The Behavioral Objective — in Profiling: The Arizona Law — in Teacher Evaluation

A human being has three major “realms” of behavior: emotional, intellectual, physical. Feeling, thinking, doing. Heart, mind, kinesthesis (the ability to feel and command movements of the limbs and body in acts or activity).

As a teacher of teachers, I asked the students to make lesson plans. At the head of the plan, the student was asked to write behavioral objectives specifying the outcome of any teaching/learning process, the final result, the bottom line, so the speak. Asking them to convert a lesson teaching toward a certain behavior into specific behavioral outcomes was a very difficult task for them. Especially for teaching speech communication skills. What are the behaviors of communication skills that are overt and observable, so that the teacher can observe the result, the change from a pre-test to a post-test examination? That’s what teachers do, change behavior. Nearly all the time they are changing only intellectual behavior as assessed in a paper-pencil test. “Who was buried in Grant’s tomb?”

Each student over the course of communication training ends up with a behavioral profile, given all the criteria by which communication skills are assessed. And there are very, very many verbal and nonverbal variables or criteria to be applied. To make a judgment, the teacher has to have mastered them all. Mastered not in the teacher’s own performance —never should a teacher hold the level of student performance to the level of the teacher’s performance, for it is the student’s duty to try to exceed that level— but mastered in the sense of the teacher’s knowledge of what criteria there are in that body of knowledge, which, for communication, began being codified by the ancient Greeks.

Each subject for study in the school curriculum has its body of knowledge which teachers convert into criteria for mastery and assessment. The behavioral objectives for mathematics, science, history, physical education, and so forth, must be written.

We know that there are behavioral profilers now in many airports making assessments of all who walk through the gates to get on an airplane. They are looking for would-be terrorists. They have studied “reading” people for the give-aways in verbal and nonverbal behaviors that mean a person will be pulled aside for further scrutiny. One example is the irrepressible micro-momentary facial display of unusual tension in and around the eyes, requiring training to see its fleeting presence. There are a number of such displays. Air safety is in that training. But they recently missed one, the bomb-in-the-pants terrorist, but he was missed also by pre-boarding procedures. Some people not being very astute, observant.

The Special Case of Arizona Law

The law in Arizona just passed requires police officers to arrest people who they “believe” are illegal immigrants. The people who wrote the law did not write the behavioral objective for officers who will be making the arrests. By what verbal and nonverbal behaviors will the officers be able to make a Constitutional arrest? “Oh, they’ll know one when they see one!” So say the authors of that law. The law was conceived out of a real and desperate need of people who are frightened and in need of help. The law was written out of gross ignorance of the need to write behavioral guidelines for the arresting officer. The governor, signing that law, asserted its Constitutionality. She knew not what she was doing.

(In my view, the Senator from that state, John McCain, should have been the logical one closest to the Arizona border-problem to write and introduce the law on the national scene for the benefit of the people in Arizona and for all the states united. John McCain had nothing to say but blame for Pres. Obama. What a sorry performance! He should be retired.)

“Show me your papers!” Forgeries? What are the tests, there, on the spot, who knows?

If you have to profile, then what does an illegal immigrant look like? What does an illegal immigrant do that Americans do not do? What does an American do that an “Illegal” does not do? Or how dress? Or how speak? Or think? Or feel? What qualifies the arresting officer to make such crucial, CONSTITUTIONAL judgments there, on the spot, at that moment?

The chances for constitutional error are much, much greater than are the chances for success in arresting one “illegal”. The history and precedent of freedom of speech cases has been a long one. Remember the attempts to define “porn”? Came down to “I’ll know it when I see it.” So we would have to carry that “knower” around with us all the time to tell us what we need to know before getting into trouble over “porn”.

When you write the law, you have to write the behavioral objective, for the benefit of the law enforcer. Bad laws never do that. Arizona’s is a bad law. Unenforceable. Bad lawmakers do not write the behavioral objectives.

The Special Case of Assessing Teaching Performance

Teaching performance has become the focus of citizens and administrators who want to improve public schools education. Teaching performance is going under the microscope and under the knife. Teaching careers are being subjected more and more to improvement mandates or else. This is a case very similar to the Arizona situation. Those who are going to be required to judge teaching behavior and assessing its quality are people who probably are not knowledgeable about the teacher’s field of study. Judges of teaching performance are in the same place as those police officers required by law to arrest illegal immigrants on the basis of — WHAT? Given a class of learners, what is a teacher to do if the learners have not been themselves pre-assessed to be apt learners, free of serious living and family problems and health or native intelligence impediments, equipped with the intelligence capable of learning the subject matter?

Teachers who do not write the behavioral objective for each area of study may have poor teacher evaluations, and if such teachers are given time to improve, the one best thing they can do is to write out a complete set of behavioral objectives for the courses they teach. With those, the responsible evaluator of that teacher may be better able to determine the quality of the teaching.


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  9. […] The Behavioral Objective — in Profiling: The Arizona Law — in Teacher Evaluation April 20102 comments 4 […]

  10. I absolutely agree. A behavioral objective must describe the observable behavior. If that is done clearly and with thought, it’s easy to collect objective data on those behaviors, track changes over time, and track the fidelity of teaching practices and their effectiveness on changing the observable behavior.

    I wrote a software program to make that data collection easy with the intention of using it as I observed classroom teachers and student teachers. Over the last 10 years that has evolved into a commercial program with over 200 tools available in versions for building administrators, special education, and ESL instruction. The eCOVE Observation Software has turned out to be a real contribution to the efforts by providing a factual basis for comparison. The data helps compare research outcomes to the local school, the efforts of the teacher to be consistent, and the behavior of the students over time.

    This simple addition to the planning and professional discussion process is very effective in minimizing personal conflicts, while clearly identifying areas of need and success.

    I’m really not trying to make a commercial pitch here. Use anything you’d like to gather objective data (not checklists or likert scales of observer judgment/opinion/impression), and improved discussions will be the result. Technology make it easier, but it’s not really required.

    I’m happy to talk about the data-based observation model further ( or you can explore on your own (

    Peace, John Tenny, Ph.D.
    [JFD responds to John]
    Hello, John! Thank you for your comment. You have something that will have many uses, as I see them. More power to you! Your systematized data collection–if I were still training teachers, I would look into it. My empirical method was turning over to the student teacher or methods student the task of writing a description of behaviors sought as targets of teaching. Those we’d discuss as sharpening perception, like sharpening a pencil to write a fine line.
    I am surprised all the time by the kind of people who are talking about behavior, dealing in human actions, but have no concept of describing what they are talking about in physically “concrete”, descriptive terms, even the overt manifestations of covert activity.

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