Checkout ALE/PBL Guide

2016-03-16 08.19.52

Entering most classrooms, there is information about the learning outcomes and assignments posted. The purpose is to let students know what is the focus and follow up work that is connected. This information is like the billboards along the highways. People drive by without paying attention to the signs that become lost in the scenery background. There have been initiatives to use such “billboards” to help teachers structure the work for students. Some initiatives include the Blackboard Configuration by Dr. Marilyn Monroe, Bell work, and the Project Wall used with Project-Based Learning. These different approaches have mixed results because they tend to address what teachers need to do with students, instead of how to support student learning. The key to turning these tools into more consistent success if to re-frame the purpose.

Make Instruction Transparent for Students

For innovative practices like Authentic Learning Experiences, PBL, Design Thinking, and STEM/STEAM, it’s important to bring learners inside the instructional circle. This is the traditional space of teachers. It’s like learning the magic tricks of the magicians. This approach may put magicians out of business, whereas the work of teachers improves and elevates in quality because students understand what’s behind the wizard’s curtain.

Students need to know the focus and outcomes so that they feel comfortable about the journey. I remember in both undergrad and graduate courses watching the professor enter the room and start to lecture. Every student promptly took notes on what was said. I’d struggle trying to figure out the big focus and outcomes. Most times I did not figure out the purpose until later while puzzling through the notes. Yet, at staff meetings, there was usually an agenda that helped me understand the purpose and outcomes to be accomplished. Churches, theaters, and graduations provide a program that shares the purposes and activities to take place. When this transparency of operations happens in units and lessons, students reap the benefits.

Student Learning Wall Guide Chart image

Student Learning Wall Guide Components

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit Outcomes
  3. Lesson Outcomes
  4. Need to Know List
  5. Calendar
  6. Anchor Charts: Focused Global Success Skill(s)
  7. Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

The components serve the dual purpose of communicating important information to students and helps include them in internalizing the big picture of the unit and the focus needs of the focused lesson. Most of these items should be visibly positioned where the teacher tends to begin instruction. Placing the only copy at the back of the room makes the item unimportant to students. Out of sight, out of mind. When the items are addressed by teachers on a regular basis—some daily, others weekly—sends a message of value. What gets monitored gets done.

Driving Question

The Driving question should be banner size so that students see it from anywhere in the room. The teachers relate the question to that day’s learning outcome and/or standard. This important sound byte reminds students of how the current lesson connects to the big picture of the unit. Sometimes, the driving question is addressed near the end of the lesson as formative assessment. Ask students how the lesson’s learning outcome relates to the driving question. A result of doing this daily is that students understand the major focus of the work. A byproduct is that students communicate better at home about their work. They can discuss their day with details of the work, instead of answer the question: “What did you do today?” with “nothing” or “stuff.” Being able and willing to tell about their learning journey reassures parents and families of the productive things taking place at school.

References on Driving Questions

Unit Outcomes

List the standards that are being taught, coached, and assessed during the course of the unit near the location of the Driving Question. This list gives students and guest a broad understanding of the depth of the learning taking place. When first introducing a standard into a lesson, refer to it from the list. This does not have to happen every day. After the first intro, refer to the standard where it best helps the students. Doing this enough times and students should be able to identify the focus standard, which aids their understanding of the connections being made. I was impressed with how students at Arsenal New Tech High School in Indianapolis IN were adept at knowing which standards they were addressing.

Lesson Outcomes

Where the Driving Question and the unit outcomes are the framework of the learning home, the lesson outcomes are the bricks that shape the experiences. Posted near the Driving Question, students need to understand what is the focus of “that day’s” focus. It is the anchor for the work and the assessments that occur by the end. Tie the lesson outcomes with the Driving Question so that students know how the lesson’s focus fits into the big picture, so that it’s worth doing.

Need to Know List

Use this protocol at the start of a unit. Keep a copy of the list along with the Driving Question at the front of the class for easy reference. Use it as formative feedback for instructional decisions for Differentiation and to track whole class growth. Refer to it several times a week to check for understanding and to gather more student questions. Learn how to implement this protocol.


Students need to know the key activities and deadlines for the current week. Being aware of these important dates helps present the scope of the work as it fits the larger vision of the unit. It’s best to not show the dates for the future weeks as that’s not relevant to what students need to deal with in the current week.

Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

There are many skills that businesses, universities, and other professions need to successfully thrive in their respective environments. Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Agency, and Self-Management are some that are considered for student development. is a rich resource for these and more skills.

When choosing Global Success Skills, it’s best to choose 1-2 for a unit that will be taught, coached, and assessed. It’s easy to discuss or touch upon a skill, but if it’s not being taught, coached, and assessed, students are not knowingly developing understanding. Once the skills are identified, create an anchor chart that describes the skill in actionable language so students can use for themselves and to manage the success of their teams. Place a copy of the chart on each wall, so that students can use the chart that’s closest to their table group.

Here’s an example:

Collaboration is…

  1. Being a good listener
  2. Helping others
  3. Being dependable with completing tasks
  4. Contributing ideas

Such an anchor chart gives students common language for collaboration. When there are problems they can address the team or team member. During feedback assessments of the team’s level of collaboration, the students can be specific, constructive, and kind.

Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

Criteria for assessments and descriptions for key tasks are important to share with students. Knowing, helps them to prepare work with a clear understanding of guidelines. But remember—this information is only provided on a “Need to Know Basis.” If the essay is not started until the second week, students do not need to see the rubric and assignment description until the first day they start that work. Posting everything ahead of time becomes a mash of stuff that students will likely tune out, because it’s not important to do at the moment.

Student Learning Wall Guide: Classroom Posting versus Online Posting

Wall space can be a challenge for some for putting up these components for supporting students. The information can be posted on one or two chart papers. This is useful to teachers who have two or more preps. They can quickly put up the chart that is needed for course being taught. Here are some options to consider:

Option One: Post everything in three steps

Place everything on the walls that are closest to where the teacher starts instruction. It’s important that a teacher need only take three steps to address any of the posted information. If the front wall is not available, then use one or both adjacent walls. Avoid using the wall opposite of where the teacher leads instruction. Out of sight is out of mind.

Option Two: Blended Posting

Sometimes wall space is lacking. In this case, part of the Student Learning Wall Guide can be inside the classroom. The rest can be posted in the hallway or online. The non-negotiables are:

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit and Lesson Outcomes
  3. Need to Know list
  4. Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

The other items need to be available for students to see and/or refer to. All parts can be online, but the list above also needs to be present in the classroom as they can be used frequently each day for teachable learning moments.

Some may think that this is a lot of work, but the information is already present in one’s unit. What’s needed is to make these public and easily accessible for learners. The result is greater awareness and support of students—having the big picture is a good development of Student Voice.

Check out this photo gallery of Student Learning Walls

These are examples by teachers who are learning and growing with their development of Student Voice.