Can DO Lists

  • On 2013-10-02
  • Able to Do, Can Do, Key Understandings, Know, Scaffolding


One of the things I love about being an educational consultant is that I am always learning from schools as they learn from me. My work becomes an automatic structure for reflection, growth and the challenging or expanding of my thinking. As I go from school to school I pick up new ideas, new ways of thinking about what I am discussing at the time, and occasionally have blinding insights into something I never had even thought about. I love it especially when some of the schools I

have a strong relationship with use me to run their thoughts past so I can contribute.

This brings me to an approach that I picked up from a school in Western Australia.

Since I am very much a “HOW” type of person, one thought I had been grappling with is HOW we shift teachers from being teacher focused in their delivery of learning to being student-centred with the learning. The teachers have this wealth of knowledge and thoughts and ideas but often they are not very good about articulating it or giving it away to the students. I already have a range of techniques but this one clicked for me recently as I saw this school using this approach.

One of the first steps teachers can take in their planning as part of shifting their mindset and their planning to be more student centred is to create CAN-DO lists.

As part of setting the destination that we want the student to reach by the end of a unit / session / year we can have the teachers articulate what they want the students to know and be able to do.

Teachers can begin with a unit they have already delivered and go through it identifying all the facts (knowledge) they wanted the students to know and all the things they wanted the students to be able to do (skills). The first run through generally tends to be a shallow listing so the next step would be to deepen the knowledge and skills by reflecting upon why is the knowledge or skill important, what is the transferable concept, what would it look like when they are demonstrating that skill?

As the teachers create the list of knowledge and skills they become clearer about what the unit is delivering. There now comes a reality check. The teachers should now check the lists of knowledge and skills against what their state framework or the Australian Curriculum asks of them. They can then take away or add to the list. This now trues the unit up against the standards and is a form of audit.
Having done all this work the teachers can create a CAN-DO list for the students. They take the lists they have created thus far and convert them to student-speak appropriate to the year level. You can see some examples here:

Can Do List – Year 9 Biological Science

Can Do List – Year 9 Ecological Science

The following is some Can Do Lists that I recently helped a primary school design

Can Do List – Prep Toys

Can Do List – Grade 3 Fabulous Fabrics

The benefits of this process include:

  • Teachers now can specifically articulate what they want the students to be able to demonstrate to them
  • With these goals in mind the teachers can now plan to ensure that the learning addresses these in a coherent and consistent way.
  • Articulating what you want the students to know and be able to do then provides an easier step to articulate what you want the students to understand. I written in depth about Designing Key Understandings previously.
  • Students now have clarity because they know what they CAN DO by the end of the unit. Structures can now be set up for teacher-student conferences, personalisation of learning, and independent learning.

You can download the template for the CAN DO List on our Learning Resources Page.



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