Let’s Rethink the Purpose of Student Learning Objectives

The true purpose of SLOs are to develop and dynamically adjust individualized learning plans for each student!

It is the beginning of a new school year. For many teachers, a new school year is like a second, “New Year’s Eve.” We make resolutions to try new technology, practice new mindsets, or implement ideas we learned from summer professional development. And we plan. It is always exciting! A new school year also means many teachers are developing or refreshing their SLO objective for the year. And while SLOs are often considered a teacher effectiveness measure, I think we need to reframe their purpose.

SLOs are about student learning. SLOs are a process to help us recognize students who are in different stages of learning. SLO templates are a tool to help us plan how we support differentiated instructional actions. SLO procedures require that we interpret student work in our classroom. The SLO process is a living process. It asks us to use different types of evidence to help us analyze student thinking in the content area. The true purpose of SLOs are to develop and dynamically adjust individualized learning plans for each student!

Individualized student learning plans mean that throughout the year we understand where students are at any point and what students need next. This also means we may have to be prepared for students who enter the classroom who are not ready for the curriculum for the grade or students who may have already mastered much of what we plan to teach. The SLO process can help us think about what student growth throughout the year means for each student.

What is your plan for supporting each student on their upcoming journey?

Here are some ideas for getting started:

  1. Sequence and connect the standards you will teach throughout the year. Map where your curriculum reviews content from previous grades and touches below grade standards. Where does your curriculum intersect with standards from the above adjacent grade? Some standards are precursors to others. When you can see a map of the standards sequenced on your curriculum, you can then place students along that map at the beginning of the year using evidence. This can be a way to help you identify where and what in your curriculum your students are ready to learn!
  2. Engage students in authentic demonstrations of their thinking and learning as often as possible. Authentic demonstrations provide the best evidence of the student’s present level of performance, and they allow you to witness student thinking in action. This likely means use fewer multiple-choice items and more constructed-response items. Constructed-response items provide much richer information about what students are thinking and why. They are better assessment tools to use for interpreting student work and placing the student on your standards and curriculum map.
  3. Focus on interpreting student work rather than grading it. Interpreting student work means asking, “What knowledge and skills is this student demonstrating?” Rather than counting the number of items a student answered correctly, annotate what you infer a student CAN do based on what she or he answered correctly. When you focus on what students can do, you find the beginning of their instructional path. Knowing where a student is now allows you to ask the question, “What does this student need next?” It also allows you to map the student onto your standards and curriculum map!
  4. Take a small step forward in adapting to students. Students have different learning rates, and homework can be a place to dip your toe into how to adjust to student needs. Homework can be a place to provide some students with more practice and to provide other students some additional sources of challenge.

The true purpose of SLOs are to develop and dynamically adjust individualized learning plans for each student!

When we treat SLOs as a formative assessment process, we support and empower teachers in determining where each student is currently, what each student needs next, and we have begun the journey of moving to personalized learning. When we identify the needs of each student, instructional teams can have conversations about the tools they need in the classroom. Let’s stop considering SLOs as a teacher effectiveness measure. Let’s implement SLOs to support the teaching and learning of all students.

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