Rethinking learning maps #1: big ideas as big goals.

I love maps, especially old ones. I have a terrible sense of direction, so a map is often an essential tool for me. Using a map implies a destination – I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there in the most efficient way possible, because my focus is on what I’m going to do once I reach that destination.

It’s the same thing with learning maps. I’ve been learning how to use learning maps for a while now, and refining my process with the help of my collaboration partner along the way. Learning maps are exciting, because they take a complex process (following a Ministry of Education curriculum document) and boil it down into 5 big ideas, each with descriptions of what performance looks like at a range of levels. A learning map implies there is a destination – what evidence of learning will look like by the end of a course – and a description of what it will look like as it develops along the way.

I’m currently halfway through the first two courses of the Professional Masters of Education program (online) at Queen’s University. One of the courses, Self-Regulated Learning and Inquiry, incorporates an inquiry learning project through which to explore self-regulated learning. During the second module dealing with goal-setting, I saw an immediate connection between distal goals (a goal or objective that takes a long time to attain) and the Big Ideas on learning maps.

Learning maps are essentially a blueprint for what a student should be able to do by the end of a course – in other words, a series of distal goals. In order to do these things by the end of a course, one must learn, practice and refine them throughout the course in a series of steps, which can be seen as proximal goals leading to the end goal of the course. This short explainer video shows the connection between proximal goals and distal goals:

In choosing to work on learning maps, I am not choosing a new project where I am at the beginning of the self-regulation process, illustrated in the diagram below.

I have already gone through the cycle several times, and am returning to it because of the new possibilities offered by looking at learning maps through a self-regulated learning lens. I was first introduced to learning maps by a colleague who suggested that I read this book by Caren Cameron and Kathleen Gregory.

Cover image of "Rethinking Letter Grades: A Five-Step Approach for Aligning Letter Grades to Learning Standards" by Caren Cameron and Kathleen Gregory.

The ideas presented in this book were the model for the learning maps I created and then revised (twice) with my collaboration partner, creating documents for French 8-12. The current versions of the learning maps have a unifying structure, keeping similar big ideas in the same place on each grade’s map to show the learning progressions.

In order to better support my students in reaching the distal goals of the learning maps, I need to incorporate some elements of goal-setting theory and motivation. A far-off goal can seem daunting, irrelevant, and distant. Here are the key elements I am incorporating into my current work:

  • The research says that proximal goals are more motivating than distal goals.
  • Distal goals are complex and are easier to understand and reach if broken down into a series of smaller steps.
  • Formative assessment assumes that a student hasn’t reached a final goal, but provides effective feedback along the way to move learning forward.
  • Self-regulated learning incorporates a range of skills that will help students reach their distal goals.

With that in mind, I am focusing on my French 8 learning maps. In my school district, grade 8 is the start of high school, and the place where we get the highest enrolment in FSL (French as a Second Language) classes. This gives me a wide range of academic abilities, backgrounds, and motivation levels to work with. This is the place I think I can have the most positive effects on learning, as opposed to my senior students, who are typically more resistant to change as it feels risky to them. My plan is to create templates for formative feedback that can be used as the foundation of a student feedback / peer observation / self-assessment process that will align with the self-regulated learning process, and will act as supports to student success in showing learning in the Big Ideas from the learning maps expressed as distal goals. I’ll be sharing my learning here, and I’m excited to see where this goes.

“Blueprint” by Will Scullin is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

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