I’ve had mixed emotions towards “Learning Intentions” since I was introduced to them. Of course they can help focus the mind on what is to be achieved in a lesson, but they’ve always seemed a bit functional to me: “Here’s the boxes you need to tick by the end of the lesson.” This is perhaps felt more acutely in science where much emphasis is placed on inquiry and discovery. Outlining beforehand what you’re going to discover doesn’t quite seem to fit. In fact, it’s anti-science in a lot of ways.
My own experiences of learning intentions so far have not been particularly positive. Trainee teachers are encouraged to display them at the beginning of a lesson then again at the end. Do you spend 5 minutes at the start of every lesson asking students to copy them down? Do you give them learning intentions for a whole topic? Do you just stick them up on Powerpoint and run through them briefly? I tended to favour the latter as have most teachers I’ve observed. How about at the end of the lesson? Invariably I found that when you habitually displayed them again at the end students, who should be carefully reflecting on their learning, appeared to have undergone a kind of Pavlovian conditioning; the reappearance of “State that… Describe….” meant that it was nearly bell time, get the jacket on.
What to do? From a teaching point of view, I build my lessons after making learning intentions in the style of SOLO (see below). There’s been much said about SOLO elsewhere (check out Tait Coles & David Didau), so I’m not going to dwell on the ins and outs. I simplified the language a little bit and did an exercise with each of my classes at the start of term to familiarise them with the terms. I wanted to instil the idea that they should be striving to move from shallow (UNI) to deep learning (REL & EX AB) in all lessons.
The next issue was if and how to display the learning intentions to the students. As said previously, cursorily displaying them at the start and end of lessons seemed ineffective to me. If they were going to work then the students need to be referring to them throughout the lesson. A powerpoint slide? Could you display if for the whole lesson? Copying down wastes time. A print out of the learning intentions for the whole topic? Would surely stymie the teacher’s flexibility if the learning intentions are set out many lessons in advance? To me it seems the ideal situation would be to have an additional (maybe small) whiteboard alongside your main smartboard/whiteboard. The SOLO learning intentions could be written on the smaller board, be on display permanently and not interfere with anything else. At the moment I have them on a section of my whiteboard, and try and have them on display for as much of the lesson as possible.
I will persist with that throughout the year and see how the classes progress. My learning intentions?
“Predict whether or not learning intentions are effective.”
“Explain how learning intentions are effective.”
This is where it gets awkward for me. In a process of discovery should I be intending to learn something specifically or just see where the journey takes me? How do I judge what success is? Going through a workbook for the Enzyme section of the Int-2 Biology I’ve found that I need to teach the activities backwards as the students are informed what is going to happen in the experiments that follow. How dull is that? That’s the issue for me. There’s always the danger that you turn an interesting process into a functional one.