Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's my Objective?

         According to dictionary.com, an objective is “something that one's efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish; purpose; goal; target.”  Some curriculum include objectives prominently at the beginning of every lesson, some don’t make them very easy to find.  Are objectives really necessary if I’m teaching my own child?
         The motivational speaker Zig Zigler says, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”  If you do not have a purpose for a lesson, then it can very easily be called a waste of time.  You need to have a plan in your homeschool.  Otherwise, even a great lesson has no connection to anything and the lesson can be lost.  Every lesson, every day should have a stated objective.  This does not mean the objective has to be different every day, it simply means it must be stated.  You may be working on “Identifying items in each food group” for an entire month (or more), but that objective needs to be said or else your child will just do it and may not recognize what s/he has learned.  Reading a book is nice, but if you know that you are reading the book to identify five events that cause a volcano to erupt give the lesson much more substance.  Both you (as the teacher) and your child know that s/he learned what s/he should have learned.  Every lesson you teach should have a specific objective, otherwise, it will just be a “wasted” lesson.
         Objectives should be measurable, concrete.  Saying “Vocabulary” is very vague.  No matter how awesome of a teacher you are, your child is not going to learn every possible vocabulary word in one lesson, or even a few lessons.  “To read ten Dolch words without sounding them out” is much more specific.  Notice that the verb tells us what the child will do – “read.”  What is it they are supposed to read?  “Dolch words.”  (These are a list of the most frequently-used words in the English language – learning them by sight greatly helps a child’s ability to read fluently.  You can find them by simply typing “Dolch Words” into any search engine).  Does your child have to learn all of the words?  No.  Only ten.  I think ten per week is a good number.  Yes, many children are capable of learning more in this time, but that does not allow them to use the words they are learning and “explore” with them so that the can really know them, not just learn them for a quick test.  This objective also qualifies the quality of the work – “without sounding them out.”  Sometimes, you just want your child to do something, so you don’t always have to have this phrase, but as your child learns a skill better, you should start adding some more qualifications (don’t go overboard, though – just add what is new that day/week or what you will specifically be looking for in the work your child does).
Try not to have too many objectives in one lesson, also.  I had a lesson last year with my daughter when she was expected to create her own word problem for an addition problem.  We took out some stuffed dogs and stuffed cats.  She added them to create a math problem.  Then she drew pictures of them. Finally, it was time for her to make a word problem for them.  Since my daughter struggles with writing abilities, I wrote what she told me to write.  Yes, I could have included writing the problem itself, as a type of “bonus” objective for the lesson, but writing the words on the paper is still a developing skill and it would have quickly become the focus of the lesson and she would not have wanted to reason out the word problem – she would have simply tried to use as few words as possible and would have worried about spelling and letter formation.  Those are great activities, but when a skill is developing, it deserves its own lesson time.  Focus your lessons, including one new skill and possibly 2 – 3 skills which your child can do very well.   If your child does not struggle at all with writing, then there is no reason for you to write for him/her.
           Finally, as I’ve already hinted, objectives should be shared with both the teacher and student.  Having it written is very important, as well as making sure your child understands what s/he is expected to learn in each lesson.  This way your child is focused, you are focused, on what is most important.

         Well-written objectives, used properly, will greatly enhance the quality of your child’s lessons.  If you and your child know what you are specifically wanting to learn with a lesson, both of you can know that your child is successful in your homeschool!

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