Monday, September 3, 2012

Essential Elements in a Lesson Plan: Objectives

Of all the parts of a lesson plan, objectives are probably the most important.  Know what it is you expect your child/children to get out of a lesson, set of lessons or activity.  Even in unschooling, where things are a lot more child-directed, if you have a general list of objectives it would be good for your child to meet in a given month or year, your questions and guidance to your child can be even more helpful in guiding them in directions out of which they will get the most practice with important skills and exposure to important information.  An unschooler may need to establish new objectives each morning based on what happened the day before, but they can truly be a guiding force for you in supporting your child's education.
An objective is a small, observable piece of a list of items to be completed to help in obtaining a goal. 
Objectives usually  begin with a verb.  They are active.  They are something a student should be able to do after the lesson or series of lessons you are giving. In any educational setting, but especially an unschooling one, even your objectives and goals can be influenced or directed by your child as well.  What great practice it will give them in learning not only how to set goals, but then also how to achieve those goals using specific objectives. 

That means the first thing to do is to figure out what your goals for your child are for the end of the week, month and/or year.  Whether you set the goals and objectives alone, let a curriculum company set them for you, or set them together (or some sort of combination of the above) will depend on whether you are a classroom teacher, teaching a cooperative and the style of the cooperative, or the philosophy and style you have about education in your home school.  You'll probably have multiple goals in each subject your children study, but within a single lesson plan you'll want a short list of objectives so choosing only one goal to address in a given lesson or activity will help you to simplify things.

For example:  In Language Arts, you might wish that your child is able to read beginning reader books (level 1 - 2) by the end of the year.  Some examples of objectives related to this goal might be:
  • Recognize letters as symbols for sounds.
  • Identify the sounds most commonly represented by each consonant.
  • Recognize short vowel sounds associated with each of the vowel letters.
  • Sound out three letter words.
  • Recognize 20 of the most commonly used sight words (words that cannot be sounded out) used in English texts.
The most important things to consider in writing objectives are:
  • Does the objective relate directly to the goal to be obtained?
  • Is the objective measurable?  or Can it be tested?
Another consideration in writing objectives that will help you keep the objective both simple and measurable is to start with specific verbs. 

In an individual lesson, some of these objectives can be broken down into even smaller bites.  For example, the objective about learning the short vowel sounds can be broken into separate specific objectives where each of these "bites" addresses each of the vowels.

It is usually best if your list of objectives is relatively short and that you are addressing the smallest bites possible.  By small bites, I would say that in a single, 30 minute lesson related to the example above, you might address:
  • Identify the letter Bb in both its Upper and Lowercase forms as representing the sound "buh".
You might also address another objective (that helps you work toward the same goal, or another goal)in a separate activity during a longer lesson, but usually with kids (especially young ones) this is not the time for multi-tasking.  Less is more.  Have just a few items in mind to keep you focused, your child feeling confident, and your time requirements sensible. 

A few separate notes related to this example:
  • I know there are TONS of objectives that need achieving in the Kindergarten and First Grade years in a typical set of requirements with the goal of independent reading in mind.  I usually viewed phonics as one lesson amongst three or four language arts lessons in a given day.  I would do a 20-30 minute phonics lesson, and do a SEPARATE lesson that was a "Literature" lesson along with 10-15 minutes practicing 10 sight words each day (6-7 of which I knew she would be able to identify).  I also separated writing and considered practicing writing letters as even separate lessons from the reading aspect of recognizing and understanding each letter.  Between these lessons, we would do lessons from other subject areas, take brain breaks, exercise, or just live life. 
  • Also, if you are homeschooling, depending on state requirements, you can take it a little slower.  In Waldorf schooling, formal reading lessons don't begin until third grade.  If you choose to focus on other goals so you leave yourself room to really focus on reading later and that works within the system you are working and for your child, there is nothing wrong with that.  Just make sure you are thinking through each of these kinds of decisions thoroughly.  If you make the decision to put off reading goals, make sure to fill in with activities and lessons that still work toward literacy in other ways as well as attaining more goals in other subjects so you leave yourself time to cover reading objectives later.  If your child is motivated to read, take advantage.  If your child isn't motivated in reading, take advantage of what does motivate him/her.  Don't give up on what doesn't motivate your child naturally - or they are likely to truly miss out, but you can take things more slowly in these subject areas. 
I DO multitask in many lessons by doing cross-curricular activities.  However, I still keep the number of objectives to a minimum.  For example, I recently needed Alice to learn about forest habitats, and I needed her to learn to write a basic report about an animal.  I warned her in advance about the report and helped her take notes about animals we came across in our forest habitat studies.  In the end, she chose a favorite animal and picked out a few things from her notes to write her report about that animal.  This cross-curricular multi-tasking happened over multiple lessons, but addressed two objectives:  "list a few animals characteristic of boreal forests" and "write a short report about an animal".  The lesson where she wrote a report was the culmination of a number of other lessons and the report was a "multitasking" kind of deal because it gave me an assessment activity in the area of report writing, while also gave her way to practice and review information from another subject.

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