Fuzzy Thinking vs. Mastery Thinking

This week’s post is a quick share of some recent thinking about lesson planning.  As part of our initiative to increase the level of rigor and thinking throughout the school Josh, Anna and I planned a PD session around the aims
  1.  Evaluate the SMART-ness of an aim.
  2.  Revise an aim to make it SMART-er.
  3.  Compose a SMART aim for Monday.

The criteria for success were…

¨  100% of us can name, explain, and provide examples for each part of a SMART aim. 

¨  100% of us evaluate and revise an aim from last week so that it meets all of the SMART criteria. 

¨  100% of us compose and provide thoughtful feedback on a SMART aim for Monday. 

I am glad to share the whole lesson but I am not sure how to post that (paging techies everywhere).  

Here is the think aloud I created to illustrate the difference between the two kinds of thinking.


Click on this link to see a visual breakdown of what SMART aims are and are not.

SMART Aims are…

Here are is my post session response to the incredibly thoughtful staff feedback.



1.    How do you make an aim kid friendly?  Camille asked an alternate version of this question in her feedback “I feel like I am making a basic aim fancy sometimes as I add the upper level of Bloom’s verbs.”


Camille nails a common dilemma.  We don’t want the T in SMART to become the equivalent of the whipped cream on top of the sundae or the fancy rims on a rusted Chevette..  There’s research (attached in the PD) that shows that students remember basic knowledge more if they are pushed to think on a higher level of Bloom’s.  In the article, Daniel Willingham writes…Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in a learner’s memory is not simply the material presented–it is the product of what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material. This principle illuminates one important origin of shallow knowledge and also suggests how to help students develop deep and interconnected knowledge. In other words, the T shouldn’t be an after-thought; making an aim thought-provoking should be an integral part of mastery.


 If after unpacking the standards my aim was to analyze a set of data and use my analysis to evaluate solutions to a problem then I might want to make this more kid-friendly.


It’s ok to write analyze in my aim as long as the kids know what the word means.  If the kids don’t know what the word means then I either need to  teach the word (the way I would teach any vocabulary term or concept with examples, visuals, etc) or rewrite the aim on the board in a kid-friendly way. The above aim might become…to find the range and mean of a set of data and use that information to choose the best solution to a problem.


It’s ok if the aim in my lesson plan and the aim on the board differ in form not in content.



2.    How do you make an aim live?


An aim’s initial purpose is to drive your planning.  However an aim gains real momentum and power when kids own it.  Often in their previous education kids learned to play the game of school instead of learning how to learn.  This attitude manifests itself in a variety of kids’ thinking:  if I just sit quietly and wait out the time my teacher will be happy, completing the task=success whether or not I learned anything, and so on. 


Sharing the aim in kid-friendly language in each lesson not only helps the kids achieve the goals in the lesson it also teaches kids to own their learning.  Instead of waiting out the time and participating if it’s fun, a student starts to think my goal is to learn that thing on the board by the end of the period.  If I don’t ask questions, try problems, and engage, I won’t learn this and I will start tomorrow in the same place.  I have been lucky enough to work with a number of teachers (including the staff here) whose students make extraordinary gains.   One of the teacher behaviors that generates the most student success is complete transparency about the aim and frequent checks for student mastery of the aim throughout the lesson. 


Students read the aim aloud and then answer the question as a whole class or independently: How will I (the teacher) know you can do this?  This is essentially having students generate the criteria for success.  At the end of class the teacher checks back verbally to see if they have accomplished the aim.  A variation of this routine has students record the aim at the start of class and then write a short written reflection about how well they learned the aim



3.    Are there SMART aims everyday?  What about review or test/project days?


Not everyone in the world will agree with this statement but my gut answer is yes.  If you are reviewing for a test then there should still be specific material you are reviewing, the outcomes of the period should be measurable, and so on.  Therefore I would revise the aim below…


Original Aim

Revised Aim

Review for the unit test.

Apply multiple review strategies to the Earth Science vocabulary and identify the material I need to focus on tonight.




4.    How might the same activity have different results depending on the aim?  Michele asked this question in her feedback.  This is my first attempt at an answer.



Teacher A

Teacher B


To analyze primary sources from Civil War

Analyze a primary source to determine the writer’s opinion about entering the Civil War.


Read and annotate three letters from a Free African American, a Southern Plantation owner and a border state farmer.

Read and annotate three letters from a Free African American, a Southern Plantation owner and a border state farmer.

How it might look different?

Kids read, mark up the text, and then share a variety of different ideas about the text.  The discussion ranges across a variety of topics (slavery, farming, geography).  The teacher responds enthusiastically if the kids say something interesting or unusual.

The teacher dipsticks frequently by asking questions like…


What would the owner, AA, farmer say if you asked…

Which of these three was most opposed to the war?  Which was least opposed?

How do you know?  What evidence in the text supports your claim?  Who agrees with that claim and evidence?


How results will differ?

Kids hear some neat ideas, mark the heck out of the text, and walk away not owning any content or seeing the difference between strong and weak analysis.

Kids can summarize the content by filling in the blank


People disagreed about fighting the Civil War because__________________________


Kids can look at a couple of examples of claims (either in the next day’s do now or on the board) and evaluate the strength based on evidence in the text.




One Response to “Fuzzy Thinking vs. Mastery Thinking”

  1. jsmith6 Says:

    As far as how to post it, if you create a Box.net account (free with a limited amount of storage), you can create a folder to share files. It will then give you the option to share your folder by creating a widget. When you do this, it will give you an embed code (kind of like the ones you get when you embed YouTube videos).

    Come back to your WordPress account, on your main dashboard, and under ‘Appearance’ click on Widgets. This allows you to add widgets to your sidebars. Find the Box.net widget and drag over to either your left or right sidebar, and then it will have a space to copy and paste the code from Box.net.

    The final product will look like the one here: http://www.teacherutech.wordpress.com

    Sounds harder then it really is. I’m actually going to be creating a video that models it, and uploading it to the blog I linked above for the teachers I’m working with. Once it’s up, you can download and watch if you need extra help figuring it out. Once it’s there, any time you upload documents to your Box.net folder they will automatically appear on your blog. It’s a great way to share resources 🙂

    P.S. Am loving the blog. Used it for the sessions I did at Teacher U this week to help share the vision of what professional blogging can do for our community, and the teachers totally dug it. They LOVED the posts on point-of-view and playing catch vs. basketball (as did I). Many of them are now following you 🙂

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