What Movie Are We Seeing?
When was the last time you went to the theater to see a movie? If you’re like me, you sit down in the reclining seats with popcorn on one side and your companion on the other side (because I’m not sharing my popcorn) and wait for the lights to dim and for the ads and previews to begin. Close to 30 minutes later, the feature film finally begins, and I lean over to my neighbor for a reminder of the name of the movie we paid to see. I’ve completely forgotten the purpose of my visit to the multiplex.
Switch gears to the life of a student. Before she sits in the desk in your classroom, she has walked the halls, visited with friends, exchanged books in her locker, and checked on the status of her social media. Before he pulls up a stool at the lab table, he has attended morning tutorials, walked the long way to class to either check out or avoid a particular student, and looked in his wallet to see if he has money for an extra cookie at lunch. Let’s help them both focus on the featured performance, the science lesson—the key reason they are in class.
I know as a science supervisor that I’m preaching to the choir, but I think it’s worth stopping to reflect on what our teachers’ classrooms look like, sound like, and feel like. Part of that atmosphere is the reality that teachers forget students have a rich and full life beyond the walls of the school. So if we don’t make a point to stop and direct the students to the main attraction, the learning objective for the day, it’s likely that learning will occur in spite of our efforts rather than because of them. There’s even research to suggest that posting and communicating the daily learning objective will result not only in increased student performance but also in student motivation. And if anyone needs help with motivation, it’s some of our most challenged students.
So to motivate us to reflect on daily objectives, here are a few points to ponder.
Post the Objective in a Consistent Location
A prepared teacher has a consistent location for the objective every day. There’s no need for a student to ask, “What are we doing today?” Some schools even set a standard for the location of the daily objective. When students know the point of the lesson, they have a higher likelihood of meeting the goal and knowing when they have been successful. Teachers may forget, but having a consistent location is also helpful for every adult who walks into the classroom, including their awesome science supervisor.
Discuss the Objective at the Beginning of Each Class Period
Consider the elements of a good speech: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them. The same basic premise is true in a classroom: Tell students what they will learn for the day, deliver the lesson, and then remind them of what they have learned. It’s a nice way to wrap up the concept with a bow, planting the learning into long-term memory to retrieve the next day, the next week, or perhaps even the next month.
Have Students Verbalize the Objective
Have you ever visited a classroom and asked students what they are doing only to be told, “we’re coloring” or “we’re putting cards into stacks.” The question is never about the physical act students are doing but rather about what the task is hoping to accomplish. We want to hear, “we’re coloring the organs of the frog’s digestive system to show how food travels through the body,” or “we’re sorting cards into stacks to show which reactions are single versus double replacement.” When kids can say what they are doing, they are more likely to know what they are doing. We can’t assume students know our intent, so this might take a little practice, but it’s so worth it.
So like the marquee listing the movies playing at the theater, encourage, entice, convince, or dare I say require that teachers choose a consistent spot to post the daily learning objective and discuss it with students at the beginning and ending of each class period. Don’t make students have to lean over to ask a neighbor what the lesson is about. But it’s okay to share a little popcorn from time to time.