“If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up someplace else.”

(Casey Stengel)

Casey Stengel, a much-admired baseball coach, was talking about baseball when he made this remark. But he could easily have been speaking of teaching as well. Almost by definition, education has purposes, goals, and objectives, and a central task of teaching is to know what these are and to transform the most general goals into specific objectives and tasks for students. Otherwise, as Casey Stengel said, students may end up “someplace else” that neither they, nor the teacher, nor anyone else intends. A lot of the clarification and specification of goals needs to happen before a cycle of instruction actually begins, but the benefits of planning happen throughout all phases of teaching. If students know precisely what they are supposed to learn, they can focus their attention and effort more effectively. If the teacher knows precisely what students are supposed to learn, then the teacher can make better use of class time and choose and design assessments of their learning that are more fair and valid. In the long run everyone benefits.

This chapter is therefore about instructional planning, the systematic selection of educational goals and objectives and their design for use in the classroom. We will divide this idea into four parts, and discuss them one at a time. First is the problem of selecting general goals to teach; where can a teacher find these, and what do they look like? Second is the problem of transforming goals into specific objectives, or statements concrete enough to guide daily activity in class; what will students actually do or say into order to learn what a teacher wants them to learn? Third is the problem of balancing and relating goals and objectives to each other; since we may want students to learn numerous goals, how can we combine or integrate them so that the overall classroom program does not become fragmented or biased? Fourth is the challenge of relating instructional goals to students’ prior experiences and knowledge. We have discussed this challenge before from the perspective of learning theory (in Chapter 3), but in this chapter we look at it from the more practical perspective of curriculum planning.

Selecting general learning goals

At the most general or abstract level, the goals of education include important philosophical ideas like “developing individuals to their fullest potential” and “preparing students to be productive members of society”. Few teachers would disagree with these ideas in principle, though they might disagree about their wording or about their relative importance. As a practical matter, however, teachers might have trouble translating such generalities into specific lesson plans or activities for the next day’s class. What does it mean, concretely, to “develop an individual to his or her fullest potential”? Does it mean, for example, that a language arts teacher should ask students to write an essay about their personal interests, or does it mean that the teacher should help students learn to write as well as possible on any topic, even ones that are not of immediate interest? What exactly should a teacher do, from day to day, to “prepare students to be productive members of society” as well? Answers to questions like these are needed to plan instruction effectively. But the answers are not obvious simply by examining statements of general educational goals.

National and state learning standards

Some (but not all) of the work of transforming such general purposes into more precise teaching goals and even more precise objectives has been performed by broad US organizations that represent educators and other experts about particular subjects or types of teaching (Riley, 2002). The groups have proposed national standards, which are summaries of what students can reasonably be expected to learn at particular grade levels and in particular subjects areas. In the United States, in addition, all state governments create state standards that serve much the same purpose: they express what students in the state should (and hopefully can) learn at all grade levels and in all subjects. Examples of organizations that provide national standards are listed in Table 27, and examples of state standards are listed in Table 28 for one particular state, Ohio, in the area of language arts.

Table 27: Organizations with statements of US educational standards



English and Language Arts

Council of Teachers of English

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Physical Education and Health

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

American Cancer Society


National Academies of Science

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Social Studies

National Council for the Social Studies Center for Civic Education

National Council on Economic Education National Geographic Society

National Center for History in the Schools


International Society for Technology in Education

Other Specialized Standards Statements:

American Indian Content Standards

Center for Educational Technology in Indian America

Ethical Standards for School Counselors

American School Counselors Association

Information Literacy Standards

American Association of School Librarians

Business Education

National Business Education Association

Parent Education and Involvement

Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)

Source: <http://www.education-world.com/standards>, accessed December 5, 2006. Summaries of all of these standards, as well as access to the relevant web pages of the corresponding organizations, can be found at this website. Because standards are revised continually, and because of the dynamic nature of websites, the information may differ slightly from the above when you actually access it.

Table 28: Examples of state curriculum standards about language arts


Classroom example:

Kindergarten-Grade 3: Read accurately high- frequency sight words.

Play a game: “How many words can you see around the classroom that you can read already?”

Grade 4-7: Infer word meaning through identification and analysis of analogies and other word relationships.

Have students keep a journal of unfamiliar words which they encounter and of what they think the words mean.

Grade 8-10: Recognize the importance and function of figurative language.

Have students write a brief essay explaining the meaning of a common figure of speech, and speculating on why it became common usage.

Grade 11-12: Verify meanings of words by the author’s use of definition, restatement, example, comparison, contrast and cause and effect.

Have students analyze an essay that includes unfamiliar terms using clues in the essay to determine their meaning.

Source for standards: Ohio Department of Education, 2003, p. 30-31

Because they focus on grade levels and subject areas, general statements of educational standards tend to be a bit more specific than the broader philosophical goals we discussed above. As a rule of thumb, too, state standards tend to be more comprehensive than national standards, both in coverage of grade levels and of subjects. The difference reflects the broad responsibility of states in the United States for all aspects of public education; national organizations, in contrast, usually assume responsibility only for a particular subject area or particular group of students. Either type of standards provides a first step, however, toward transforming the grandest purposes of schooling (like developing the individual or preparing for society) into practical classroom activities. But they provide a first step only. Most statements of standards do not make numerous or detailed suggestions of actual activities or tasks for students, though some might include brief classroom examples—enough to clarify the meaning of a standard, but not enough to plan an actual classroom program for extended periods of time. For these latter purposes, teachers rely on more the detailed documents, the ones often called curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides.

Curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides

The terms curriculum framework and curriculum guide sometimes are used almost interchangeably, but for convenience we will use them to refer to two distinct kinds of documents. The more general of the two is curriculum framework, which is a document that explains how content standards can or should be organized for a particular subject and at various grade levels. Sometimes this information is referred to as the scope and sequence for a curriculum. A curriculum framework document is like a standards statement in that it does not usually provide a lot of detailed suggestions for daily teaching. It differs from a standards statement, though, in that it analyzes each general standard in a curriculum into more specific skills that students need to learn, often a dozen or more per standard. The language or terminology of a framework statement also tends to be somewhat more concrete than a standards statement, in the sense that it is more likely to name behaviors of students—things that a teacher might see them do or hear them say. Sometimes, but not always, it may suggest ways for assessing whether students have in fact acquired each skill listed in the document. Table 29 shows a page from a curriculum framework published by the California State Board of Education (Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Committee, 1999). In this case the framework explains the state standards for learning to read, and the excerpt in Table 29 illustrates how one particular standard, that “students speak and write with command of English conventions appropriate to this grade level”, is broken into nine more specific skills. Note that the excerpt names observable behaviors of students (what they do or say); we will discuss this feature again, more fully, in the next part of this chapter, because it is helpful in classroom planning. In spite of this feature, though, the framework document does not lay out detailed activity plans that a teacher could use on a daily basis. (Though even so, it is over 300 pages long!)

Table 29: An excerpt from reading/language arts framework for California public schools



Written and oral English language conventions, third grade


Students write and speak with a command of standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level.



Sentence Structure

1.1 Understand and be able to use complete and correct declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in writing and speaking.


1.2 Identify subjects and verbs that are in agreement and identify and use pronouns, adjectives, compound words, and articles correctly in writing and speaking.

1.3 Identify and use past, present, and future verb tenses properly in writing and speaking.

1.4 Identify and use subjects and verbs correctly in speaking and writing simple sentences.


1.5 Punctuate dates, city and state, and titles of books correctly.

1.6 Use commas in dates, locations, and addresses and for items in a series.


1.7Capitalize geographical names, holidays, historical periods, and special events correctly.


1.8 Spell correctly one-syllable words that have blends, contractions, compounds, orthographic patters, and common homophones.

1.9 Arrange words in alphabetical order.


More general standards statement

More specific or concrete framework statements →

(stated as relatively specific skills or behaviors)














Teachers’ need for detailed activity suggestions is more likely to be met by a curriculum guide, a document devoted to graphic descriptions of activities that foster or encourage the specific skills explained in a curriculum framework document. The descriptions may mention or list curriculum goals served by an activity, but they are also likely to specify materials that a teacher needs, time requirements, requirements for grouping students, drawings or diagrams of key equipment or materials, and sometimes even suggestions for what to say to students at different points during the activity. In these ways the descriptions may resemble lesson plans.

Since classroom activities often support more than one specific skill, activities in a curriculum guide may be organized differently than they might be in a framework document. Instead of highlighting only one standard at a time, as the framework document might, activities may be grouped more loosely—for example, according to the dominant purpose or goal of an activity (“Activities that encourage the practice of math facts”) or according to a dominant piece of equipment or material (“Ten activities with tin cans”). Table 30 shows a description of a kindergarten-level activity about “autumn leaves” that might appear in a curriculum guide. Note that the activity meets several educational objectives at once—tracing shapes, knowledge of leaves and of colors, descriptive language skill. Each of these skills may reflect a different curriculum standard.

Curriculum guides provide graphic descriptions of activities that can be used fairly directly in the classroom. Although they are relevant to standards and framework statements, they often are not organized around standards and objectives as such.

Table 30: Activity: Autumn Leaves

Level: Kindergarten

Themes and Curriculum Connections: trees, autumn, color naming, color comparisons, size comparisons, functions of leaves, growth, the life cycle. See also Standards #xx-yy.

Best time to do it: Fall (October), or whenever leaves are available

Materials needed: (1) small paper (6 x 6 inches); (2) access to leaves; (3) white glue; (4) felt pens or colored pencils

What to do: Give one piece of the small paper to each child. Invite children to color the sheet so that the entire sheet is decorated. Invite children to choose one leaf. Place leaf under the colored (decorated) paper and trace the shape of the leaf lightly in pencil. Then invite children to cut out the colored paper in the shape that has been traced of the leaf.

Cautions: (1) Some children may need individual help with tracing or cutting. (2) Try to use leaves that are still somewhat pliable, because some very old leaves (dried out) may crumble when traced.

Things to talk about: Are some leaves bigger than others? Do they change shape as they grow, or only their size? How do leaves benefit trees? How many different colors can real leaves be?

Formulating learning objectives

Given curriculum frameworks and guides like the ones just described, how do you choose and formulate actual learning objectives? Basically there are two approaches: either start by selecting content or topics that what you want students to know (the cognitive approach) or start with what you want students to do (the behavioral approach). In effect the cognitive approach moves from the general to the specific, and the behavioral approach does the opposite. Each approach has advocates, as well as inherent strengths and problems. In practice, teachers often combine or alternate between them in order to give students some of the advantages of each.

From general to specific: selecting content topics

The cognitive approach assumes that teachers normally have a number of long-term, general goals for students, and it begins with those goals. It also assumes that each student work toward long-term, general goals along

different pathways and using different styles of learning. Because of these assumptions, it is necessary to name indicators, which are examples of specific behaviors by which students might show success at reaching a general learning goal. But it is neither desirable nor possible for a list of indicators to be complete—only for it to be representative (Gronlund, 2004). Consider this example from teaching middle-school biology. For this subject you might have a general goal like the following, with accompanying indicators:


The student will understand the nature and purpose of photosynthesis.


    1. explains the purpose of photosynthesis and steps in the process
    2. diagrams steps in the chemical process
    3. describes how plant photosynthesis affects the animal world
    4. writes a plan for how to test leaves for presence of photosynthesis
    5. makes an oral presentation and explains how the experiment was conducted


Using a strictly cognitive approach to planning, therefore, a teacher’s job has two parts. First she must identify, find, or choose a manageable number of general goals—perhaps just a half dozen or so. (Sometimes these can be taken or adapted from a curriculum framework document such as discussed earlier.) Then the teacher must think of a handful of specific examples or behavioral indicators for each goal—just a half dozen or so of these as well. The behavioral indicators clarify the meaning of the general goal, but are not meant to be the only way that students might show success at learning. Then, at last, thoughtful planning for individual lessons or activities can begin. This approach works especially well for learning goals that are relatively long-term—goals that take many lessons, days, or weeks to reach. During such long periods of teaching, it is impossible to specify the exact, detailed behaviors that every student can or should display to prove that he or she has reached a general goal. It is possible, however, to specify general directions toward which all students should focus their learning and to explain the nature of the goals with a sample of well-chosen indicators or examples (Popham, 2002).

The cognitive, general-to-specific approach is reasonable on the face of it, and in fact probably describes how many teachers think about their instructional planning. But critics have argued that indicators used as examples may not in fact clarify the general goal enough; students therefore end up unexpectedly—as Casey Stengel said at the start of this chapter—“someplace else”. Given the general goal of understanding photosynthesis described above, for example, how are we to know whether the five indicators that are listed really allow a teacher to grasp the full meaning of the goal? Put differently, how else might a student show understanding of photosynthesis, and how is a teacher to know that a student’s achievement is s a legitimate display of understanding? To some educators, grasping the meaning of goals from indicators is not as obvious as it should be, and in any case is prone to misunderstanding. The solution, they say, is not to start planning with general goals, but with specific behaviors that identify students’ success.

From specific to general: behavioral objectives

Compared to the cognitive approach, the behavioral approach to instructional planning reverses the steps in planning. Instead of starting with general goal statements accompanied by indicator examples, it starts with the identification of specific behaviors—concrete actions or words—that students should perform or display as a result of instruction (Mager, 2005). Collectively, the specific behaviors may describe a more general educational goal, but unlike the indicators used in the cognitive approach, they are not a mere sampling of the possible specific outcomes. Instead they represent all the intended specific outcomes. Consider this sampling of behavioral objectives:

Objectives: Learning to use in-line roller blade skates (beginning level)

    1. Student ties boots on correctly.
    2. Student puts on safety gear correctly, including helmet, knee and elbow pads.
    3. Student skates 15 meters on level ground without falling.
    4. Student stops on demand within a three meter distance, without falling.


The objectives listed are not merely a representative sample of how students can demonstrate success with roller-blading. Instead they are behaviors that every student should acquire in order to meet the goal of using roller blades as a beginner. There simply are no other ways to display learning of this goal; getting 100 per cent on a written test about roller blading, for example, would not qualify as success with this goal, though it might show success at some other goal, such as verbal knowledge about roller blading. Even adding other skating behaviors (like “Student skates backwards” or “Student skates in circles”) might not qualify as success with this particular goal, because it could reasonably be argued that the additional skating behaviors are about skating at an advanced level, not a beginning level.

In the most commonly used version of this approach, originated by Robert Mager (1962, 2005), a good behavioral objective should have three features. First, it should specify a behavior that can in fact be observed. In practice this usually means identifying something that a student does or says, not something a student thinks or feels. Compare the following examples; the one on the left names a behavior to be performed, but the one on the right names a thinking process that cannot, in principle, be seen:

Behavioral objective Not behavioral objective
The student will make a list of animal species that live in the water but breathe air and a separate list of species that live in the water but do not require air to breathe. The student will understand the difference between fish and mammals that live in the water.

The second feature of a good behavioral objective is that it describes conditions of performance of the behavior. What are the special circumstances to be provided when the student performs the objective? Consider these two examples:

Special condition of performance is specified Special condition of performance is not specified
Given a list of 50 species, the student will circle those that live in water but breathe air and underline those that live in water but do not breathe air. After three days of instruction, the student will identify species that live in water but breathe air, as well as species that live in water but do not breathe air.

The objective on the left names a special condition of performance—that the student will be given a particular kind of list to work from—which is not part of the instruction itself. The objective on the right appears to name a condition—“three days of instruction”. But the condition really describes what the teacher will do (she will instruct), not something specific to students’ performance.

The third feature of a good behavioral objective is that it specifies a minimum level or degree of acceptable performance.Consider these two examples:

Specifies minimum level Does not specify minimum level
Given a list of 50 species, the student will circle all of those that live in water but breathe air and underline all of those that live in water but do not breathe air. The student will do so within fifteen minutes. The student will circle names of species that live in water but breathe air and underline those that live in water but do not breathe air.

The objective on the left specifies a level of performance—100 per cent accuracy within 15 minutes. The objective on the right leaves this information out (and incidentally it also omits the condition of performance mentioned on the left).

Behavioral objectives have obvious advantages because of their clarity and precision. They seem especially well suited for learning that by their nature they can be spelled out explicitly and fully, such as when a student is learning to drive a car, to use safety equipment in a science laboratory, or install and run a particular computer program. Most of these goals, as it happens, also tend to have relatively short learning cycles, meaning that they can be learned as a result of just one lesson or activity, or of just a short series of them at most. Such goals tend not to include the larger, more abstract goals of education. In practice, both kinds of goals— the general and the specific— form a large part of education at all grade levels.

Finding the best in both approaches

When it comes to teaching and learning the large or major goals, then, behavioral objectives can seem unwieldy. How, a teacher might ask, can you spell out all of the behaviors involved in a general goal like becoming a good citizen? How could you name in advance the numerous conditions under which good citizenship might be displayed, or the minimum acceptable level of good citizenship expected in each condition? Specifying these features seems impractical at best, and at times even undesirable ethically or philosophically. (Would we really want any students to become “minimum citizens”?) Because of these considerations, many teachers find it sensible to compromise between the cognitive and behavioral approaches. Here are some features that are often part of a compromise:

      • When planning, think about BOTH long-term, general goals AND short-term, immediate objectives. A thorough, balanced look at most school curricula shows that they are concerned with the general as well as the specific. In teaching elementary math, for example, you may want students to learn general problem solving strategies (a general goal), but you may also want them to learn specific math facts (a specific objective). In teaching Shakespeare’s plays in high school, you may want students to be able to compare the  plays critically (a general goal), but doing so may require that they learn details about the characters and plots of the major plays (a specific objective). Since general goals usually take longer to reach than specific objectives, instructional planning has to include both time frames.
      • Plan for what students do, not what the teacher does. This idea may seem obvious, but it is easy to overlook it when devising lesson plans. Consider that example again about teaching Shakespeare. If you want students to learn the details about Shakespeare’s plays, it is tempting to plan objectives like “Summarize the plot of each play to students”, or “Write and hand out to students an outline of the plays”. Unfortunately these objectives describe only what the teacher does, and makes the assumption (often unwarranted) that students will remember what the teacher says or puts in writing for them. A better version of the same objective should focus on the actions of students, not of teachers—for example, “Students will write a summary, from memory, of each of the major plays of Shakespeare”. This version focuses on what students do instead of what the teacher does. (Of course you may still have to devise activities that help students to reach the objective, such as providing guided practice in writing summaries of plays.)
      • To insure diversity of goals and objectives when planning, consider organizing goals and objectives by using a systematic classification scheme of educational objectives. At the beginning of this section we stated that there is a need, when devising goals and objectives, for both the specific and the general. Actually a more accurate statement is that there is a need for goals and objectives that refer to a variety of cognitive processes and that have varying degrees of specificity or generality. One widely used classification scheme that does so, for example, is one proposed 50 years ago by Benjamin Bloom (1956) and revised recently by his associates (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). We describe this system, called a taxonomy of objectives, in the next section.

Taxonomies of educational objectives

When educators have proposed taxonomies of educational objectives, they have tended to focus on one of three areas or domains of psychological functioning: either students’ cognition (thought), students’ feelings and emotions (affect), or students’ physical skills (psychomotor abilities). Of these three areas, they have tended to focus the most attention on cognition. The taxonomy originated by Benjamin Bloom, for example, deals entirely with cognitive outcomes of instruction.

Bloom’s Taxonomy:

In its original form, Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives referred to forms of cognition or thinking, which were divided into the six levels (Bloom, et al., 1956). Table 31 summarizes the levels, and offers two kinds of examples—simple ones based on the children’s story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and complex ones more typical of goals and objectives used in classrooms. The levels form a loose hierarchy from simple to complex thinking, at least when applied to some subjects and topics. When planning for these subjects it can therefore be helpful not only for insuring diversity among learning objectives, but also for sequencing materials. In learning about geography, for example, it may sometimes make sense to begin with information about specific places or societies (knowledge and comprehension), and work gradually toward comparisons and assessments among the places or societies (analysis and synthesis).

Table 31: Bloom’s Taxonomy of objectives: cognitive domain

Type or level of learning

Simple example

Classroom example

Knowledge: recall of information, whether it is simple or complex in nature

“Name three things that Goldilocks did in the house of the three bears.”

“List all of the planets of the solar system.”

“State five key features of life in the middle ages.”

Comprehension: grasping the meaning of information, by interpreting it or translating it from one form to another

“Explain why Goldilocks preferred the little bear’s chair.”

“Convert the following arithmetic word problem to a mathematical equation.”

“Describe how plants contribute to the welfare of animal life.”

Application: using information in new, concrete situations

“Predict some of the things Goldilocks might have used if she had entered your house.”

“Illustrate how positive reinforcement might affect the behavior of a pet dog.”

“Use examples from the plot to illustrate the theme of novel.”

Analysis: breaking information into its components to understand its structure

“Select the part of Goldilocks and the Three Bears where you think Goldilocks felt most comfortable.”

“Compare the behavior of domestic dogs with the behavior of wolves.”

“Diagram the effects of weather patterns on plant metabolism.”

Synthesis: putting parts of information together into a coherent whole

“Tell how the story would have been different if it had been three fishes.”

“Design an experiment to test the effects of gravity on root growth.”

“Write an account of how humans would be different if life had originated on Mars instead of Earth.”

Evaluation: judging the value of information for a particular purpose

“Justify this statement:

Goldilocks was a bad girl.”

“Appraise the relevance of the novel for modern life.”

“Assess the value of information processing theory for planning instruction.”

Such a sequence does not work well, however, for all possible topics or subjects. To learn certain topics in mathematics, for example, students may sometimes need to start with general ideas (like “What does it mean to multiply?”) than with specific facts (like “How much is 4 x 6?”) (Egan, 2005). At other times, though, the reverse sequence may be preferable. Whatever the case, a taxonomy of cognitive objectives, like Bloom’s, can help to remind teachers to set a variety of objectives and to avoid relying excessively on just one level, such as simple recall of factual knowledge (Notar, et al., 2004).

Bloom’s Taxonomy revised

A few years ago two of Benjamin Bloom’s original colleagues, Linda Anderson and David Krathwohl, revised his taxonomy so as to clarify its terms and to make it more complete (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Marzano, 2006). The resulting categories are summarized and compared to the original categories in Table 32. As the chart shows, several categories of objectives have been renamed and a second dimension added that describes the kind of thinking or cognitive processing that may occur. The result is a much richer taxonomy than before, since every level of the objectives can now take four different forms. Remembering, for example, can refer to four different kinds of memory: memory for facts, for concepts, for procedures, or for metacognitive knowledge. Table 32 gives examples of each of these kinds of memory.

Table 32: Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives—revised

Original term from Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956)

Revised term emphasizing cognitive processing (2001)

A new dimension added: types of knowledge learned (2001)

Example of cognitive process remembering combined with possible types of knowledge



  • factual knowledge


  • conceptual knowledge


  • procedural knowledge


  • metacognitive knowledge












Memory for facts: recalling the names of each part of a living cell





Memory for concepts: recalling the functions of each part of a living cell





Memory for procedures: recalling how to view a cell under a microscope

Memory for metacognition: recalling not the names of the parts, but a technique for remembering the names of the parts of a living cell











Caption: The revision to Bloom’s Taxonomy distinguishes between cognitive processes (left-hand column in the table) and types of knowledge learned (right-hand column). The original version has terms similar to the cognitive processing terms in the revised version. According to the revised version, any type of knowledge (from the right-hand column) can, in principle, occur with any type of cognitive processing (left-hand column).

Taxonomies of affective objectives and psychomotor objectives

Although taxonomies related to affect, or the feelings and emotions of students, are used less commonly than cognitive taxonomies for planning instruction, various educators have constructed them. One of the most widely known was also published by colleagues of Benjamin Bloom and classifies affect according to how committed a student feels toward what he is learning (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964/1999). Table 33 summarizes the categories and gives brief examples. The lowest level, called receiving, simply involves willingness to experience new knowledge or activities. Higher levels involve embracing or adopting experiences in ways that are increasingly organized and that represent increasingly stable forms of commitment.

Table 33: Taxonomies of objectives: affective domain and psychomotor domain

Affective domain

Psychomotor domain


Willingness to attend to particular experience


Repeating a simple action that has been demonstrated


Willingness to participate actively in an experience


Practice of an action that has been imitated but only learned partially


Perception of experience as worthwhile


Quick, smooth execution of an action that has been practiced


Coordination of valued experiences into partially coherent wholes


Execution of an action not only with precision, but also with modifications appropriate to new circumstances

Characterization by a value complex

Coordination of valued experiences and of organized sets of experiences into a single comprehensive value hierarchy


Incorporation of an action into the motor repertoire, along with experimentation with new motor actions

Taxonomies related to abilities and skills that are physical, or psychomotor, have also been used less widely than affective taxonomies, with the notable exception of one area of teaching where they are obviously relevant: physical education. As you might expect, taxonomic categories of motor skills extend from simple, brief actions to complex, extended action sequences that combine simpler, previously learned skills smoothly and automatically (Harrow, 1972; Simpson, 1972). One such classification scheme is shown in Table 33. An example of a very basic psychomotor skill might be imitating the action of throwing a ball when modeled by someone else; an example of the latter might be performing a 10 minute gymnastics routine which the student has devised for himself or herself. Note, though, that many examples of psychomotor skills also exist outside the realm of physical education. In a science course, for example, a student might need to learn to operate laboratory equipment that requires using delicate, fine movements. In art classes, students might learn to draw, and in music they might learn to play an instrument (both are partly motor skills). Most first graders are challenged by the motor skills of learning to write. For students with certain physical disabilities, furthermore, motor skill development is an important priority for the student’s entire education.

Students as a source of instructional goals

So far our discussion of instructional planning has described goals and objectives as if they are selected primarily by educators and teachers, and not by students themselves. The assumption may be correct in many cases, but there are problems with it. One problem is that choosing goals and objectives for students, rather than by students, places a major burden on everyone involved in education—curriculum writers, teachers, and students. The curriculum writers have to make sure that they specify standards, goals, and objectives that are truly important for students to learn (what if it really does not matter, for example, whether a science student learns about the periodic table of the elements?). Teachers have to make sure that students actually become motivated to learn the specified goals and objectives, even if the students are not motivated initially. Students have to master pre-set goals and objectives even if they might not have chosen them personally. Some critics of education have argued that these requirements can be serious impediments to learning (Kohn, 2004). The problems are widespread and especially noticeable in two forms of teaching. One is with the youngest students, who may especially lack patience with an educational agenda set by others (Kohn, 1999; Seitz, 2006). The other is with culturally diverse classrooms, where students and their families may hold a variety of legitimate, but unconventional expectations about what they should learn (J. Banks & C. Banks, 2005).

In response to concerns like these, some educators advocate planning instruction around goals set or expressed either by students themselves or by the cultures or communities with which students identify. Their suggestions vary in detail, but can be organized into two broad categories: (1) emergent curriculum and (2) multicultural and anti-bias curriculum.

Emergent curriculum

An emergent curriculum is one that explicitly builds on interests expressed by students, rather than goals set by curriculum writers, curriculum documents, or teachers. As you might suspect, therefore, instructional planning for an emergent curriculum does not have the same meaning that the term has had in the chapter up to now. Instead, since an emergent curriculum by definition unfolds spontaneously and flexibly, students’ interests may be predictable, but usually not very far in advance (Peterson, 2002). Suppose, for example, that a first-grade teacher plans a unit around Halloween, and that as one of the activities for this unit she reads a book about Halloween. In listening to the book, however, the students turn out to be less interested in its Halloween content than in the fact that one of the illustrations in the book shows a picture of a full moon partially hidden by clouds. They begin asking about the moon: why it is full sometimes but not other times, why it rises in different places each month, and whether the moon really moves behind clouds or whether the clouds actually do the moving. The teacher encourages their questions and their interest in moon astronomy. Over the next days or weeks, she arranges further activities and experiences to encourage students’ interest: she sets aside her original plans about Halloween and finds books about the moon and about how the solar system works. She invites a local amateur astronomer to visit the group and talk about his observations of the moon. Several children build models of the moon out of paper maché. Some find books describing trips of the space shuttles to the moon. Others make a large mural depicting a moonscape. And so on; the original goals about Halloween are not so much rejected, as set aside or forgotten in favor of something more immediately interesting and motivating.

While these activities could in principle happen because of recommendations from a curriculum document, the key point about emergent curriculum is that they happen for a very different reason: these activities happen and the goals emerge because the children want them. A teacher’s challenge is therefore not planning activities that match predetermined curriculum goals or objectives, but to respond flexibly and sensitively as students’ interests become known and explicit. Teachers’ responsiveness is facilitated by two practices that are especially prominent when a teacher adopts an emergent approach to curriculum. The first is careful, continuous observation of students. The teacher watches and listens, and may keep informal written records of students’ comments and activities. The information allows her to respond more effectively to the interests they express, and at the same time it provides a type of assessment of students’ progress—information about what the students are actually learning.

A second strategy that facilitates teachers’ success is curriculum webbing, a process of brainstorming connections among initiatives suggested by students and ideas suggested by the teacher. In some cases webs can be created jointly with students by brainstorming with them about where their current interests may lead. In other cases they can be created independently by the teacher’s own reflections. In still others, when a classroom has more than one adult responsible for it, they can be created jointly with fellow teachers or teacher assistants. The latter approach works especially well in preschool, kindergartens, or special education classrooms, which often have more than one adult responsible for the class (Vartuli & Rohs, 2006).

To some, emergent curriculum may seem like a formula for curriculum and management disasters. But the approach has often proved quite successful, particularly in early childhood education and the earliest grade levels of elementary school (Seitz, 2006; Wurm, 2005). Something akin to emergent curriculum is quite possible, in principle, even with older students. In Chapter 9, for example, we described a high school program in which students began with problems and experiences that were personally relevant, and discussed the problems with classmates to formulate research problems which they then studied more formally and systematically (Hawkins, 2006). In essence this strategy created an emergent curriculum analogous to the ones described above for young children. What the high school students studied was not predetermined, but emerged from their own expressed interests.

Multicultural and anti-bias education

A culture is an all-encompassing set of values, beliefs, practices and customs of a group or community—its total way of life. Cultures may be shared widely, even by much if not all of an entire nation, or they may be shared by relatively few, such as a small community within a large city. Sometimes the term culture is even applied to the way of life of an individual family or of a specialized group in society; some might argue, for example, that there is a culture of schooling shared by teachers, though not necessarily by all students.

Because culture by definition touches on all aspects of living, it is likely to affect students’ perspectives about school, their ways of learning and their motivations to learn. The differences go beyond obvious differences in holidays, language, or food preferences. In some cultures, for example, individuals keep good eye contact with someone to whom they are speaking, and expect the same from others. In other cultures, such behavior is considered intrusive or overly aggressive, and avoiding eye contact while speaking is considered more respectful. Or another example: in some cultures it is expected that individuals will be punctual (or on time), whereas in others punctuality is considered overly compulsive, and a more casual approach to time is the norm. Students regularly bring differences like these to school, where they combine with expectations from teachers and other school staff, and contribute indirectly to differences in achievement and satisfaction among students.

To be fully effective, therefore, instructional planning has to take into account the diversity in students’ cultural backgrounds, whether the differences are observable or subtle. Planning also has to work deliberately to reduce the social biases and prejudices that sometimes develop about cultural differences. Multicultural education and anti-bias education are two terms referring to these purposes. Their meanings often overlap significantly, depending on the context or on who is using the terms. Generally, though, the first term—multicultural education— has somewhat more to do with understanding the differences among cultures. The latter term—anti-bias education—has more to do with overcoming social prejudices and biases resulting from cultural differences. For convenience in this chapter, we will use the single term multicultural education to refer to both understanding differences and overcoming prejudices.

Fully effective multicultural education has several features. The most obvious and familiar one is content integration: the curriculum uses examples and information from different cultures to illustrate various concepts or ideas already contained in the curriculum (Vavrus, 2002). In studying holidays, for example, an elementary- school teacher includes activities and information about Kwanzaa as well as Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays happening at about the same time. In studying the US Civil War, another example, a middle-years teacher includes material written from the perspective of African-American slaves and Southern landowners. In teaching language arts, students learn basic vocabulary of any non-English languages spoken by some members of the class.

But there is more to multicultural education than integrating content from diverse cultures. Among other features, it also requires an equity pedagogy, which is an effort to allow or even encourage, a variety of learning styles—styles at which students may have become skillful because of their cultural backgrounds (Crow, 2005; C. Banks & J. Banks, 1995). In elementary language arts, for example, there may be more than one “best” way to tell a story. Should a student necessarily have to tell it alone and standing in front of the whole class, or might the student tell it jointly with a friend or in a smaller group? In learning to write a story, is legitimate variety also possible there? Should a written story necessarily begin with a topic sentence that announces what the story is about, or can it save a statement of topic for the ending or even it leave it out altogether in order to stimulate readers to think? The best choice is related in part to the nature and purpose of the story, of course, but partly also to differences in cultural expectations about story telling. Choosing a story form also points toward another feature of multicultural education, the knowledge construction process, which is the unstated, unconscious process by which a cultural group creates knowledge or information. The popular media, for example, often portray Hispanic- Americans in ways that are stereotypical, either subtly or blatantly (Lester & Ross, 2003). A fully multicultural curriculum finds way to call these images to the attention of students and to engage them in thinking about how and why the images oversimplify reality.

Yet there is even more to a fully multicultural education. In addition to content integration, equity pedagogy, and knowledge construction, it fosters prejudice reduction, or activities, discussions and readings that identify students’ negative evaluations of cultural groups (Jacobson, 2003; J. Banks & C. Banks, 2004). The activities and discussions can of course take a somewhat philosophical approach—examining how students feel in general, what experiences they remember having involving prejudice, and the like. But the activities and discussions can also take a more indirect and subtle form, as when a teacher periodically speaks in a student’s native language as a public sign of respect for the student. Gestures and discussions like these are especially effective if they contribute to the fifth element of multicultural education, empowering the school and social structure, in which all teachers and staff members find ways to convey respect for cultural differences, including even during extra-curricular and sports activities. A sports team or a debate club should not be limited to students from one cultural background and exclude those from another—or more subtly, accept everyone but give the more desirable roles only to individuals with particular social backgrounds. To the extent that cultural respect and inclusion are school-wide, teaching and learning both become easier and more successful, and instructional planning in particular becomes more relevant to students’ needs.

Enhancing student learning through a variety of resources

Whether instructional goals originate from curriculum documents, students’ expressed interests, or a mixture of both, students are more likely to achieve the goals if teachers draw on a wide variety of resources. As a practical matter, this means looking for materials and experiences that supplement—or occasionally even replace—the most traditional forms of information, such as textbooks. Precisely what resources to use depend on factors unique to each class, school, or community, but they might include one or more of the following.

The Internet as a learning tool

The Internet has become a fixture of modern society, and it offers a huge variety of information on virtually any topic, including any school subject and any possible grade level from kindergarten through university. At the time of writing this book (2007), about two-thirds of all households in the United States and Canada have at least some sort of Internet access, and virtually 100 per cent of public and private schools have some access (Parsad & Jones, 2006). These circumstances make the Internet a potential major resource for teachers and students—a virtual library many times larger than even the largest physical (or “bricks and mortar”) libraries in the world.

But the vastness of the Internet is not entirely a blessing. A major problem is that the sheer volume of information available, which can sometimes make searching for a specific topic, article, or document overwhelming and inefficient. The newer search engines (such as Google at <http://www.google.com>) can help with this problem, though they do not solve it completely. When searching the term photosynthesis, for example, Google and other similar search engines return over six million web pages that discuss or refer this topic in some way! If a teacher is planning a unit about photosynthesis, or if a student is writing an essay about it, which of these web pages will prove most helpful? Choosing among web pages is a new, somewhat specialized form of computer literacy, one that can be learned partially by trial-and-error online, but that also benefits from assistance by a teacher or by more experienced peers (Ragains, 2006).

Another problem with the Internet is inequity of access. Even though, as we mentioned above, virtually all schools now have access of some sort, the access is distributed quite unevenly across communities and income groups (Skinner, Biscope, & Poland, 2003; Parsad & Jones, 2005). For one thing, the large majority of Web pages are posted in English, and this fact naturally poses a challenge for any students who still learning to read or write English. For another, schools vary widely in how much Internet service they can provide. In general, well-to-do schools and those in cities provide more access than those located in less well-off areas or in rural areas—though there are many exceptions. A richly endowed school might have an Internet connection in every classroom as well as multiple connections in a school library or in specialized computer rooms. Students as well as faculty would be able to use these facilities, and one or more teachers might have special training in Internet research to help when problems arise. At the other extreme, a school might have only a few Internet connections for the entire school, or even just one, located in a central place like the library or the school office. Usage by students would consequently be limited, and teachers would essentially teach themselves how to search the Internet and how to troubleshoot technical problems when they occur.

In spite of these problems, the Internet has considerable potential for enhancing students’ learning, precisely because of its flexibility and near universality. Some of the best recent successes involve the creation of a learning commons (sometimes also called an information commons or teaching commons), a combination of a website and an actual, physical place in a school or library that brings together information, students and teachers so that both (though perhaps especially students) can learn (Haas & Robertson, 2004; Beagle, 2006). A learning commons includes an online library catalogue and online Internet service, but it also offers other services: online information and advice about study skills, for example, as well as access to peer tutors and support groups, either online or in person, that can help with difficulties about writing or doing assignments. As you might suspect, using a learning commons effectively sometimes requires reorganizing certain features of teaching and learning, chiefly toward greater explicit collaboration among students and teachers.

Using local experts and field trips

Two other ways of enhancing learning include bringing local experts to the classroom and taking the class on field trips outside the classroom. Both of these strategies help to make learning more vivid, as well as more relevant to the particular community and lives that students lead.

Local experts

Classroom visits by persons with key experience can often add a lot to many curriculum subjects and topics. In one tenth grade science class studying environmental issues, for example, the teacher invited the city forester, the person responsible for the health of trees planted in city parks and along city boulevards. The forester had special knowledge of the stresses on trees in urban environments, and he was able to explain and give examples of particular problems that had occurred and their solutions. In a second grade class with many Hispanic students, on the other hand, a teacher aide was able to serve as an expert visitor by describing her memories of childhood in a Spanish-speaking community in New Mexico. Later she also recruited an older Hispanic friend and relative to the class to describe their experiences growing up in Central America. She also acted as their English-Spanish interpreter. In all of these examples, the experts made the learning more real and immediate. Their presence counteracted the tendency to equate school learning with book-based knowledge—a common hazard when basing instructional planning primarily on curriculum documents.

Field trips

In addition to bringing the world to the classroom by inviting visitors, teachers can do the converse, they can take the classroom to the world by leading students on field trips. Such trips are not confined to any particular grade level. In the early grades of elementary school, for example, one common goal of the curriculum is to learn about community helpers—the police, firefighters, store owners, and others who make a community safe and livable. As indicated already, representatives of these groups can visit the class and tell about their work. But the class can also visit the places which these people tell about: a police station, a fire hall, a local retail store, and the like. Such trips offer a more complete picture of the context in which community professionals work than is possible simply from hearing and reading about it. The benefits are possible for older students as well. In learning about water-borne diseases as part of a biology class, for example, one middle-school class took a field trip to the local water-treatment facility, where staff members explained where the town’s water came from and how the water was cleaned to become drinkable at any tap.

From a teacher’s point of view, of course, there are certain risks about arranging classroom visitors or field trips. One is that a visitor may turn out not to communicate well with children or young people—he or she may assume too much prior knowledge, for example, or veer off the chosen topic. Another problem is that field trips often require additional funds (for admission fees or to pay for a bus), and require support from additional adults—often parents—to supervise students outside of school. Some of these problems are by-passed by arranging “virtual” field trips and hearing from “virtual” visitors: using computer software or media to show students places and activities which they cannot visit in person (Clark, 2006). Generally, though, a computer-based experience cannot compare with a real trip or visitor in vividness, and the benefits of actual, in-person field trips or visitors often therefore outweigh the challenges of arranging them.

Service learning

Still another way to enhance learning is to incorporate service learning, which is activity that combines real community service with analysis and reflection on the significance of the service (Johnson & O’Grady, 2006; Thomsen, 2006). Picking up trash in an urban stream bed, for example, is a community service which students can perform. To transform this service into service learning, students also need to note and reflect on the trash that they find; talk and write about the ecological environment of the stream and of the community; and even make recommendations for improving the local environment. To accomplish these objectives, service learning activities should not be sporadic, nor used as a punishment—as when a teacher or principal assigns trash pick-up as an after- school detention activity.

Under good conditions, service learning enhances instructional plans both morally and intellectually. Morally, it places students in the role of creating good for the community, and counteracts students’ perception that being “good” simply means complying with teachers’ or parents’ rules passively. Intellectually, service learning places social and community issues in a vivid, lived context. The environment, economic inequality, or race relations, for example, are no longer just ideas that people merely talk about, but problems that people actually act upon (Dicklitch, 2005).

As you might suspect, though, making service learning successful is not automatic. For one thing, service learning lends itself well only to certain curriculum areas (for example, community studies or social studies). For another, some students may initially resist service learning, wondering whether it benefits them personally as students (Jones, Gilbride-Brown, & Gasiorski, 2005). Also, some service projects may inadvertently be invented only to benefit students, without adequate consultation or advice from community members. Bringing food hampers to low-income families may seem like a good idea to middle-class students or instructors, but some families may perceive this action less as a benefit than as an act of charity which they therefore resent. But none of these problems are insurmountable. Evaluations generally find that service learning, when done well, increases students’ sense of moral empowerment as well as their knowledge of social issues (Buchanan, Baldwin, & Rudisill, 2002). Like many other educational practices, insuring success with service learning requires doing it well.

Creating bridges among curriculum goals and students’ prior experiences

To succeed, then, instructional plans do require a variety of resources, like the ones discussed in the previous section. But they also require more: they need to connect with students’ prior experiences and knowledge. Sometimes the connections can develop as a result of using the Internet, taking field trips, or engaging in service learning, particularly if students are already familiar with these activities and places. More often than not, though, teachers need to find additional ways to connect curriculum with students’ experiences—ways that fit more thoroughly and continuously into the daily work of a class. Fortunately, such techniques are readily at hand; they simply require the teacher to develop a habit of looking for opportunities to use them. Among the possibilities are four that deserve special mention: (1) modeling behavior and modeling representations of ideas, (2) activating prior knowledge already familiar to students, (3) anticipating preconceptions held by students, and (4) providing guided and independent practice, including its most traditional form, homework.


The term modeling can mean either a demonstration of a desired behavior or a representation of an important theory, idea, or object. Each of these meanings can link curriculum goals with students’ prior knowledge and experience.

Modeling as a demonstration

In the first meaning, modeling refers to performing or demonstrating a desired new behavior or skill, as when a teacher or classmate demonstrates polite behaviors or the correct solution to a math problem. In this case we say that the teacher or classmate models the desired behavior, either deliberately or in the course of other ongoing activity. Students observe the modeled behavior and (hopefully) imitate it themselves. Research repeatedly shows that modeling desired behaviors is an effective way to learn new behaviors, especially when the model is perceived as important (like the teacher), similar to the learner (like a student’s best friend), or has a warm, positive relationship with the learner (like the teacher or the student’s friend) (Bandura, 2002; Gibson, 2004). Modeling in this sense is sometimes also called observational learning. It has many of the same properties as the classic operant conditioning discussed in Chapter 3, except that reinforcement during observational learning is witnessed in others rather than experienced by the learner directly. Watching others being reinforced is sometimes called vicarious reinforcement. The idea is that if, for example, a student observes a classmate who behaves politely with the teacher and then sees that classmate receive praise for the behavior (vicarious reinforcement), the student is more likely to imitate the polite behavior that he saw. As in classic operant conditioning, furthermore, if the student observes that politeness by classmates is ignored (extinction or no reinforcement), then the student is much less likely to imitate the politeness. Worse yet, if the student observes that negative behaviors in others lead to positive consequences (like attention from peers), then the student may imitate the negative behaviors (Rebellon, 2006). Cursing and swearing, and even bullying or vandalism, can be reinforced vicariously, just as can more desired behaviors.

Modeling—in this first sense of a demonstration—connects instructional goals to students’ experiences by presenting real, vivid examples of behaviors or skills in a way that a student can practice directly, rather than merely talk about. There is often little need, when imitating a model, to translate ideas or instructions from verbal form into action. For students struggling with language and literacy, in particular, this feature can be a real advantage.

Modeling—as simplified representation

In a second meaning of modeling, a model is a simplified representation of a phenomenon that incorporates the important properties of the phenomenon. Models in this sense may sometimes be quite tangible, direct copies of reality; when I was in fourth grade growing up in California, for example, we made scale models of the Spanish missions as part of our social studies lessons about California history. But models can also be imaginary, though still based on familiar elements. In a science curriculum, for example, the behavior of gas molecules under pressure can be modeled by imagining the molecules as ping pong balls flying about and colliding in an empty room. Reducing the space available to the gas by making the room smaller, causes the ping pong balls to collide more frequently and vigorously, and thereby increases the pressure on the walls of the room. Increasing the space has the opposite effect. Creating an actual room full of ping pong balls may be impractical, of course, but the model can still be imagined.

Modeling in this second sense is not about altering students’ behavior, but about increasing their understanding of a newly learned idea, theory, or phenomenon. The model itself uses objects or events that are already familiar to students—simple balls and their behavior when colliding—and in this way supports students’ learning of new, unfamiliar material. Not every new concept or idea lends itself to such modeling, but many do: students can create models of unfamiliar animals, for example, or of medieval castles, or of ecological systems. Two-dimensional models—essentially drawings—can also be helpful: students can illustrate literature or historical events, or make maps of their own neighborhoods. The choice of model depends largely on the specific curriculum goals which the teacher needs to accomplish at a particular time.

Activating prior knowledge

Another way to connect curriculum goals to students’ experience is by activating prior knowledge, a term that refers to encouraging students to recall what they know already about new material being learned. Various formats for activating prior knowledge are possible. When introducing a unit about how biologists classify animal and plant species, for example, a teacher can invite students to discuss how they already classify different kinds of plants and animals. Having highlighted this informal knowledge, the teacher can then explore how the same species are classified by biological scientists, and compare the scientists’ classification schemes to the students’ own schemes. The activation does not have to happen orally, as in this example; a teacher can also ask students to write down as many distinct types of animals and plants that they can think of, and then ask students to diagram or map their relationships—essentially creating a concept map like the ones we described in Chapter 9 (Gurlitt, et al., 2006). Whatever the strategy used, activation helps by making students’ prior knowledge or experience conscious and therefore easier to link to new concepts or information.

Anticipating preconceptions of students

Ironically, activating students’ prior knowledge can be a mixed blessing if some of the prior knowledge is misleading or downright wrong. Misleading or erroneous knowledge is especially common among young students, but it can happen at any grade level. A kindergarten child may think that the sun literally “rises” in the morning, since she often hears adults use this expression, or that the earth is flat because it obviously looks flat. But a high school student may mistakenly believe that large objects (a boulder) fall faster than small ones (a pebble), or that a heavy object dropped (not thrown) from a moving car window will fall straight down instead of traveling laterally alongside the car while it falls.

Because misconceptions are quite common among students and even among adults, teachers are more effective if they can anticipate preconceptions of students wherever possible. The task is twofold. First the teacher must know or at least guess students’ preconceptions as much as possible in advance, so that she can design learning activities to counteract and revise their thinking. Some preconceptions have been well-documented by educational research and therefore can in principle be anticipated easily—though they may still sometimes take a teacher by surprise during a busy activity or lesson (Tanner & Allen, 2005; Chiu & Lin, 2005). Exhibit 9.8 lists a few of these common preconceptions. Others may be unique to particular students, however, and a teacher may only by able to learn of them through experience—by listening carefully to what students say and write and by watching what they do. A few preconceptions may be so ingrained or tied to other, more deeply held beliefs that students may resist giving them up, either consciously or unconsciously. It may be hard, for example, for some students to give up the idea that girls are less talented at math or science than are boys, even though research generally finds this is not the case (Hyde & Linn, 2006).

Table 34: Several misconceptions about science


What to do

Stars and constellations appear in the same place in the sky every night.

Ask students to observe carefully the locations of a bright star once a week for several weeks.

The world is flat, circular like a pancake.

Use a globe or ball to find countries located over the horizon; use computer software (e.g. Global Earth) to illustrate how a round Earth can look flat up close.

Dinosaurs disappeared at the same time that human beings appeared and because of human activity.

Construct a timeline of major periods of Darwinian evolution.

Rivers always flow from North to South.

Identify rivers that flow South to North (e.g. the Red River in North Dakota and Canada); talk about how Southern locations are not necessarily “lower”.

Force is needed not only to start an object moving, but to keep it moving.

Explain the concept of inertia; demonstrate inertia using low-friction motion (e.g. with a hovercraft or dry- ice puck).

Volume, weight, and size are identical concepts.

Have students weigh objects of different sizes or volumes, and compare the results.

Seasons happen because the Earth changes distance from the sun.

Explain the tilt of Earth’s axis using a globe and light as a model; demonstrate reduced heating of surfaces by placing similar surfaces outdoors at different angles to the sun’s rays.

Sources: Chi, 2005; D. Clark, 2006; Slotta & Chi, 2006; Owens, 2003.

The second task when anticipating preconceptions is to treat students’ existing knowledge and beliefs with respect even when they do include misconceptions or errors. This may seem obvious in principle, but it needs remembering when students persist with misconceptions in spite of a teacher’s efforts to teach alternative ideas or concepts. Most of us—including most students—have reasons for holding our beliefs, even when the beliefs do not agree with teachers, textbooks, or other authorities, and we appreciate having our beliefs treated with respect. Students are no different from other people in this regard. In a high school biology class, for example, some students may have personal reasons for not agreeing with the theory of evolution associated with Charles Darwin. For religious reasons they may support explanations of the origins of life that give a more active, interventionist role to God (Brumfiel, 2005). If their beliefs disagree with the teacher’s or the textbook, then the disagreement needs to be acknowledged, but acknowledged respectfully. For some students (and perhaps some teachers), expressing fundamental disagreement respectfully may feel awkward, but it needs to be done nonetheless.

Guided practice, independent practice, and homework

So far, we have focused on bridging the goals or content of a curriculum to events, beliefs, and ideas from students’ lives. In studying human growth in a health class, for example, a teacher might ask students to bring photos of themselves as a much younger child. In this case a concept from the curriculum—human growth—then is related to a personal event, being photographed as a youngster, that the student finds meaningful.

But teachers can also create bridges between curriculum and students’ experiences in another way, by relating the process of learning in school with the process of learning outside of school. Much of this task involves helping students to make the transition from supervised learning to self-regulated learning—or put differently, from practice that is relatively guided to practice that is relatively independent.

Guided practice

When students first learn a new skill or a new set of ideas, they are especially likely to encounter problems and make mistakes that interfere with the very process of learning. In figuring out how to use a new software program, for example, a student may unknowingly press a wrong button that prevents further functioning of the program. In translating sentences from Spanish into English in language class, for another example, a student might misinterpret one particular word or grammatical feature. This one mistake may cause many sentences to be translated incorrectly, and so on. So students initially need guided practice—opportunities to work somewhat independently, but with a teacher or other expert close at hand prevent or fix difficulties when they occur. In general, educational research has found that guided practice helps all learners, but especially those who are struggling (Bryan & Burstein, 2004: Woodward, 2004). A first-grade child has difficulty in decoding printed words, for example, benefits from guidance more than one who can decode easily. But both students benefit in the initial stages of learning, since both may make more mistakes then. Guided practice, by its nature, sends a dual message to students: it is important to learn new material well, but it is also important to become able to use learning without assistance, beyond the lesson where it is learned and even beyond the classroom.

Guided practice is much like the concepts of the zone of proximal development (or ZPD) and instructional scaffolding that we discussed in Chapter 3 in connection with Vygotsky’s theory of learning. In essence, during guided practice the teacher creates a ZPD or scaffold (or framework) in which the student can accomplish more with partial knowledge or skill than the student could accomplish alone. But whatever its name—guided practice, a ZPD, or a scaffold—insuring success of guidance depends on several key elements: focusing on the task at hand, asking questions that break the task into manageable parts, reframing or restating the task so that it becomes more understandable, and giving frequent feedback about the student’s progress (Rogoff, 2003). Combining the elements appropriately takes sensitivity and improvisational skill—even artfulness—but these very challenges are among the true joys of teaching.

Independent practice

As students gain facility with a new skill or new knowledge, they tend to need less guidance and more time to consolidate (or strengthen) their new knowledge with additional practice. Since they are less likely to encounter mistakes or problems at this point, they begin to benefit from independent practice—opportunities to review and repeat their knowledge at their own pace and with fewer interruptions. At this point, therefore, guided practice may feel less like help than like an interruption, even if it is well-intentioned. A student who already knows how to

use a new computer program, for example, may be frustrated by waiting for the teacher to explain each step of the program individually. If a student is already skillful at translating Spanish sentences into English in a language class, it can be annoying for the teacher to “help” by pointing out minor errors that the student is likely to catch for herself.

By definition, the purpose of independent practice is to provide more self-regulation of learning than what comes from guided practice. It implies a different message for students than what is conveyed by guided practice, a message that goes beyond the earlier one: that it is now time to take more complete responsibility for own learning. When all goes well, independent practice is the eventual outcome of the zone of proximal development created during the earlier phase of guided practice described above: the student can now do on his or her own, what originally required assistance from someone else. Or stated differently, independent practice is a way of encouraging self-determination about learning, in the sense that we discussed this idea in Chapter 7. In order to work independently, a student must set his or her own direction and monitor his or her own success; by definition, no one can do this for the student.


The chances are that you already have experienced many forms of homework in your own educational career. The widespread practice of assigning review work to do outside of school is a way of supplementing scarce time in class and of providing independent practice for students. Homework has generated controversy throughout most of its history in public education, partly because it encroaches on students’ personal and family-oriented time, and partly because research finds no consistent benefits of doing homework (Gill & Schlossman, 2004; Kohn, 2004). In spite of these criticisms, though, parents and teachers tend to favor homework when it is used for two main purposes. One purpose is to review and practice material that has already been introduced and practiced at school; a sheet of arithmetic problems might be a classic example. When used for this purpose, the amount of homework is usually minimal in the earliest grades, if any is assigned at all. One educational expert recommends only ten minutes per day in first grade at most, and only gradual increases in amount as students get older (Cooper & Valentine, 2001).

The second purpose for supporting homework is to convey the idea of schoolwork being the “job” of childhood and youth. Just as on an adult job, students must complete homework tasks with minimal supervision and sometimes even minimal training. Doing the tasks, furthermore, is a way to get ahead or further along in the work place (for an adult) or at school (for a child). One study in which researchers interviewed children about these ideas, in fact, found that children do indeed regard homework as work in the same way that adults think of a job (Cornu & Xu, 2004). In the children’s minds, homework tasks were not “fun”, in spite of teachers’ frequent efforts to make them fun. Instead they were jobs that needed doing, much like household chores. When it came to homework, children regarded parents as the teachers’ assistants—people merely carrying out the wishes of the teacher. Like any job, the job of doing homework varied in stressfulness; when required at an appropriate amount and level of difficulty, and when children reported having good “bosses” (parents and teachers), the job of homework could actually be satisfying in the way that many adults’ jobs can be satisfying when well-done.

Planning for instruction as well as for learning

This chapter started with one premise but ended with another. It started with the idea that teachers need to locate curriculum goals, usually from a state department of education or a publisher of a curriculum document. In much of the chapter we described what these authorities provide for individual classroom teachers, and how their documents can be clarified and rendered specific enough for classroom use. In the middle of the chapter, however, the premise shifted. We began noting that instruction cannot be planned simply for students; teachers also need to consider involving students themselves in influencing or even choosing their own goals and ways of reaching the goals. Instructional planning, in other words, should not be just for students, but also by students, at least to some extent. In the final parts of the chapter we described a number of ways of achieving a reasonable balance between teachers’ and students’ influence on their learning. We suggested considering relatively strong measures, such as an emergent or an anti-bias curriculum, but we also considered more moderate ones, like the use of the Internet, of local experts and field trips, of service learning, and of guided and independent practice. All things considered, then, teachers’ planning is not just about organizing teaching; it is also about facilitating learning. Its dual purpose is evident in many features of public education, including the one we discuss in the next two chapters, the assessment of learning.

Chapter summary

In the United States, broad educational goals for most subject areas are published by many national professional associations and by all state departments of education. Usually the state departments of education also publish curriculum framework or curriculum guides that offer somewhat more specific explanations of educational goals, and how they might be taught.

Transforming the goals into specific learning objectives, however, remains a responsibility of the teacher. The formulation can focus on curriculum topics that can analyzed into specific activities, or it can focus on specific behaviors expected of students and assembled into general types of outcomes. Taxonomies of educational objectives, such as the ones originated by Benjamin Bloom, are a useful tool with either approach to instructional planning.

In addition to planning instruction on students’ behalf, many teachers organize instruction so that students themselves can influence the choice of goals. One way to do so is through emergent curriculum; another way is through multicultural and anti-bias curriculum.

Whatever planning strategies are used, learning is enhanced by using a wide variety of resources, including the Internet, local experts, field trips, and service learning, among others. It is also enhanced if the teacher can build bridges between curriculum goals and students’ experiences through judicious use of modeling, activation of prior knowledge, anticipation of students’ preconceptions, and an appropriate blend of guided and independent practice.

Key terms

Affective objectives

Anti-bias education

Bloom’s taxonomy

Content integration

Curriculum framework

Curriculum guide

Educational goals

Emergent curriculum

Equity pedagogy

Guided practice

Independent practice


Instructional planning

Learning commons

Learning objectives

Modeling as demonstration

Modeling as simplified representation

Multicultural education

National standards

Psychomotor objectives

Scope and sequence

Service learning

State standards

Taxonomy of educational objectives


On the Internet



These are two of many websites that explains what behavioral objectives are, and how to write them. They give more detail than is possible in this chapter.

<http://www.adl.org/tools_teachers/tips_antibias_ed.asp> This page is part of the website for the Anti-Defamation League of America, an organization dedicated to eliminating racial and ethnic bias throughout society. This particular page explains the concept of anti-bias education, but it also has links to pages that contain tips for teachers dealing with racial and ethnic bias.

<http://education-world.com/standards> This website contains links to educational standards documents written by every major state department of education and a number of national and professional associations. It covers all of the major subjects commonly taught in public schools.


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