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Best Practices in Education, Student Growth Measures, Student Learning Objectives,

Seven Strategies of Highly Effective Teachers Part III: SLOs, Student Growth and Student Mastery

Highly effective teachers understand that the growth of the learning arch cannot happen unless we have started on a solid foundation.

Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) bring into focus all the components of highly effective teachers. As we have discussed in earlier posts, highly effective teachers inform their instructional decisions using formative assessments and then take action to improve or adjust instruction to meet student needs. Oftentimes, we may think of student growth and student mastery as being synonymous, however there are important differences between the two. The following illustration may help paint a clearer picture in our minds.

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful stone arch. Possibly, an arch of classical Roman design which both spans a space and supports a load. It could be a bridge over a small river or the entrance to an old castle. What do you notice at the top of the arch? A wedge-shaped keystone is at the summit. What is its purpose? All that is beautiful about the arch cannot be sustained without that one singular wedge holding all the other components together. The arch would crumble.

In education, sustaining highly effective teaching also requires a keystone. Highly effective teachers work from a position of “student centered first” mentality. A Student Learning Objective is that keystone. It is simple, yet its role in the entire educational, architectural structure is at the summit. The foundation is in place with Enduring Understandings at the bedrock deep within the ground. The Common Core State Standards are the large, solid granite stones at the bottom of the arch. Each successive stone, such as essential questions and learning targets, leads to the summit of learning.

As master educational architects in the classroom, we are both the designer and builder of the arch. Highly effective teachers understand that the growth of the learning arch cannot happen unless we have started on a solid foundation. At each step along the way, formative assessments are used to inform our decisions and to make the necessary adjustments. But something needs to hold it together so that it stands the test of time, pressure, and stress. It must endure. The keystone – our Student Learning Objective – is that sustainable piece that holds it in place. The arch is beautiful not only for its aesthetic appearance in the present moment but also for its ability to carry a load with its inherent tension over long periods of time.

Student learning growth and student mastery are really two separate components of the educational arch. Without growth, mastery cannot be enjoyed over time. Growth can be measured while in progress. Adjustments can be made to each individual stone as it is refined by the stonemason’s hand. There is time to make changes with the materials, labor, construction, and even parts of the design as the arch is being constructed. Student growth, much like the growth of the arch, is happening on a daily basis. However, to ensure that it reaches the summit with enduring stability, ongoing assessments, informed decisions, and finally action to correct and gaps or weaknesses in the structure must be corrected. Mastery occurs after the struggle to design quality lessons, excavate for Enduring Understandings and lay each stone in its proper place by asking Essential Questions and targeting towards the summit.

Student mastery is the ultimate goal. Without mastery, then the worthwhile struggle to design, excavate, and lay each stone will be for naught. Student mastery is the goal of a highly effective teacher. Our students’ mastery must stand the test of time and ensure the student is ready to meet future challenges. The highly effective teacher finds happiness in knowing future generations will reap the rewards and enjoy the beauty of a finished work that stands the test of time.


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