Recently, I was engaged conversations with middle school teachers focused on strategies to effectively engage students to fully develop their knowledge, skills and dispositions across the spectrum of course content. As we discussed evidence-based practices we consistently centered on the concept of intentionality.
What I have found, and obviously my colleagues have similar experiences, is that instead of hoping a teaching and learning strategy has a positive outcome it is preferable to intentionally connect the practice to anticipated impacts.
Intentional means a practice is implemented with a deliberate purpose and correspondingly we need to ensure we put into place systems to assess the desired outcomes and impacts measuring our intended progress.
I remember working with a group of middle school teachers, integrating service-learning into their curriculum and after the second term they wondered why their students, who were working in stream enhancement environmental projects, were not acquiring civic knowledge and skills. As we backward mapped from those desired competencies to the actual school and community-based practices we quickly found that there was no intentional strategy focused on civic development. The teachers previously believed, however, that just by the nature of the project those students would acquire and enhance civic competencies.
Once we completed the backward mapping exercise they realized that without such an intentional focus on the civic nature of the project it was illogical to expect students to gain civic knowledge and skills. The teachers made a variety of mid-course enhancements to their service-learning projects intentionally focused on the civic nature of the project with corresponding reflection and assessments. To the teacher’s delight third term student assessments yielded increased civic competencies, due to this conscious focus on civic attributes.
These recent and previous experiences reminded me that intentionality is an essential component of effective teaching and learning and the more we deliberately connect anticipated outcomes and impacts with strategies the greater opportunity students have to acquire and enhance corresponding knowledge and skills.