Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Grain Size Matters: Determining the Scope of Learning Targets

There have been many questions lately in the schools where we work about the scope of our learning targets. How big or small should they be?  How general and how specific?  Are they meant to show student achievement for the whole year, or for a shorter period of learning? How do we track and report different types of targets?

After years of working with learning targets in our own classroom and in classrooms throughout our district, we have some answers (many of which will lead to more questions). Please note that our answers are based on our particular context around targets and grading here in our district, and might vary in other contexts.

When writing targets, we must consider grain size, meaning the scope of the targets and how much time we expect it to take for students to meet or surpass them (knowing that time is the variable and the learning of the target is the constant). Here are the three most common grain sizes we are seeing in our district and when and how we might use each.

Yearlong Target: A yearlong target is a target that you anticipate will take the entire year for students to become proficient in. Yearlong targets must be broken into unit (or specific learning period) targets before you track and report them. Students (actually, all humans) need to see incremental growth in order to stick with learning, so when writing targets, we must determine the appropriate level of achievement in the skill over a smaller period of time. If we are scoring using a 1-4 scale, we cannot report 1s and 2s all year and expect students and parents to understand that learning is happening; in addition, these scores are too broad to be useful to us as teachers when we are trying to respond to our data in order to differentiate. Here is a blog we wrote about this very issue using a marathon metaphor. For the first 6 weeks of training (of an 18 week program), the runner cannot be expected to run the full 26.2 miles; her 6 week target might be 10 miles, so her distance achievement at that time should be based on the appropriate expectation. Thus, she would be scored on her achievement of the week six goal at that time, not week 18. This is the same for learning.

It may be easier to think of yearlong targets as “standards” that need to be broken into parts or shifted into incremental chunks, or interim targets. Interim targets (see below: repeating or unit) are precise and specific, and provide smaller destinations--where students should be along the way in order to be prepared to meet the yearlong standard.

  • Tracking and Reporting: We suggest that you track and report the interim targets only, as these are the ones that will provide data that allows you to be responsive with your instruction, and will provide appropriate level feedback about progress to students and parents. The goal of reporting is to be accurate and clear, so our scores must tie directly to the language of the target.

Example of Yearlong Target: Note the number of parts in this standard; it may not be realistic to expect students to be proficient in all parts of this standard early in the year, so breaking it into achievable parts and then writing scales will help us instruct and provide feedback.

I have a clear thesis with organizer; my purpose is appropriate to my audience and to the assignment; my leads support my thesis and organizer, and introduce subtopics; my purpose stays consistent throughout my paper.

Repeating Target: A repeating target is a target you will repeat in multiple units or over multiple reporting periods, and you anticipate students will reach proficiency each time with different content. This is the most common type of transferable target, often being introduced and heavily instructed in an early unit, and then brought back throughout the year. For example, targets that ask students to show cause and effect, that ask students to make claims, or that ask students to create models would all be targets that could repeat over and over with new (and perhaps more complex) content.

  • Tracking and Reporting: If you have set up your standards-based gradebook by unit, then you will include this target in each unit, entering scores that show achievement of that target with the specific content of the unit. When you do this, the “most recent” score calculation will be within the unit only, so a score of a 4 in your final unit will not replace a score of a 3 in an earlier unit. The scores live within the unit. If you have set up your gradebook by year, however, then you will enter the target only once, and each new score will replace the one before, regardless of unit content. See this document to help you decide which set-up works best for your course.

Example of Repeating Target: Note that this target will be instructed, practiced, and assessed in multiple units with different content; in later units, more time can be put on the practice, as instruction will be much more targeted based on need.


I have a clear thesis/claim with a single idea; the claim requires simple evidence and no analysis to prove.
I have a clear thesis/claim with more than one idea; the claim requires a single type of evidence and limited analysis to prove.
I have a clear thesis/claim with multiple relational  ideas; the claim  requires multiple types of evidence and substantive analysis to prove.

Unit Target: A unit target is a target that appears in only one unit or trimester, and is not be repeated for the full class once that unit/trimester is complete. These targets should still be transferable within the unit, meaning that they cannot be single-score targets. Students should be able to practice these throughout the unit with a variety of content in order to improve over time. In addition, just because the target will not formally repeat, students who did not meet proficiency should still have opportunity to show new learning later in the year. Our job is to ensure students learn, not just to teach, which means that unit targets may need to be readdressed for some or all of our students.

  • Tracking and Reporting: These targets are entered at the beginning of the unit, and tracked and reported throughout. Once the unit is complete, the final score will stand throughout the rest of the year and will appear on all reports and in the portal. If there is new learning later in the year, you will need to go back to that unit, add an assessment, and enter new scores for any students who have shown new learning (this new assessment will not have any effect on the other students, as no new data will be entered for them).

Example of Unit Target:

Reading: Rhetorical Analysis
I am currently working towards the next level.
I can locate/observe rhetorical devices in a text and can explain what they are.
I can analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance a specific POV or purpose in a text.
I can analyze the effect of multiple rhetorical devices on the text as a whole, considering context and audience.

Remember that the goal of reporting is always clear, accurate communication of achievement, and our targets and scales should assist in that communication. The grain size can help make these targets clear, provide instructional specificity, and communicate incremental (and effective) progress to our learners.

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