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Course Objectives Help Students Learn

Now that the school year has begun, it won't be long before students will be tested on the material taught in class.  I believe that studying can be made less stressful and more productive if teachers give their students the objectives for the material taught beforehand ("Before You Study, Ask for Help," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16).

When I was working on my California teaching credential at UCLA, I was fortunate to have had W. James Popham as my instructor for "Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Schools."  He believed that when students know what behaviors they will be required to demonstrate, they can then organize their studying habits accordingly.  For example, if an American history teacher wants students to know the causes of all the wars the country has been involved in, he/she should stipulate how students will demonstrate that knowledge. The lowest level, of course, would be to simply list such causes on the test (recall).  But a higher level would require students to apply such knowledge to current events (analysis).

The truth is that all teachers have material they deem indispensable for students to learn.  Rather than play a guessing game, why not make it clear beforehand exactly what is expected of them?  The key to success is to provide students with ample practice that is appropriate to the specific objectives and follow it up with critical feedback.  Contrary to popular belief, this is not teaching to the test because the objectives contain a description of the broad body of skills and knowledge required to master. When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I remember overhearing teachers in the faculty lounge complaining that their students were not learning what was taught.  Perhaps the answer was that these teachers never made it abundantly clear in the first place what was expected of them.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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