Using “I Can” Charts to Make Learning Visible

I have a confession to make.  I have never been the teacher who posted the objective I was teaching on the board.  I know that it’s a requirement at many schools, but I have never taught in one of those schools.  But recently, with my focus on encouraging students to take more ownership of their own learning, I came to the realization all by myself how powerful the practice can be.

Tonight I want to talk about “I Can” anchor charts.  I know that “I Can” statements for standards are plentiful.  I’m sure a Google search would turn up a ton of hits.  But I think it’s more powerful to develop “I Can” anchor charts together with the students, rather than posting a preprinted chart on the wall.  Here’s how it looked in my classroom today.

As my 4th graders came in the Math Lab, I had the “I Can” statement shown in the picture above written on my whiteboard easel.  The red notations were not on the original statement–I added them as we discussed the statement.  Since this was the first time I had used “I Can” statements with my students, I explained to them that the purpose of the statement was to tell them exactly what they needed to be able to do master the standard.  We talked about each part of the chart, because I wanted to make sure they understood what all the parts meant.  As I taught the lesson, I continually referred back to the chart.   Since we will work on this standard all week, I wanted to transcribe the chart onto chart paper after the class, so I took a picture of what I had written on the easel. You can see that when I recreated the chart, I added some additional information.  The chart will hang on the board in my small group area throughout the week.

Here are some additional pictures of my 3rd and 5th grade before and after charts.

And here’s my small group teaching area with the final charts posted so the students can refer to them throughout the week.

How do you use “I Can” statements in your classroom?

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  1. I never ever post the standard or talk about it because I always seem to run out of time and it always seems to be in language the kids won’t engage with. This idea of writing it as an I can statement is genius and definitely something I will be trying!

    The Math Maniac

  2. Donna, I love this post as your “I can” statements are to the point and the most “kid friendly” I have seen. I have been mulling over math this week with a new goal to focus more on sharing math language, methods, etc. with my parents on my classroom blog. I had the idea of creating charts with below-, on-, and above- grade level example problems for different concepts. Now, with your post, I’m thinking this idea would be perfect for posting in the classroom as well so that students can see what level they are on and what they are aiming to master–which is awesome because now the work I was planning to do for parents will also be used for a purpose in the classroom. Do you make up your “I can” statements or are you pulling them from somewhere?

    I follow your blog through email and on facebook. I read your posts as soon as they hit my inbox no matter what I’m doing! I am so jealous of your math position and really live vicarioiusly through you! I enjoy teaching everything, but I think it’s only in math that I find myself saying “If I could just teach math all day…” Thanks for this post! It really made me think again about posting standards in some way for math class!

  3. Wow! This is a fabulous idea! I can’t wait to use this on Monday! In my school, we are required to post the objective in “kid-friendly” language, with the CCSS objective standard number, and from that create a DOL (Demonstration of Learning – “Given 4 problems, students will solve 3 out of 4 correctly” … something along those lines). I never really go over the objective or DOL – I just leave it on the board so if an administrator or supervisor walked into the room, they see it posted. I never really saw the value in going over the objective – like it was too much time or they wouldn’t really “get” it … I just never saw the value in it. But this is a GREAT idea you posted – and the notations. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Great way to really improve and boost learning … so students can transfer their learning from the classroom to the real world!

    Take Me To Third Grade

  4. I LOVE stating the objectives in the form of “I can” charts! I have seen other teachers use “I know I’ve got this when…” and these are both great! Using the “I can” chart has merit; it is very effective for teachers to post the objectives in the classroom. Studies show the students perform better when they know the objective. In the article Clearly Communicating the Learning Objective Matters, Reed (2012) states that, “explicitly linking classroom activities to learning goals helps students understand the purpose of the instruction and feel motivated to engage with the ideas.” Stating lesson objectives is crucial because the objectives serve as a guide for students; they let students know what they are supposed to learn and how the activity relates to the lesson. Furthermore, stating lesson objectives helps improve behavior. According to Reed (2012), students misbehave when they are confused by the lesson; Researchers found that students made the fewest amount of disruptions when the teacher clearly referenced the learning objectives.
    Three steps need to be followed to make “stating the objectives” effective: “state the objective in a language students understand, provide a purpose for the activity, and frequently remind students of the objective” (Reed, 2012). You clearly achieve step one, which is stating the objective in a language students understand. Using the “I can” language really makes the objective within the students’ reach. The second step is providing a purpose for the activity, which is important because students need to understand why they are working in order to take the assignment seriously. Reed (2012) stated, “Teachers and students consistently need to be aware of where the lesson is headed and how the various activities build toward that outcome.” In some lessons, like math, the activity is obviously practice on what they just learned. However, in other subjects the purpose of the activity might not be as clear so err on the side of caution and always provide a purpose for the activity. The third step is the most important, just stating the objective one time has no benefit. It is crucial to reference the objective multiple times throughout the lesson. I noticed you often repeated the objectives as the students were working (great!), it can serve as a redirect to make sure students are focusing on what they need to be learning.
    Overall, I think you are right on target. I’d like to caution you on developing the objectives with the students. It seems like you wrote them on your own first and then added more to the objectives after a discussion with the students-which is great. However, (as a caution to other teachers) it is important to have the objective stated before you ask for student input. Having students negotiate the objectives does not work well for students with disabilities or for struggling students. Theoretically, generating objectives as a class encourages students to guide their own learning, but there is little evidence to support this claim. The objectives serve as an anchor for students, an anchor should be sturdy, not fluid. Having concrete objectives serves as a guide post for students.
    *Side note, I love that you transcribe the chart so it can be available to students on other days. It would be a great reference!

    Reed, D. K. (2012). Clearly communicating the learning objective matters!. Middle School Journal, 43(5), 16-24.

  5. I create a little document everyday for my students that I call the “Morning check-in”. It has 3 I can statements for the day with a yes or no checklist. Sometimes I include a little exit slip question if I need a quick formative assessment. The students fill it in right before lunch and hand it in. I look it over during my prep and then hand it back at the end of the day for them to take home to their parents.

  6. This past school year in my 7th grade math classroom, we developed “I can” statements as a class at the end of the lesson because I do a lot of discovery based learning. The students loved owning the statements and being part of the “teaching” of the class!

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