Spreading an “I can …” culture: Aware, Enable, Empower

While serving as a member of the Algebra I team at Westminster, I collaborated with colleagues to communicate essential learning targets to our community.  An example is shown below.

Graphing Linear Functions: Unit Two Essential Learnings – Algebra I

By the end of this unit, you [the learner] must be able to say:

  • I can state the formula for slope, am able to use the formula, and can apply that slope is a rate of change.
      • I can find the slope given two points.
      • I can find the slope from a graph.
  • I can find the equation of a line from given information including a graph, the slope and y- intercept, slope and a point, two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a point and the slope.
      • I can find an equation of a line given two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a graph.
      • I can find an equation of a line parallel or perpendicular to a given line through a given point.
  • I can demonstrate computational fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and powers of real numbers.
      • I can convert units by using the appropriate ratios (dimensional analysis).
  • I can apply linear functions to model and solve application problems.
      • I can solve application problems involving linear functions.
      • I can solve application problems involving direct variation.
  • I can read and interpret graphs.
      • I can read and interpret information given a graph.

I have been rereading The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning.

“In order to engage in high-quality assessment, teachers need to first identify specific learning targets and then to know whether the targets are asking students to demonstrate their knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or ability to create a quality product. The teacher must also understand what it will take for students to become masters of the learning targets:  What must students do to acquire knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or the ability to create a quality product? Equally as important, the teacher must share these learning targets and strategies with the students in language that they understand. It is not enough that the teacher knows where students are headed; the students must also know where they are headed, and both the teacher and the students must be moving in the same direction.” (Conzemius, O’Neill,  66 pag.)

As I wondered if the “I can…” work we crafted in Algebra I was scalable, I watched Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge again.

I’ve watched this particular TED talk at least 2 dozen times.  I learn something new every time I watch.  This time the talk connected to the “I can…” statements communication and collaboration with students.  Could we use the idea of “I can…” statements with younger students?

Conzemius and O’Neill encourage educators to identify specific learning targets and express them as “I can…” statements written in kid-friendly language.  Skill and strategies to be learned and assessed should not be a secret.  We should communicate desired outcomes clearly.

One of the highlights of my week involved collaborating with my colleagues to write Everyday Math “I can…” statements for our learners and their families.   It really started a couple of weeks ago with our fantastic 2nd grade team in a team meeting.  In less than an hour, this team of highly motivated educators discussed the essential learnings for a unit and developed the set of “I can…” statements shown below.  I’ve chosen to quote the entire post to show their good work.

Unit 1 in 2nd Grade Math    (posted on 08.20.12)

Unit 1 has begun! This unit is primarily a review unit which focuses on numbers and routines. Lessons review tools in the toolkits, routines for working with partners and small groups, using the number grid, telling time, and counting money. Students are encouraged to practice their addition basic facts (sums through 9 + 9 = 18) as much as they can each week using flash cards, games, or the computer to hone their skills. Later this week, we will post a list of websites that will be useful at home. Today they were given a place in their white binder to record their practice times. Before we know it, the addition facts will be mastered making computation much easier!

By the end of unit 1, your child should be able to say:

    • I can draw tally marks.
    • I can find the value of a collection of coins.
    • I can find missing numbers on a number line.
    • I can solve number grid puzzles.
    • I can tell and write time to the half hour.
    • I can show 10 several different ways.
    • I can count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s.

Two weeks later, with no coaching from me:

Unit 2 in 2nd Grade Math!     (posted on 09.06.12)

Unit 2 focuses on reviewing and extending addition facts and linking subtraction to addition. Children will solve basic addition and subtraction facts through real-life stories. In Everyday Mathematics, the ability to recall number facts instantly is called “fact power.” Instant recall of the addition and subtraction facts will become a powerful tool in computation with multidigit numbers such as 29 + 92.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can add and write turnaround facts.
  • I can write fact families.
  • I can add single-digit numbers.
  • I can subtract basic facts. (up to 18 – 9 = 9)
  • I can extend a numeric pattern and solve and write the rule for this pattern.

Please click on “Read More” to view the Unit 2 parent letter.

While Kiran Bir Sethi’s inspiring TED talk has always spoken to me about PBL, this time I focused on helping learners progress through the stages of aware, empower, and enable.

    • Aware – see what is to be learned
    • Enable – adjust and practice behaviors to learn
    • Empower – lead others to learn

Offering learners multiple ways to become aware of what is to be learned and designing experiences to lead learning and practice should enable and empower the learner to grow stronger and more confident.

This week, our amazing 3rd grade team, collaborated on Everyday Math “I can…” statements.

Unit 2: 3rd Grade Essential Learnings

 The main topics of Unit 2 are addition and subtraction of whole numbers with special emphasis on the basic facts and their extensions; solution strategies for addition and subtraction number stories; and addition and subtraction computation with multi-digit numbers.

By the end of Third Grade math, children should demonstrate automaticity with all addition and subtraction facts through
10 + 10 and use basic facts to compute fact extensions.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can identify the digits in a multi-digit number and express the value of each digit.
      • Example: 465
        The value of the 6 is 60.
  • I can find several names for the same whole number.
      •  Example: 20
        10 + 10
        Veinte (or another language)
  • I can use basic facts to compute extended facts.
      • Example:
        If I know 2 + 3 = 5, then I know 20 + 30 = 50 and
        200 + 300 = 500.
  •  I can add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers.
  • I can tell and show time on an analog clock at the five-minute marks.
  • I can complete “What’s My Rule?” problems.
  • I can solve number stories and write number models.

Please refer to the Unit 2 family letter for additional information and vocabulary.

Our goal is to facilitate experiences to spread the “I can…” contagion.  We want our learners to be able to say:

      • I can do math.
      • I can solve problems.
      • I can persist when I struggle.
      • I can collaborate with others to learn together.
      • I can communicate what I know and what I want to know.

Next week, our wonderful 4th grade team begins “I can…” work.  Hmm…this seems to be spreading.

Will writing learning targets in the voice of the learner rather than the teacher help all interested parties focus on the learning rather than the teaching? Can we spread the “I can…” bug?  Will we strive to be contagious?


Conzemius, Anne; O’Neill, Jan. The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2006. Print.


  1. so, I smelled popcorn in the faculty lounge today, and heart bubbled up with missing you…

    Hope and trust you are WELL, wonderful Jilly — and spreading as much goodness to Trinity as you did to the W. WE MISS YOU.


  2. Thank you, my friend! I miss you all very much. I am very excited about the work here at Trinity. The faculty work together as very high functioning teams. I go home happy and fulfilled by the work and the new relationships. Love you!


  3. We can! Back in the classroom after a (too) long hiatus and writing “I can” statements for our World Cultures geography unit with my amazing colleagues. I was heartened to read your post and hear about this exciting work going on at Trinity. Thank you for your leadership here (W), there (T), and everywhere (WWW). We’re still due for lunch.


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