Learning Goals and Scales: The Evolution of a Teaching Tool, Part 3

Doesn’t it seem that as soon as you get one skill or term figured out, there’s something else to learn?

I suppose that’s why they call it “lifelong learning,” because it never really stops. In the ever-shifting terrain of education, where it seems there’s always a new “best” teaching practice or tool to master, teachers can understandably begin to feel overwhelmed.

In this blog, we’re really not trying to inundate you with add-ons and arduous new demands on your time and focus. What we are trying to do is to help you organize and streamline the tools you already have and use, so that you’re even more effective in the classroom. It’s a process, a progression of mastery that takes time and practice.

Consider the use of learning goals and scales. In our first two posts in this series, we talked extensively about creating goals and scales for teaching cognitive skills, which are the skills students need to complete tasks that call for retrieval, comprehension, analysis, and knowledge utilization. We’ve examined how teachers evolve in their use of these tools, and how to infuse their practice with the “New Taxonomy” documented in The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Marzano and Kendall, 2007) and Using Common Core Standards to Enhance Classroom & Assessment (Marzano, Yanoski, Hoegh, and Sims, 2012).

Now we’re going to extend the learning a bit further and look at how you can use goals and scales in another area: conative skills.

And what, you may ask, does “conative skills” mean?

It’s not, admittedly, a common phrase. A quick scan through online dictionaries reveals that “conative” refers to the mind’s ability to review and evaluate our emotions and our body of knowledge, in hopes of improving our future interactions and problem-solving abilities. They are sometimes referred to as “soft skills,” and they help us control our emotions so we can better interact with others.

In other words, conative skills help us “play nice with others” — a very important skill to have when working with Common Core State Standards(CCSS) that call for students to work in groups.

So what are some of the important conative skills that students need? Here are a few:

1.  Awareness of different interpretations. Oftentimes, students believe that their interpretation of a text is the only one and the right one. This belief is challenged by the CCSS emphasis on several close readings of complex text, in which students examine each word, sentence, and paragraph to understand what’s being said from as many different views as possible. It’s an important conative skill that allows students to be aware of as many different interpretations or perspectives as possible and to cite evidence from the text to back it up.
2.  Interacting responsibly. The speaking and listening standards call for students to work in small and large groups, using positive interacting skills. They need to be able to listen to what others are saying, build on it, and connect new ideas to the content being discussed — all of which are vital conative skills.
3.  Handling controversy and conflict resolution. Getting along with others, resolving conflict and being able to process differences of opinion are crucial conative skills that everyone, not just students, needs to master.

Now, just as goals and scales can be used to measure students’ progress towards mastering cognitive skills, they can be an effective way to measure conative skills. Let’s look at an example:
Learning goal: Students will understand and be able to explain the different and conflicting views of the colonists, British, and French of the American Revolutionary War.

4.0 Students will be able to explain the different views within the colonists of the American Revolutionary War.
3.0 Students will be able to explain the views of the majority of the colonists, British, and French of the American Revolutionary War.
2.0 Students will recognize that the colonists, British, and French had different views of the American Revolutionary War.
1.0 Students will recognize that the colonists, British, and French each had economic interests in the territory that now makes up the United States.

And, just for fun, here’s a more immediate example:
Learning Goal: After reading this blog, teachers will understand that conative and cognitive skills can be taught through subject area knowledge, and goals and scales can be used to measure student progress, and improve instruction.
What would you define as the scales for this goal?

Want to learn more about ways to develop really effective goals and scales that will propel your students toward high levels of Common Core achievement? Join us for International Marzano Conference 2013 and talk to Dr. Marzano, our bloggers, and our Center experts in person!

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