The Learning Objective
When a teacher takes the time to determine what he wants his students to learn from a lesson, he is creating a learning objective. These objectives help shape the curriculum and daily lessons of the course. Often, the learning objectives for a course are mandated by your district or state. The federal government publishes guidelines, which some schools ask their teachers to follow. Further, outside forces such as high-stakes testing can affect the learning objectives of classroom teachers. Overall, it is important for you as a teacher to combine these elements and add your own personal vision to create an effective learning environment.
State and National Standards
Each state has its own system for developing standards, and methods vary from district to district. While there are some national curriculum standards developed by different councils and groups, there are no “official” national standards that all teachers and schools must follow. Today, there are arguments both for and against the creation of national standards.
By allowing states to define their own standards and not mandating national standards, the federal government lets states determine what to teach. For example, Texas social studies standards deal more specifically with state history than Florida social studies standards do. If the national government created standards, this type of individual focus would be impossible to maintain.
Some school districts require standards to be listed on every lesson plan. Other school districts are not as strict. Make sure that you discuss this with your mentor or other teachers to understand exactly what is required of you as you create your lesson plans.
On the flip side, if national standards were mandated, proponents claim that curricula would be standardized across the nation. It would become much more likely that the information learned in American history class would not vary from state to state. This issue of state versus national standards will continue to be debated for quite some time.
Teachers across the nation are increasingly faced with the need to prepare their students for high-stakes testing. For example, at this time all students in Florida must pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in order to graduate from high school. Further, funding and school grades are based in part on the results of this test.
The goal of tests such as the FCAT is to ensure that students meet minimum levels of achievement at different grades throughout their school careers. There is also a desire to create educational accountability. In a perfect world, teachers would not have to change what they were teaching in order to fully prepare students for tests like the FCAT. However, many times these tests do not mirror the curriculum taught in the classroom. Therefore, teachers spend time preparing the students for the test in addition to covering the curriculum for their courses.
As a teacher, you may have to make tough choices concerning your curriculum when you add test preparation into the mix. Just by including additional information, you will have to shorten or remove other topics that you normally would have taught.
If you do not add your personal educational vision into your lesson plans, you will not be as effective as a teacher. It is important to meet the objectives of the district and state, but you must add your personal stamp to your curriculum to make it real for your students.
Take some time as you create your lessons to determine what you want your students to learn from the material. Settle on the top three to five points you want students to take away from a lesson and make sure you stress these important points while teaching. Write the points you wish to stress on the board or on a handout to help students frame any notes they take.
Make sure that any assessments you create also include these important points. Students will learn what you stress. Conversely, if you spend an inordinate part of your lesson on something that you feel is not that important for your students to learn, you are wasting precious educational time.