Explaining Outcomes for Student Understanding

I think ensuring students understand the outcomes and expectations of a course is essential. It’s a key part of goal setting, promoting lifelong learning, and developing intrinsic motivation. This is where I’d put a citation if I had anyone to quote; unfortunately, these are just my meandering thoughts.

Although Making Classroom Assessment Work did a good job of emphasizing the utility of making outcomes approachable for students, I was dissatisfied with the examples given. In some cases (Grade 7 Math, pg 27) the statements were too vague. The expectations were no more clear, despite being in student friendly language. The evidence column in Grade 7 French, on the following page, helped clarify some of the ambiguity of the simplified outcomes, but it still wasn’t enough for my liking.

What I want to propose is simplification of outcomes that go beyond restating them in student friendly language. My examples will be from math, because that’s my headspace currently, but I’m confident that these principles could be used across the curriculum.

1) Express outcomes in visual/kinaesthetic/ auditory ways. If students don’t understand a written outcome, writing it in simple language will only help some. We need to use text, yes, but also go beyond, in ways we know that students think.

a) Visual. Consider this visualization as part of a written, simplified outcome. It has colour coded cues, to suggest connections between equations and graphs; these are connections the outcome expects students to make. For those math-savvy readers, you’ll notice the colour coding doesn’t tell the whole story – it only sets the stage that such connections exist. The students will discover the limitations of the colour coding as they start working with the material.

Outcome Visual


b) Kinaesthetic. Many math outcomes demand that students express their understanding concretely, pictorially, and symbolically. These could be simplified as: using physical tools/manipulatives, drawing a picture, and using math symbols. If an outcome expects students to use manipulatives, why don’t you place a set of manipulatives below where you’ve written the outcome, so they can see what the outcome is talking about as they read it. they can actually play with the idea, physically, to develop understanding.

c) Auditory. I think making short, 30 second videos, available on a class website to explain outcomes will fill a lot of gaps for students. Make a 30 second video of yourself explaining the course. Make an additional 30 second video of you explaining each outcome (feel free to use manipulatives and visuals in your videos!). If you’ve done these things, and have them posted, students (and parents!) can review and hear each one explained as many times as they like.

2) Spend time specifically going through the outcomes with your class. It’s the first day of the semester. You’ve played a game, done some icebreakers, you’re starting to know students and they’re starting to get comfortable with you. It’s a great opportunity to do a round robin for each outcome. Set up 10 stations (if there are 10 outcomes), and have students circle through. At each station, have the actual outcome and indicators; have it in student friendly language; have your visual and kinaesthetic props set up; if available, have a device at each station with the video of you preloaded; have a small activity or question, that they can do, related to the outcome; give an example of high end, cool stuff that they can do once they understand the outcome fully. Once they’ve cycled through, and are excited for the material, ask them what they want to do first. Take a vote. Set boundaries if you have to (some outcomes build on other ones – you’re the one who has to know those limitations). By day two, students will be engaged with material, interested in the course, and happy, because they’ve determined where the class is going.

3) After you’ve explained the outcomes, keep them available. Whatever you did to explain the outcomes, the students need access to that at all times. Post it in a corner of your classroom, put it online, whatever – don’t make it disappear. They need to be able to check back on it on a whim, so they stay engaged with the course expectations.

At the start of this post, I said, “It’s a key part of goal setting, promoting lifelong learning, and developing intrinsic motivation.” If those are goals that you and I share as teachers, we should teach students how to do them. We should talk about goal setting, and help students set their own goals. We should talk about lifelong learning, what it means, and how to do it. If we want intrinsic motivation, we should design activities to develop it. If these goals really matter to us, they’re not one-offs – we need to integrate them into our day to day planning and thinking about instruction.


One thought on “Explaining Outcomes for Student Understanding

  1. Your inclusive words have me swimming peacefully in knowledge.
    To begin I would have to say that I am fond of the very idea of introducing the outcomes to the students at the beginning of the semester. (while incorporating multiple learning styles) This seems like a wonderful idea that has a surplus of benefits. The only con to this idea is perhaps the amount of work and time that it would take to carry this plan out to fruition. Beginning the year with a higher level of Blooms is wonderful and thought inspiring. By having the outcomes always able to reference is good for students if they forget the goal. This subliminally creates intrinsic motivation thus incorporating goals into the students lives-which it is said, “People with goals are more successful.”

    I feel like being more able to change and shape our instruction and outcomes into student friendly manners is needed. We can do this through visual, kinaesthetic and auditory pathways. I find more success through incorporating more of these instructions, despite the amount of time it takes to apply.

    Could there be a way that students could do homework in all these areas of learning?
    What do you think of intentionally picking a visual assignment for an auditory learner to broaden their learning?


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