Student Understanding: The Bottom Line
WWE Wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin had a famous line that the crowd would echo as he screamed into the microphone. Austin would look at his opponent, stare them in the eye and say, “That’s the bottom line, ‘cause Stone Cold said so!” As we enter 2018, educators need to reflect on “The Bottom Line.”
Simon Sinek wrote, Start With Why (2009). Sinek shared that very few organizations know their purpose or why their organization exists. Do the educators in your school district rally around a common purpose? If educators begin with student understanding as the bottom line, then answers to questions about teaching and learning will come more naturally. Consider the following questions: 1) How will we measure student understanding? 2) Why are we asking students to use technology in this lesson? 3) What will students be able to do to demonstrate a deeper understanding as a result of this unit?
According to Grant Wiggins (2013), “Transfer is the bottom-line goal of all learning, not scripted behavior. Transfer means that a learner can draw upon and apply from all of what was learned, as the situation warrants, not just do one move at a time in response to a prompt.” If student understanding is the bottom line, it is critical to design for transfer. When educators focus on transfer they will design authentic tasks for students. When a district team identifies transfer goals, it will support teachers across schools. Teaching does not need to follow a script. When individual teachers design lessons and units, they can align their assignments to the district’s transfer goals.
Do teachers and administrators have a sense of urgency about student understanding? A sense of urgency means that educators are focused on common goals and they have a pre-determined response if the goals are not met in each classroom. One strategy for making student understanding the bottom line is asking the following questions:
What do we want students to learn?
How will we know if they have learned?
What will we do if they don’t learn?
What will we do if they already know it?
(DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, 2010)
When I was in elementary school, learning was the variable. In other words, the teachers understood that some students would learn the key skills and concepts and some students would not. The goals for teaching and learning have changed. “Schooling at its best reflects a purposeful arrangement of parts and details, organized with deliberate intention, for achieving the kinds of learning we seek” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 9). Imagine if you and your team begin 2018 with clarity about the bottom line. There are many things we cannot control outside of school, but educators can agree that student understanding is the bottom line.