Beyond Objectives: Preparation

  • Beyond Objectives: Preparation

    By Marjan Hong, posted December 5, 2016 —

    As a self-proclaimed social constructivist who devoured the writings of Lev Vygotsky and Reuven Feuerstein, I was immediately drawn to inquiry-based learning when first introduced to this pedagogical method. It resonated with my personal educational experience, so I was ready to jump in with both feet and introduce my students to inquiry-based instruction.

    My first lesson was, as they say, an epic failure.  My students were all over the place with their conjectures and reasoning, the lesson objectives were not met, and most students didn’t even attempt half of the task out of sheer frustration. When my colleagues and I reflected on the experience, one teacher asked a question similar to the one I asked in my first blog: “We have students whose experiences are all over the place! How can we possibly transition to inquiry-based instruction?”

    My personal understanding and response have evolved over the years, but three critical elements have developed that are central in my work with teachers.

    1. Plan beyond objectives.

    2. Activate a beyond-objectives mindset during implementation.

    3. Embrace baby steps.

    Planning beyond objectives might be defined in a single word—anticipate. A description of its characteristics includes the following:

    •    Identify the lesson goal.

    • Why do students need to learn this?
    • How does this learning connect to the course objectives?
    • How does this learning connect to future learning?

    •    Describe evidence of learning.

    • What does “objective met” look and sound like?
    • How will students know they have met the day’s objective?

    •    Identify critical elements that are necessary for all students to have access to learning.

    • What are my students’ strengths and weaknesses?
    • Are my students ready for this inquiry level?
    • What barriers exist for ELLs and students with learning differences or physical limitations?

    •    Select or create a task that is oriented to meet the goal of the lesson.

    • Does the task encourage reasoning and problem solving?
    • What opportunities does the task provide to build fluency and extend conceptual understanding?
    • Which mathematical practices can be nurtured and strengthened?
    • How will students engage with the task? What might students question or conjecture?
    • What additional connections might be uncovered in the task?

    •    Select or develop open-ended launch questions and probing follow-up questions.

    • What questions might prompt students to extend beyond the stated objective?
    • What questions might promote discussion?
    • What questions might result in connections of mathematical ideas?

    Purposefully planning beyond objectives takes time and practice. Collaboration with colleagues is a critical part of the planning process. Like our students, we develop frameworks for thinking as we participate in discussion with our colleagues. In some instances, this may require reaching beyond your school to connect with teachers in other schools. You may want to pursue opportunities to connect virtually with other teachers. What other avenues of collaboration do you envision? What additional obstacles do you anticipate? I welcome your feedback and ideas!

    The next two blog posts will explore the two other central elements of successful transition to inquiry-based learning and examine exemplars of transitions in action.


    Hong Author PicMarjan Hong,, has worked in mathematics education for nearly thirty years as a teacher, mentor, curriculum specialist, and consultant. She is currently curriculum content developer for Discovery Education. Her passions include access and equity in mathematics education, empowering teachers, and inquiry-based learning.


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