I’m not your Stepping Stone…

I’ve been reading a lot lately, both online in blogs and tweets and in things like TES, about Learning Outcomes and the varying schools of thought around their efficacy or otherwise.

Reading the supposed gurus (no names, no pack drill) and their published texts, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had to use them all the time and get the jargon  exactly right or no learning would ever take place.

I remember a lecture/tutorial thing from my time at Jordanhill (BA Sport in the Community, not BEd…) when we had a session during a block about coaching and the coaching process. Our tutor, a venerable ex PE teacher and Scotland Rugby Internationalist, asked us questions along the lines of “are Learning Outcomes goals we MUST get to? Are there stepping stones on the way? What might they be called? Are they objectives? Must we do things in a certain way and with a certain vocabulary to get the best results?”

He summed up, after we’d batted the idea about for a good ninety minutes, with something I still think is valid today:

It doesn’t matter what you call them as long as they tell you what you want to do, how you’re going to get there and how you’ll know if you’ve done it or not.

I also “studied” (attended lectures, rattled off an assignment) Marketing at the time as part of the course. They like their objectives those Marketing guys. That’s fair enough, people (companies, businesses, public sector organisations) are spending a lot of money to promote whatever it is they need to promote, so it’s only right that there are checks and balances in place to ensure they’re getting a fair bang for their buck.

One way of doing that is to ensure that any plan/campaign/initiative they devise has an associated set of targets. They like to call them “SMART Targets” – I’m sure you’ve heard of them. It’s an acronym. Now, for me, acronyms are generally hateful things but this one stands up well.

The exact nomenclature changes depending on the publication you read but SMART is generally taken to mean that a target must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
These, I hope, are pretty much self-explanatory but just in case here’s another wee version of the same. The crux of it is that things (whatever they may be) can’t work well or at any rate *efficiently* if you don’t have an agreed timetable for them to happen to.
Other acronyms, WALT and WILF are often maligned and, to be fair, I’m not keen on the anthropomorphism of them into “characters” but I accept that it’s good to have something to hang your lesson and ideas on.

I don’t always use the phrase “We are learning to…” with the class, sometimes it’s “we are looking at…” or “we’d like to know if…” but the bottom line is the same: it says what you’re hoping to do. I never have too many “WALTS” because then it gets busy, messy and difficult to evaluate but I do always try to flag up any accidental/serendipitious learning after the lesson.

For example, I might write up on the whiteboard during the plenary (tick!):

WALT “x…y…z” – we know we achieved it because “…(revisit WILF)” and We Also Found/Learned/Discovered….

In the Curriculum for Excellence this kind of “accidental learning” or discovery is the kind that I’m finding more and more of.

Today in Science with p4-7 we started off on vinegar and baking soda and ended up looking at the Giant’s Causeway. Don’t ask. It does however mean that, through the children’s own enquiry, we’ve now collaboratively mapped out some possibilities to explore in the coming weeks, everything from studying basalt to trying to organise a talk about the geological history of Ben Nevis.

If I’d put up a strict (ie must-be-adhered-to) list of objectives/targets/whatevers for yesterday’s  lesson then anyone sitting with a checklist would have failed the lot of us yet I’d argue we all got more out of the session as a result of discussions and “happy accidents”.

That’s not to say, of course, that we can ignore plans and pre-determined Outcomes – we must keep them there if we want to ensure appropriate coverage in terms of depth and progression – but they can’t be an enslaving ideology, they must be more of a guiding principle. Surely that’s not too much of a Mission (Statement): Impossible?


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