What If It’s Backwards?

Thanks to a Twitter discussion between Doug Peterson and Jonathan So, I became aware of this recent blog post by Jonathan. This post made me think about the Kindergarten perspective, and how Hattie’s thinking might apply if viewed through the lens of the Kindergarten Program Document. A few years ago when I first read this new Program Document, there were a lot of comments that made me wonder, there were many points that made me nod along, and there were some uncomfortable thinking moments. My biggest shift in thinking came from this comment in the document (which also inspired a further Twitter conversation).

I wonder then about what this means around how we communicate learning expectations. 

While I’ve taught Kindergarten for the most amount of time in my teaching career, I have taught all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years unpacking expectations, developing Learning Goals, and even co-creating Success Criteria with students. I’m one of those people who enjoys reading curriculum documents, and have spent much time reading and thinking about Growing Success as well as Growing Success — The Kindergarten AddendumWhile both discuss Learning Goals and Success Criteria, what these look like from Kindergarten to Grade 12, vary. It’s the noticing and naming the learning in Kindergarten, which makes the Learning Goals and Success Criteria explicit to the children. 

Thinking then about Jonathan’s post, I then see differences when it comes to “teacher clarity.” 

  • We’re not starting lessons telling kids what they’re learning.
  • We don’t have posted Learning Goals and Success Criteria around the classroom, although we do have posted documentation, which acts as a provocation for discussing and extending the learning. 

  • We don’t outline specific activities at each space in the classroom, although we do provide provocations, which often attribute to and help direct the learning in each of the areas. 
  • We know our kids (and their strengths and needs), we know the expectations, we know the materials provided in each area around the room, and we know the anticipated ways that they will be used, but the teaching and learning happens more organically, so the clarity occurs when observing and conversing with kids. 

If Paula was focused solely on the expectations, she would have pushed the labelling at the time, and really honed in on the reading and writing potential. Instead, she was focused on the children, so her expectations changed based on what the kids communicated. She then used a moment at a later time to focus in on letter-sound combinations, reading, and writing. 

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We bought this structures book thinking that it might inspire some different buildings at the blocks, but Tommy loved it, and was inspired over at the LEGO. He made one of the house types with Filip. Who built the original? What could they find out about it? @paulacrockett read through the information with them, and even encouraged some letter-sound work to read some unfamiliar words. Then it was time to label the structure. Tommy was very independent here, but looked at how to separate some words with @paulacrockett. Loved the literacy, math, and science connections with this building today. At the end of the day, someone accidentally broke the structure. That was okay. Tommy thinks he can rebuild it. How might the book inspire him tomorrow? What will he remember? ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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I know that many find this approach more chaotic, as we have a little less control over how it looks. But by not segmenting learning into blocks of time (e.g., a language period, a math period, a science period, etc.), by giving into the richness of learning that can happen with more open-ended approaches, and by re-exploring concepts over a longer period of time, kids aren’t saying, “But I don’t get it!” 

  • Learning is approached in many ways: cue the 100 Languages of Children.
  • Expectations are addressed when students are ready to learn them.
  • The child is truly at the centre of the learning.

Targeted instruction is still key, and students continue to learn the links between their actions and the expectations. There is still a shift though in when these expectations are communicated to kids, if they’re communicated to all kids or just some, and when this teacher clarity takes place. Is a backwards approach sometimes best? I see the benefits, but what about you?


11 thoughts on “What If It’s Backwards?

  1. I think for kindie it is more in the clarity in your brain. The biggest learning intentions for you is learning and that is the most important in my eyes. However, you still know the intentions of K clearly in your head and when a kid says or does something you notice and name. This makes the learning clear for the kids. It is why i like the word intentions versus criteria or goals As teachers we need to know where our students are, what they should be learning and the various developmental pathways in which that learning can be covered. The rest is products and i think that should be up to the child. This is the power in K, IMO. But if you as a teacher dont have those clear intentions then i think it is just chaotic fun. Learning will happened but not much.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan! I really like your thinking around the “clarity in your brain.” Now this would have been a much better title for my post. 🙂 This is totally it! The key is in knowing the expectations, so that you can “notice and name the learning,” and you can extend it for EACH child when the time is right. (This may vary slightly for each of the children in your class.) I’d like to think that this same approach could be used in other grades, and to a degree, I think that it can, but the expectations have more flexibility in Kindergarten. We have the gradeless classroom, including for our Communications of Learning, and our Growing Success Addendum does not have “assessment of learning.” This makes a huge difference I think. Thank you for starting and continuing this important conversation.


      • Yes K has the flexibility for sure but i think we have some of that in elementary and up. However, this is why intentions are so important. As a teacher i need to know where i want to go in order to help my students get there. Now in elementary we also have to think about the specific curriculum which is where labeling and naming intentions before hand helps but it doesnt always have to happen first.

        • Thanks Jonathan! I wonder if some of this also happens in our heads first: thinking about our kids and expectations, so that we can plan with each child in mind. This isn’t always easy, but I think it’s important. Maybe by anticipating student responses to our area/provocations, we’re able to do this even more. Thoughts?


          • One thing i have learned is that a lot of things happen in our heads, however as a teacher i have foubd if i dont actually write in my plans (especially when i first plan) it never gets into my practice. One thing that has been fundamental in my shift is an article called the five practices. It has anticipation at the root of it all.

          • Thanks Jonathan! I need to try and find this article. I will admit that while we’re responsive to kids, we also plan a lot, and write down these anticipations in our plans. I think this helps us out as well. There’s certainly a way to be well-planned and child-centred. The key for us though is to not let our anticipated outcomes impact on listening to kids. We work hard on listening first, as hard as it can sometimes be. Recording our conversations allows us to look back at these discussions together, reflect as a team, and then really plan for children. If not in a Kindergarten classroom, I wonder if similar reflection times could happen with grade team colleagues or support personnel. Various perspectives are definitely valuable!


  2. Yes listening is a must and being responsive to needs is a must but if you dont anticipate you are very reactive versus proactive. Your able to guide better with good purposeful questions but you also cant be like “oh kids arent there, oh well thats my plan”. The point of anticipating is understanding most of the avenues things can go in order to be ready and willing for the journey.

    • An excellent point, Jonathan, and I do agree. Questions are better with some planning, and by anticipating a variety of responses, we can also plan for some questions to ask and some possible next steps. This helps. Maybe it’s a bit of a delicate dance between planning and responsiveness.


    • Thank you, Jillian, for adding to this conversation and sharing this link! I love this sentence of yours: “Reinforcing the fluidity required for teacher-learner and the opportunity for teachers as researchers.” Both are important considerations around the topic of teacher clarity. Thanks for adding to this conversation. I’m off to read this article now. I wonder if it might be useful for our Math PD Day on Friday.


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