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English Language Teaching Global Blog


What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Confused man holding basketball and baseball batLawrence Lawson returns in the second of a series of posts on English for Academic Purposes to shed light on student learning outcomes and their importance for the classroom.

Imagine your favorite game. Imagine that you know all of the rules and understand its complex moves. Now imagine that you don’t understand why anyone plays the game. How does one win? Are there even winners? What’s the point of the game? Who cares?

But you care, right?

Whether it’s winning, exercise, or competition, games need a purpose. The concept is similar in the language classroom. Students want to know the point. They want to know the “why” even when they understand the “how.” In the classroom, the point is known as the learning outcome (LO), and to be successful, students need to know it.

“Why study the present continuous?” one student might ask.

“Because our learning outcome is to write a paragraph about what you are doing right now,” a teacher might reply. “To do that, you need to know what the present continuous is and how to use it.” Knowing the LO gives this student an understandable reason for his/her work in the classroom.

Research from the University of Miami finds that “students are more likely to master subject matter if clear expectations are communicated to them for how they will be asked to demonstrate… learning.” In other words, students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning. How will the teacher, and the students themselves, know when they’ve learned it?

LOs provide the clear target that everyone in the classroom recognizes as the learning goal from the beginning of the lesson.

Some teachers put their LOs on the board at the beginning of each lesson. Others tell their students the LOs or highlight them in the textbook – if the textbook has LOs. How do you communicate learning goals to your students? If you use LOs, how do your students respond to these “clear expectations”?

Can LOs help teachers manage time more efficiently in the classroom? Can LOs help students be successful? How can we make effective LOs for our classrooms? What are your thoughts?

Lawrence Lawson is a key contributor to the new course series from OUP called Q Skills for Success. See how Q Skills for Success incorporates student learning outcomes.

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What is Critical Thinking?

Girl looking out of a windowIn this first of a series of blog posts on English for Academic Purposes, Lawrence Lawson,  a teacher at Palomar College, USA, demystifies the term “critical thinking”.

“Why do I need my raincoat?” I asked my grandmother. It was itchy, hot, and I didn’t want to wear it.

“Look outside. Why do you think you should wear it?” she replied.

Dark clouds covered the sky; puddles vibrated with new rain. I collected these clues, connected them, and shouted, “Because it’ll keep me dry!” Instantly, my raincoat changed from something uncomfortable to something necessary and important.

With one question, my grandmother encouraged me to think critically about my world, make connections, and discover my own answers—something teachers want students to do every day.

But what is critical thinking?

A critical thinking approach asks students to do something with information being learned. Teachers can set small goals, or learning outcomes, to give students targets to hit—for example: “After this lesson, you will share with a partner three reasons why people emigrate to other countries.” The readings, questions, and exercises in the lesson encourage students to use language to discover their three reasons. Students and teachers work together to understand, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the lesson’s content to reach the stated outcomes—all skill categories in Bloom’s Taxonomy, a resource that outlines goals of the learning process. By providing students with learning outcomes, students can critically think about information and develop their own meaningful answers.

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