Part 2: They clarify, share and ensure students understand learning intentions and success criteria

where r we goingWe all think that the students in our class know and understand what they are meant to be doing.  The fact is that they don’t always.  Far less, why they are doing something.   In PE we are very good at telling the kids the activity we are doing , but possibly not as often do we share what we are supposed to be learning.

For example, if I walked into a gym and asked a student what they are learning today, they might say “Basketball!”  I then ask the teacher and they say “we are learning how to create space to receive a pass.”  Therein lies the problem.  We don’t always make the learning intentions stand out from the context.  Or perhaps more accurately, we know where the learning is going, we just don’t take the time to tell them!

We must share this with them so, 1. They clearly know what they are doing and 2. They know how they are going at it. They have to understand what success looks like, where they are now, where they need to go and how they are going to get there.

Judging how successful you are in a basketball game is much different (and more complex) than analysing how effective you are at creating space, basketball just happens to be the current context.

Look at it this way-

“Imagine yourself on a ship sailing the open sea, to an unknown destination, you would be desperate to know one thing…where are we going?  That’s like our students coming to school each day.  Often the destination is unknown to them.  Very quickly, the daily life on board the ship becomes all important, the chores, the demands, the inspections become the reality, not the voyage nor the destination.”  White 1971

So not all students have the same idea as the teacher about what they are doing.

So are learning intentions just the new version of lesson objectives?

Kind of, but not really.  Learning intentions suppose two things that objectives don’t;

  1. They have to be inextricably linked to the success criteria of the lesson (i.e. how do I know if I’m ‘getting it’?)
  2. They are intentions not objectives.  Meaning you can’t decide or dictate what the kids will learn in your class.

So it’s suggested in most teacher training programs that learning intentions are stated at the start of the lesson.   Sounds sensible given that it establishes from the outset what’s going on.  I’m not so sure this is set in stone though and here’s why.

Lesson routine and rhythm while important can often become boring.  A smart principal once said to me “stability is over rated” and it made total sense to me.  If kids know what to expect and you are predictable, boredom can creep in.  So I try to mix up when the intentions are shared with the class and also how they are shared.

e.g. if your intention is to have the students understand peripheral vision and how it relates to success in games you may want to draw the understanding out of them by playing a few smaller games that are related and get them to give you the answers, e.g. how did you see that pass? How were you aware of that tagger coming? Hitting on the learning intentions later.  Why spoil the surprise of giving them the answer (intentions) first?

Additionally, if they know the first thing you always do is sit them down to talk about “what we are doing today” then they will slowly learn to tune out of this, and will happily provide you with their “yes, I am listening” face!

There are number of visual ways to present learning intentions, but try to avoid making them ‘wallpaper objectives’ that go on the board, get read out at the start, and then ignored for the rest of the lesson.  They have to flow through and of course be revisited.

TIP: Ensure they are in positive language and from the students perspective e.g. (volleyball) I understand and am able to show how to transition the ball from the back of the court to the front of the court.

Note that this one has two parts, the understanding and the showing .  The students who show this with on court play should not be the only ones getting the credit.  Students with a poorer skill level or less experience playing may actually understand how to do it and they should also get credit.  We need to find ways to allow them to show their understanding by discussing, analysing court side, drawing it etc.

The sharing of these intentions can be done through watching an expert performance and (the students) picking out what’s effective, that then forms the basis for our success criteria to judge ourselves against when we go off to play. So all along the kids are armed with the info “what do I need to do to be successful?” and also “why is it important that we learn this?” i.e through discussion and showing you can make the contextual link > teams who transfer the ball forward > able to play an attacking shot > more difficult for opponent to return = winning more points.

It seems obvious that to get anywhere, it helps to be clear about where you are going.  And yet, I would guess in a lot of PE lessons the learning intentions and success criteria are touched on at best and not shared at all at worst.

One thing I know is that the great teachers are sharing them in creative and interesting ways and using them as the fabric to weave in the learning they have deliberately planned.

I know the students in their classes cannot wait to see and hear what they will be learning today and not just simply what they will be doing

Try it in your classes, when the kids know where they’re meant to be going, it may just surprise you how many of them make it there.


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