expression. Your students are also getting to know you by understanding what your expectations are and the procedures and rules in your classroom for behavior and turning in work.

However, along with on getting to know each other and going over routines, what if you asked these good questions?
  • What is the relationship between reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language?
  • What is math?
  • How does science explain our world and ourselves?
  • What is history and whose is it?
  • Why is it important to learn both the language and culture of a foreign country or society?
  • What qualifies as art?
  • What is music?
  • What is fitness and health?
What if you spent that first day in class having them engage in a dialogue about what they think is the meaning or intent of these academic areas and subjects they are going to learn this year?  How could this serve as a pre-assessment for background knowledge and previous learning?  How could their responses provide you some insight into their their opinions, perspectives, and thoughts about these academic areas?

Instead of assigning an essay that asks who they are or what they did this summer or even completing a personal information sheet, what if you have them compose or create an academic autobiography in which they explain and express the following in a single or multi-paragraph essay:
  • What kind of student are you?
  • How strong do you think or how successful have you been in this particular academic area?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment or your fondest memory in learning this subject?
  • What would encourage you to continue enjoying learning this subject or to enjoy learning this subject more than you have in the past?
  • How could learning this subject continue to be or become a better experience for you?
Think about how much information and insight you would obtain about your students!  You will not only know and understand from where they are coming but also what kind of students they are (or perceive themselves to be) and how you could address their needs academically and even socioemotionally.  Have them write their Language Artsography, their Mathography, their Scienceography, their Historyography, or whatever subject they are currently learning and you are currently teaching them.  

If you're going to give a final exam as part of your class, what if you told your students what the questions will be on the final or even have them take the exam during the first week of school?  I learned this technique from Ken Blanchard, author of the One-Minute Manager book series who would give his exam on the first day of class.  It not only informed my students of what would be expected of them but also set the instructional focus for the entire semester.

As you return to your classrooms this year, shift your instructional delivery and focus.  Instead of spending that first week telling students what they need to know, understand, do, and what is expected of them, ask good questions to stimulate their thinking about what they are about to learn.  Then introduce the subjects and topics to which they will be address and responding.  Watch the learning environment shift from one that focuses on teaching and telling to learning through inquiry and interest. 

Let me know how your students react and respond, and have a great first day!

- E.M.F