PLC in Action: What do we want our students to learn?

In this article presenting the learnings from the CAR: Collaborate, Learn, Succeed project, we discuss the work of professional learning communities (PLCs) in answering the question: What do we want our students to learn?

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By Jacinthe Ruel, Transfer and Innovation in Education Advisor at the Centre de transfert pour la réussite éducative du Québec (CTREQ), Alain Poirier, Education Consultant and CAR Coach, and Amélie Roy, Transfer and Innovation in Education Advisor at CTREQ.

In this article presenting the learnings from the CAR: Collaborate, Learn, Succeed project, we discuss the work of professional learning communities (PLCs) in answering the question: What do we want our students to learn?

In one previous articleThe meeting discussed the CAR: Collaborate, Learn, Succeed project, a movement involving some 60 school service centers (SSCs) and school boards (SBs) in Quebec, which supports the development of collaborative approaches aimed at the success of all students[1]. One of the preferred means of collaboration within the RAC framework is through the Professional Learning Community (PLC). 

In a school that operates in PLC, school staff, grouped into collaborative teams by grade, subject, or division, work together systematically to improve instructional practices and student achievement by addressing three key questions: 

  1. What do we want our students to learn? 
  2. How will we know if our students have learned? 
  3. What will we do to help our students learn?[2] 

In a series of three articles entitled "PLC in Action!" we will delve deeper into the work process of these learning-centered collaborative teams.

In a PLC school, collaborative team members work toward a common goal: the success of all students. Teachers, remediation specialists, principals and school counselors meet regularly to : 

  1. Focus on essential (priority) learning for students (What do we want our students to learn?);
  2. Analyze the observational data they collect to monitor student progress (How will we know if our students have learned?);
  3. Make instructional decisions based on these data and research findings to implement the most effective teaching strategies (What will we do to help our students learn?). 

This process of work often takes place within a teaching-learning sequence (see diagram below). This article focuses on the first PLC question: What do we want our students to learn?[3].

Essential learnings

What do we want our students to learn? This is the first question that the collaborative team members seek to answer. While the various curricular content areas continue to be taught, teachers and professionals identify "essential" learning, that is, learning that is prioritized for systematic follow-up and discussion at their collaborative meetings. 

Priority learning is linked to the objectives of the educational project and poses a dominant challenge to students. They are also prioritized because they are prerequisites (must be acquired to move on to the next level), transferable (useful in other school subjects or disciplines) and durable (likely to be reinvested in the short or medium term)[4].

The collaborative teams that make up the PLC can work in a variety of ways, including the implementation of teaching-learning sequences that typically last a few weeks. For each sequence, the team members target a limited number of logically related priority learnings that will be addressed "together" during the period in question and that will be systematically monitored. 

Throughout the sequence, teachers collect observational data (evidence of learning) from students to monitor progress and adjust their instruction using the most promising strategies. At the end of the reporting period, the targeted learning is assessed and modifications are made to the sequence so that it can develop and grow over time. 

Comprehensive learning plan

Planning a teaching-learning sequence is a dynamic and iterative process that is obviously linked to more comprehensive planning of the student learning journey. For example, in order to consistently determine what to learn in a particular sequence, members of the collaborative team must have a clear understanding of what students should have learned by the end of the school year for a given grade. And in order to have a clear and shared understanding of what should be taught and learned at each grade level, there must be consultation among all members of the school team.

Based on the elements contained in the reference documents available to them (e.g., PFEQ end-of-cycle expectations, indications in the Progression of Learning, professional guides supported by research), teachers specify what must be learned by the end of grade 6.e grade or grade 5e This backward planning, when done collectively, promotes realistic and aligned implementation of the program and allows students to move coherently through their school careers, regardless of the teacher. This backward planning, when done collectively, promotes realistic and aligned implementation of the program and allows students to move consistently through their school careers, regardless of the teacher.

As an example, planning a sequence in 3e grade will take into account not only the requirements of this grade level, but also the expectations at the levels above and below: 

Targets, levels of achievement and common assessment

Collaborative team members specify learning targets and achievement levels that will allow them to assess student progress throughout the teaching-learning sequence. Learning targets are what students are expected to know, be able to do, understand, and communicate, in more specific terms, for each prioritized learning outcome. They are formulated in clear language so that they are understandable to students. Targets must also be realistic, observable and achievable within the time frame for teaching and learning.

For each of the targets, team members establish levels of achievement that are often associated with a color system: green indicating achievement, yellow indicating difficulty in achieving the target, and red indicating failure to achieve the target, for example. Assessment of target achievement is done in the classroom through common assessment tasks that correspond to what has been taught (e.g., a mini-test or a reading interview), as well as through observation tools that collect evidence of learning (e.g., observation grid).

By discussing student work that is representative of the intended level of achievement and work that falls below or exceeds expectations, collaborative team members develop a shared understanding of the possible pathways for students to achieve learning. This understanding of the stages of progression is, according to researcher John Hattie, a key success factor in schools[5].

Clear communication of targets to students

Finally, it is important that learning targets be explicitly communicated to students and that they be reminded of them frequently. In elementary school, for example, targets may be posted in the classroom and mentioned at the beginning of class periods. At the secondary level, many teachers provide simplified rubrics early in the learning process. In many cases, one or more examples of expected productions are presented so that students know what they must strive for in order to succeed and are better equipped to judge their progress and regulate their own learning.


At this point in the PLC process, sustained collaboration among team members promotes clarity and consistency in understanding what learning will have the greatest impact on students and how that learning will be measured. 

Watch for the next article in the "PLC in Action!" series, which will focus on the process of monitoring student progress. In it, we'll see that this monitoring process, supported by evidence of learning, is key to the success of high-performing PLCs.[6]

Also read in École branchée: 

Watch the video "Working in the PLC: What do we want our students to learn?" View the Viewing sheet of the video on the CAR website to lead a collective reflection with the members of your school team.

References in the text

[1] See Poirier and Roy (2022a).

[2] For a detailed explanation of the foundations of CAP work, see Poirier and Roy (2022b).

[3] This article draws heavily on the Essential Learning page on the RAC website: 

[4] Leclerc (2012) refers to retention (reinvestment of learning in the medium and long term), transfer (learning that can be applied in other domains), and prerequisite (learning that prepares for what comes next) to distinguish learning that is essential (p. 154). See also Dufour et al. 2019, pp. 125-127.

[5] Hattie (2017), as cited in DuFour et al. 2019, p. 131.

[6] Leclerc, 2012, p. 32.


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