Four Steps to Stronger Objectives, Better Learners, and Easier Grading

 

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Howdy, fellow teachers!

If you’re anything like me, you absolutely LOVE writing learning objectives. You dream of writing objectives while on vacation, and you frame the best ones and display them proudly on your living room wall. In fact, writing learning objectives is the best part of your day!

Just kidding, I hate writing learning objectives the same way I hate doing laundry or washing dishes. Writing objectives is a chore.

But, clear learning objectives are also critical components to effective teaching because – when used properly – they focus instruction, student learning, and grading (they can also help you rock evaluative observations, FYI).

I learned about Z Objectives while attending a Marzano conference the summer of 2013. I had just completed my first year as Language Arts Department Head at a rural middle school in New Mexico, and I was facing the daunting task of preparing the department for the transition to Common Core. We had written a bunch of jumbled, vague objectives as a department prior to the conference, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. I mean, we wrote objectives. As a department! Fancy, huh?

But as the instructor walked us through the incredibly simple process to writing Z Objectives, I fell in love, and here’s why:

1) Z Objectives focus on concrete behaviors, not abstract understandings

Have you ever read (or written) an objective that reads like a standard? Consider the following craptastic example: students will be able to use textual evidence to support claims about a text. Bleh! That objective IS the standard! If you’re writing objectives that are nearly identical to the standards, why bother using objectives at all?

Now, consider the same skill as a Z Objective: students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph. That objective is nothing like the standard it is targeting. Instead, it tells students exactly what they need to do to achieve the objective: use the three-step process to include two pieces of evidence in one paragraph. In other words, they tell the students what to do to get an A.

2) Z Objectives are measurable

To highlight this point, let’s consider the aforementioned craptastic objective: students will be able to use textual evidence to support claims about a text. How do you know when a student has met that objective? What does it look like? Do you expect the student to introduce the evidence? Do you care whether they use a quote or a paraphrase? Do they need to cite their source with a parenthetical citation? Are you requiring them to explain how the evidence supports their claim?

The problem with English is that it is incredibly subjective. The craptastic objective is also incredibly subjective. One teacher may only require one or two of the criteria listed in the previous paragraph, but another might require all of the criteria. Now, imagine that these two teachers work at the same school, within the same department, teaching the same grade. Because the craptastic objective isn’t measurable, one teacher will have lower standards than another, and that is not fair to any of the students.

Once again, consider the Z Objective: students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph. This is a measurable objective. Either the students used the three-step process, or they didn’t. If they skipped a step, they are not proficient. Period. With this objective, both teachers have the same standards because they are using the same ruler to measure proficiency.

3) Z Objectives are student friendly

Imagine you’re a fourteen-year-old high school freshmen and your crazy English teacher has written, “students will be able to use textual evidence to support claims about a text” on the board. Do you understand what that means? Do you even bother to read it? Do you even realize that the teacher wrote something on the board? Likely, the answer to all of those questions is a big fat NO.

Now, imagine that your crazy English teacher has written, “students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph” on the board. You may not bother to read it, and you may not realize that the teacher wrote something on the board unless the teacher points it out to you, but you will understand what it means and what you need to do to achieve proficiency.

4) Z Objectives make grading easy

The best part about Z Objectives is that they make grading SUPER easy. When you sit down to grade, you know exactly what you’re looking for because it is outlined in the objective. The trick to easy grading is to have only one objective per small assignment, then only grade what is outlined in the objective. After all, the point of grading is to assess whether or not the student learned a specific skill, not to assign a number to a piece of paper. Z Objectives keep grading relevant and focused on learning, not on arbitrarily slapping a number on a piece of paper.

How to Write Z Objectives in Four Easy Steps

Some teachers like using graphic organizers, others prefer to use sentence frames, and some like step-by-step directions. I belong to the latter two groups, but if you happen to be Team Graphic Organizers I’ve provided a handy-dandy graphic organizer for you to use along with the sentence frame. You can find both at the end of this post.

Step 1: Identify the level of thinking you expect the students to reach.

I like to use verbs from Blooms Taxonomy, but I’ll often refer to the Depths of Knowledge wheel as well. Same verbs, different layout.

Example: Students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph.

Step 2: Identify the larger concept connected to the skill.

If you’re unsure what the larger concept is, just look in the standards. Ask yourself, why do my students need to know this? That should help you to identify the bigger concept. The concept connected to the textual evidence objective is “support a claim.” Why do they need to know what textual evidence is? So they can use it to back up their arguments!

Example: Students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph.

Step 3: Decide what the students need to do to master this skill

What will they actually create, or physically do with the specific content? This step requires a specific action verb, and sometimes a modifier to that action verb. For example, the students may need to list mammals, or they may need to use the three-step process to embed evidence.

Example: Students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph.

Step 4: Identify and quantify the specific content the students will manipulate, create, or engage with in some way. 

What piece of the larger concept will they work with specifically? This is where the measurable part comes into play. If possible, quantify the end product. Will the students write three sentences? List five characteristics? Accurately identify two correct statements? Adding a number clarifies your expectations and makes grading much less subjective.

Example: Students will be able to support a claim by using the three-step process to effectively embed two pieces of textual evidence within a paragraph.

The Sentence Frame

The student will be able to level of thinking of concept by doing verb specific content.

The Graphic Organizer

Z Objectives Gif

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