One of the first issues I saw as a staff developer with Learning Sciences International was teachers struggling to create learning targets and performance scales. There are a lot of steps in the process and it can be very complicated. We wanted to simplify that process while making sure it aligned with the new standards. We wanted to help teachers by including examples of how the scales would look at different grade levels―from early childhood through high school.
How a teacher creates these scales in her individual classroom is very important, but the scales shouldn’t be made in isolation. Comparing scales with the grade above and below means the teacher is instructing to the intent of the standards. Interestingly, once teachers create scales, they get a thorough understanding of the standards along with clarity on what they know and don’t know.
You state in your book that the starting point for creating learning targets and performance scales is the standards. How so?
For the scales to be impactful, they have to be standards-based because that is the way we get students to the rigor of the standards.
What is the difference between a learning target and a performance scale, and how are they complementary?
A learning target is a step in a progression of the learning of the standards. The performance scales are created when you take all of those steps and put them into a progression from the simplest to the most complex.
What are the benefits to teachers and students once teachers have mastered learning targets and performance scales?
For teachers, creating scales actually saves them time once they’ve mastered the skill because they become more efficient in their application. Initially, learning to create scales is, like learning anything new, cumbersome and seemingly complex. But over time, teachers start to do it without thinking about each step, and the better they become at it, the faster they can do it. Eventually, they won’t have to go back to their notes to see what level they’re working on. It all feels very natural.
For students, having scales to work from becomes motivational. And it’s familiar to them because it feels like gaming, which kids love. With gaming, the first thing they’re shown is what their target is for that level. When they’ve mastered that level, they get to go on to the next. It’s the same with learning targets and performance scales. If done correctly, they become success criteria for the students. When students have the understanding that this activity is linked to this goal or scale, it sets a purpose for the learning.
Are learning targets and performance scales more effective if used as a school-wide initiative instead of individual classrooms adapting them?
Absolutely. It’s even better if it’s across the district. But I will say that you don’t know how good a scale is until you’ve taught it. If I was in a classroom today, I’d be teaching and tweaking the scales to see if the results from my students were what I thought they would be. And if not, then I’d evaluate that scale again.
How can learning targets and performance scales be utilized to assist ESE and ELL students who may be struggling in their studies?
The standardized learning targets are for all students, so the learning targets and performance scales will help you reach ESE and ELL students as well. Oftentimes we water down the standards, which only creates a larger learning gap. What we need to do is ask, “How do we get all students to reach the learning targets?” and “What supports do my students need in order to get there?” The scales give teachers an understanding of what adaptations they need to make so that all students—even those from certain subgroups—reach the targets.
Do you find that students take ownership of their learning when they understand what the outcome of their lessons should be?
Definitely. The more students are able to track their progress on a scale, the more they own their learning. And they’re able to tell the teacher when they’ve met the target. We also see students taking the initiative to study at home, whether they’re assigned homework or not. With targets in place, we’re seeing a lot more peer-to-peer work.
What else would you like readers to know?
Creating scales takes skill and practice to get to a point where it has a lasting effect. It’s not just picking the scale up at the beginning of class and referring to it at the end. It takes constant reference and constant monitoring of what the students are doing and how close they are getting to those targets. This process is a thread that runs through everything we do in the classroom, and it should be driving our instruction, our questions, and the tasks we assign. If you let the process happen, you’ll have a standards-aligned classroom because you’ve allowed it to drive all of those decisions in the classroom.