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Thinking About SWBAT…

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about SWBAT (“Students Will Be Able To”) since yesterday’s class — although I can’t say that I actually lost sleep over it, my mind has been going on why I reacted the way that I did to the acronym.  First of all, I hope I didn’t offend anyone.  I hadn’t completely thought through what I should say about SWBAT.  Although they are just words, words do have meanings, and those meanings do influence the way we act.  Also, in most classes you are expected to use that terminology, and I am mindful of that, so take this as things to consider when setting up goals for your curriculum in general rather than rules (however, when writing up your understanding goals for the final project in this class, please do not use SWBAT).  So, I wanted to clarify my thinking about SWBAT.

In reading through the Teaching for Understanding with Technology book again (as well as their original Teaching for Understanding book), and looking at some of the example understanding goals, the authors tended to start off goals with “Students will understand….”  There is a difference between “being able to do” something and “understanding” something, whether it be a concept or a practice/method.  One can do something without really understanding why it is important to do it, how it might be useful later on, or how it connects with other activities, concepts, or practices.

Understanding, on the other hand, is a better word to describe teaching students to not only know how to do something, but also consider it at a deeper level, and to consider its importance, utility, and applicability to other situations and settings.  There is reflection and consideration involved in acting and doing, rather than just doing.  The educational researcher/thinking Jim Gee has written about this in terms of “producers,” which we are really asking our students to be when we focus on performative–rather than understanding–goals:

On the one hand, producers are deeply enough embedded in their social practices that they can understand the texts associated with those practices quite well. On the other hand, producers are often so deeply embedded in their social practices that they take the meanings and values of the texts associated with those practices for granted in an unquestioning way. One key question for deep learning and good education, then, is how to get producer-like learning and knowledge, but in a reflective and critical way. (emphasis added; Gee, 2003)

Like the Jamie McKenzie reading for yesterday’s class pointed out, questions and the act of questioning is an inherently important part of meaningful learning and understanding.  Also keep in mind what Wiske et al. wrote (p. 5):  “If understanding is demonstrated by performance, it follows that understanding is also developed by performances of understanding.”  From a TfU perspective, you want to be careful not set up specific activities as ends in themselves, but as a way to deepen understanding and critical thought by the student.  So, with this in mind, like I wrote earlier, “Students will understand…” [“SWU” 😉 ] is preferable in this class to “SWBAT.”

The understanding goals you all wrote were all very good and on the right track, so I don’t want to criticize the goals themselves, especially for an in-class activity.  And I hope this makes sense to you.  Again, I am sensitive to the fact that SWBAT is standard in other classes, but I am also asking you to think outside the box.

Please feel free to comment or leave questions on this point.

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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Session 4