What’s Worth Learning?

How do we know what’s worth learning?

We know that every student starts from a place of their own: their conceptual mental models, skills or competencies, and habits of mind are at unique places. We also know that as a learning organization, we endeavor to provide high levels of learning for all in the 3C’s, namely conceptual understanding, competencies and character.

So, how do we bridge the gap for every single one?

In conversations about our school culture, we are beginning to focus our professional dialog and discussion on how we can honor the places where each child begins learning as well as design and deliver programs, which allow each one to follow deliberate pathways to reach guaranteed levels of success.

Why it’s Important

As we move into a learning ecosystem where each student is conversant in their own learning and able to self-monitor, self-modify and self-assess, we want students to be able to identify and pursue learning targets unpacked from standards of grade level competencies.

Students need to be able to:

  • Express an expectation of achievement toward standard mastery
  • Clearly state what will be or has been learned
  • Clearly express how formative assessment demonstrates progress toward target outcomes

The problem with standards is that they hold mixed learning targets. For example, the standard “Write an effective research paper which cites appropriate sources and synthesizes the major information they contain” can be further unpacked into the following learning targets (Solution Tree, Australia):

  • Understand how to search for and evaluate sources.
  • Understand and summarize information.
  • Write coherently with style and voice.

Because this standard and many others hold mixed learning targets, we need to sift through them to find which targets fall under conceptual understanding and which ones fall under competencies or skills.

We use a process which allows us to understand the considerations leading to deliberate decisions about what’s essential to learn. Our process looks like this (Solution Tree, Australia):

  • Circle the verbs (skills). (Students will be able to …)
  • Underline the nouns (content). (Students will know …)
  • Double underline any prepositional phrases.
    (In what context …)
  • Write each verb and noun combination as a separate learning target.
  • Include the prepositional phrase in the target.
  • Are there any targets that are implied but not stated?

The product of our dialog looks pretty much like this chart:

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 20.19.42
Sample standard unpacked (Copyright Solution Tree, Australia)


The value of the process

The process helps us to ask and find answers to these questions (Solution Tree, Australia):

  • What would it look like to teach this target?
  • What would it look like if the students could do this at the proficient level?
  • Is this skill measurable? What would the assessment look like?

We begin to find relevance in choosing command terms, those verbs, which address the complexity of tasks in our instruction and assessments.

The conversations we’ve had recently have placed us in considerations of depths of knowledge.

Karin Hess (2013) gives us the Matrix of Cognitive Rigor, a framework for working with the depth of complexity at which learners interact with and enact conceptual understanding and skills.

Hess’s Matrix (Hess, 2013) gives us four levels of depth of knowledge (DOK):

  • Level 1 Recall and Reproduction
  • Level 2 Skills and Concepts
  • Level 3 Strategic Thinking and Reasoning
  • Level 4 Extended Thinking

Our process in its development stages consists of examining our standards to sift through the hundreds of them to arrive at an essential set, a snapshot of the conceptual understandings, competencies at each grade level. In this process, we understand that prioritization is key. (If we aimed instruction at all standards, it would take 27 years to go through all standards, PK-12!)

The value of considering DOK

As we follow this process of finding what’s essential to learn, we consider more deliberately the question, What are levels of thinking that a student must engage to understand this learning target?

The dialog and discussion that emerges from our thinking helps us to find the places where each student begins, and the pathways we might deliberately design, to support their journeys toward success.

What’s worth learning? Share your thoughts in the comments.






Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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