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Outcomes: The Cornerstones of Teaching and Learning

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Outcomes (a.k.a. standards, competencies, objectives, learning targets, etc) are the cornerstones of teaching and learning as they lay the foundation for what is to be learned within a specific time in a student’s learning journey. We're talking about those clear, concise, written descriptions of what students should know and be able to do as a result of successfully completing a unit, course, or program. Starting with the outcomes to be addressed allows the educator to use backward design to ensure that lessons, content, and assessments are laid in reference to that outcome, tracking toward mastery of the concepts and skills to be obtained.

Oftentimes, outcomes can be quite lengthy and packed with multiple skills to learn and language that might be confusing to our students. Whether teaching in K12 or higher education, we can unpack our outcomes to make better sense of them and hone in on the specific concepts and skills that students need to learn, determine the big ideas to be covered, and write essential questions that will guide our instruction and student learning. Focusing on vertical and horizontal alignments ensures that learning is connected and that skills are built upon to deepen understanding. 

Within Canvas, outcomes can be used to create rubrics that assess student learning as evidenced in completed assignments, graded discussions, and quizzes. The use of outcomes provides valuable data to analyze teaching and learning within your classroom or course in three specific ways.

First, the data makes it possible to identify levels of understanding relative to the outcomes being taught and assessed. Analyzing students’ levels of understanding helps the teacher to truly know what each student knows and what they don’t know YET. 

Second, the teacher is able to be responsive to the needs of students and provide the appropriate levels of support in real time. Knowing the students’ levels of understanding allows the teacher to provide targeted intervention for students at the appropriate level to encourage further learning. The teacher may need to do some re-teaching in small groups or provide tier three interventions for those who are struggling significantly. Also, the teacher can identify students who may benefit from enhancement or extension activities.

Third, teachers and students can use this data to self-reflect. A teacher analyzing this data, can reflect on his or her own teaching practices to ensure that student needs are being met and make appropriate adjustments or plans for further teaching. Students can use this data to reflect on their own learning, focused on the skills to master rather than the grade to achieve. This self-reflection for students fosters a growth mindset as they recognize that while they may not YET have a concept or skill mastered, they still have the opportunity to do so. 

With all of this in mind, it is important to set a mastery or proficiency scale that is conducive to this work and makes analyzing the data manageable. Using as few levels as possible within the scale helps students to better understand their mastery levels and what skills and concepts they need to focus on as they work to master all outcomes. It also makes providing interventions more manageable and meaningful. We typically recommend 3-5 levels. If your institution already has a scale in place, how many levels does it include? What thoughts were considered as the scale was determined?

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