Friday, January 16, 2009

What's in an Aim?

It's the holy grail of New York City schools. Without it, no learning can ever take place. Never mind that I happen to be a high school graduate (I don't like to brag, but it's true)--I clearly wasted all my years in school because none of my teachers ever placed an aim on the board.

The first semester I taught, my boss instructed me that the aim must be in the form of a statement. There could be no deviation from that. The next semester, I had a new boss who demanded the aim be a question. The students must respond immediately, and the lesson must spring from that. My next boss said you must elicit the aim from the students, and that it could not be written until the students had determined what it was.

Now say what you will, but if teachers don't know what they're doing, the most precisely crafted aims in the world won't make a damn bit of difference. If you send them out with the most meticulously structured lesson plans ever devised, they'll still wish for that one moment's peace and quiet just to watch the paper airplanes go by.

Good teachers, on the other hand, know what they're doing, and whether or not they happen to write on the board, "Why did Malcolm eat that sandwich?" or whatever the aim may be, I'd like my kid in their classes.

I don't suppose there's anything wrong with putting an aim on the board. If it suits you, if it helps you and your students, then it's a good thing. But aren't there other ways of communicating the main thrust of your lesson besides spelling it out on the blackboard? Is an explicit aim absolutely indispensable, and why, in this age of "reform" has no one even bothered to ask that question?

Inquiring minds want to know.
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