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This lesson will cover the differences in writing student learning outcomes (SLO) versus traditional learning objectives. Included in this will be a breakdown of how to construct student learning objectives, as well as appropriate assessments for various types of SLOs.

Student Learning Outcomes: Examples and Assessments

When many of us went through teacher training, we were trained in a teacher-centered model of instruction. We were taught how to give lectures and write tests. As technology has made its way into the classroom, we have seen a shift in instruction to a more student-centered model of learning. These changes also mean that how we write students learning objectives has changed as well.

Student Learning Outcomes

As teachers, you’re familiar with student learning objectives.

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Objectives are typically tied to the content of the course, and focus on what you will do in the classroom. For example, ‘Students will learn to identify the major organelles in a cell.’ This example would be an objective because it is broad, and focuses on what you will be teaching rather than the specifics of what the students will be expected to learn.

SLOs versus Learning Objectives

A student learning outcome (SLO) is a bit different in that it focuses on the skills that students are expected to master in a course. Unlike a learning objective, it is measurable.

For example, an SLO would say ‘Students will be able to identify and describe assigned cell organelles with 80% accuracy.’ This example would be considered a student learning outcome because it specifically describes what a student needs to be able to do, including the level of accuracy they are expected to attain.

Writing a Student Learning Outcome

When you write a student learning outcome, there are a few important parts to include.

First, you need to decide what it is you want your students to be able to do, or be able to produce based on their previous learning experiences. These skills or products are most likely based on the content standards or course objectives. You should be able to describe these products and skills using active verbs such as analyze, identify, interpret, calculate, etc.

Writing an SLO

The second part of your SLO should describe the level of proficiency you want students to be able to express. Depending on what you are asking students to demonstrate, you might express their proficiency as a percentage.

If you are using a skills rubric, you might express growth as moving from a level three to a level five on the scale. Your measure could also be qualitative. For example, you might have students create a portfolio of their creative writing to show growth in elements of style or character development.

Assessments and SLOs

The most straightforward method of assessing an SLO is a carefully written assessment.

For example, if your SLO stated ‘Students in my third block class will be able to solve quadratic equations with 90% accuracy,’ you could give them ten quadratic equations, and if they could solve nine of them correctly, then your students mastered your SLO. Cases like this that can be assessed using a traditional test or quiz are the easiest assessments to use in an SLO.

Assessments for SLOs

However, not all the skills or products students are expected to master are easily measurable on a multiple choice test. For example, you are an English teacher and you write an SLO that states, ‘Students will be able to write an analysis of poetry using the appropriate terminology.’ In this case, you can’t evaluate their analysis skills using a multiple choice test. Rather, you would need a rubric.

The rubric still needs to identify specific areas of growth for students, but could contain multiple points in which you will evaluate their work. For example, one indicator on the rubric might include the types of terms they would need to include in their writing. Another indicator on the rubric might describe different levels of analysis. Any indicators used could then be scaled 1-3, or 1-10, whatever you deem appropriate.Another method of assessing an SLO is to have students create a portfolio to demonstrate their growth. Portfolios can be used on a variety of SLOs in courses from English, to Art, to Computer Science. For example, perhaps you have an SLO for a Computer Science course that states ‘Students will be able to create, build, and publish web pages on several themes using increasing complexity of Javascript and HTML.

‘ Students might demonstrate this SLO with a digital portfolio of web pages created over a semester.

Lesson Summary

Unlike a learning objective, which is teacher centered, a student learning objective (SLO) is tied to outcomes students need to be able to perform or demonstrate. It is written with active verbs to describe what students need to be able to demonstrate. Additionally, it needs to be measurable regarding student accuracy or growth of skills.

SLOs can be measured using a variety of assessments including traditional tests, which calculate accuracy as a percentage. However, it can also be measured using rubrics of portfolios where students demonstrate improvement in a skill over time.

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