a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
What’s the ultimate goal for your students (from their perspective or yours)?
When you think of an ultimate goal for your students, perhaps some of the following phrases come to mind:
How do you and your course, lead your students toward the ultimate goal?
Taking students from where they are to where they need to be (the ultimate goal) involves a lot of smaller steps along the way. Your course is responsible for taking students partway along the path. Different words are used in different settings to describe these smaller steps—standards, benchmarks, objectives, outcomes, aims. For this post, I’ve decided to use the word benchmarks.
When you think of the word benchmark, what comes to mind?
The Oxford Dictionary defines benchmark this way: a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed.
In education, benchmarks delineate progress points along the path toward larger goals. They serve two purposes. They give us a point of reference that shows us where our students need to be, or in other words, what they need to know and be able to do. And so they help us plan for student learning. They are also used to measure or assess how far learners have come along the path.
What benchmarks do you use in your teaching, and how?
For some, you don’t have to put too much effort into thinking about the smaller steps you take students because your program or school district provides you with a set of benchmarks or standards. Perhaps you use something like the Iowa Core, the Canadian Language Benchmarks, or the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. (If your program doesn’t provide you with a set of benchmarks, you might find these links helpful.)
Do you feel constricted or freed by benchmarks? Why?
One complaint teachers make about benchmarks is that they are constricting. Teachers sometimes feel that they spend so much time working toward them (so that learners can reach a certain level on standardized exams) that they never get to what students really need to learn in their particular context. Others may feel a sense of relief that progress points along the path are clearly delineated for them.
I like what the designers say in the introduction to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Their words seem to sum up a healthy approach to benchmarks: Designed with expertise, they provide a reasonable set of reference points but should be adapted to fit with different students and situations.
Once your students reach benchmarks, are they finished learning?
Another complaint educators sometimes make about benchmarks is that they put a ceiling on learning. Benchmarks, and even ultimate goals, are not the end of learning. Students can go beyond them. In fact, they should be encouraged to. I asked some friends recently for their translation of a well-known Chinese saying: 活到老学到老. Many of them said, “It’s never too late to learn,” but my favorite was this one:
Learning is a daily experience and a lifetime mission.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
Look at the benchmarks your program or district provide you with, or follow one of the links above and explore the benchmarks on the website. Decide where your students are and where they need to be. Then, adapt some of the benchmarks to fit with your particular students and teaching context. Feel free to share your adaptations with us here.