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TSWBAT—The Key to Fruitfulness in Education
By Inge P. Cannon

This past summer brought me to the six-decade mile marker in my life. I could hardly believe the time had passed so quickly, and I found it even harder to believe that I had spent two-thirds of those years working as a professional educator. I’ve seen many trends come and go, but the bottom line has remained amazingly constant: that is, effective education is grounded in truth, requires the exercise of personal discipline (both on the part of the teacher and the learner), demonstrates productive achievement with appropriate actions and attitudes, and ultimately glorifies the Creator. The learning process is supposed to be life-changing, and its fruitfulness is supposed to benefit the people God brings into our lives.

Fruitfulness is a principle God has built into His world. He ordained it from the Garden of Eden through the New Testament. The laws of the harvest—sowing and reaping—are inescapable. Consider the farmer. He knows what will grow best where. He decides what he will plant. He selects the best seeds available and prepares the soil carefully. He applies everything he has learned from his own experience to the cultivation process. His timing and responses to the circumstances of the environment are designed to nurture growth, even though there are many possibilities he cannot control. He works patiently and consistently with confidence in the fact that he will reap in due season. He evaluates the crop often to determine what might be done to improve it. He trains himself to use new equipment and seeks counsel from wise farmers so that greater fruitfulness might result in seasons to come.

The analogies we could draw between that farmer and the work of teaching children are many. We need to know our students well, discern what knowledge needs to be planted in what order, select quality seed (content or information), and carefully prepare the soil of the heart and mind for the training experiences (motivation). We then supervise the learning process patiently and consistently (methods) and continually examine the results to ensure healthy and productive plants (assessment). It is a task that demands faith and diligence. It is also a task that is never completely done—though it does change venues during various seasons of life.

Peter puts the process in spiritual perspective when he writes to fellow believers:

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5–8)

The acquisition of knowledge should be protected within the boundaries of faith and virtue, and the fruit of that acquisition should demonstrate growth in a person’s character and ability to minister to others.

So what are the implications of this truth in the “horticulture” of home education? In the world of conventional education, we train teachers to write learning objectives that specify what they expect students to achieve as a result of instruction. These are consistent with the goals of the curriculum, clearly stated, measurable, realistic, doable, and appropriate for the level of the learner.

The rationale behind preparing specific learning objectives is threefold:

1. Specific objectives improve the focus of instruction. Both teacher and student are more likely to get the job done when all the necessary materials and equipment are available and the required preparation is complete.

2. Specific objectives improve the accuracy of assessment and grading. Since the conditions of performance and the level of achievement are clearly outlined, the subjective element in evaluation is minimized.

3. Specific objectives can help teachers expand the breadth and depth of education by highlighting what is and is not being accomplished. One of the greatest points of vulnerability in planning educational tasks is the habit of simply assigning pages to be read and questions to be answered at the end of each chapter. It’s easy to emphasize only the kinds of tests and quizzes that can be quantified with a percentage and averaged to produce a final grade to the exclusion of identifying practical experiences that encourage students to apply their knowledge. Assigning “busy work” rather than “worthy work” is a challenge for every teacher.

TSWBAT: The Student Will Be Able To…
The formula for writing a learning objective calls to mind the architecture of an arch in which the keystone applies the driving force to hold the structure in place. The pillars in this case are the instruction or experience provided, and how the student demonstrates mastery. The arch between the pillars is labeled TSWBAT—an acronym for “The Student Will Be Able To.”

Examples of Learning Objectives
• Given instruction about proper concert etiquette, the student will be able to (TSWBAT) attend a symphony program and demonstrate attentive listening, enthusiastic response by timely applause, appropriate posture during the program, and 50% recall of facts from the program notes.

• Given a demonstration of how to frost a cake, TSWBAT assemble the layers with designated fillings and cover the top and sides to achieve an attractive dessert presentation.

• Given 10 hours of supervised practice with appropriate coaching, TSWBAT parallel park a minivan with three maneuvers: stop, back into place, and pull forward to straighten.

When teachers take time to think through an educational task and describe the outcome or “fruit” (e.g., TSWBAT), the style and tools for the evaluation process are usually obvious. For example, when considering cognitive skills, our first goal is to know. Since knowledge is defined as “remembering previously learned information,” the TSWBAT bridge could lead to actions such as these: recall, recite, list, name, repeat, etc.


Comprehension goes further since it involves the ability to grasp meaning. Here a student might demonstrate achievement by translating material from one form to another (words or numbers), by interpreting material (explaining or summarizing), and by estimating future trends (predicting consequences or effects). This could be done with essays, speeches, role play, charts and diagrams, debate, or simple discussion.

The more important the learning task is to you, the more attention you’re going to want to pay to enabling your child to apply information (cognitive achievement) to attitude development and physical productivity. Observation with a carefully crafted checklist in hand is your best tool for evaluation for these responses.  The list doesn’t have to be long, but identifying a few specific external behaviors that demonstrate growth as a result of your training will be very encouraging to you and to your child.

What can the student do as a result of what he/she knows? This is the core question in measuring the student’s ability to be “fruitful.” Whether the task is as simple as baking the cake after we have learned all the necessary measurement terminology and know how to spell the ingredient list or as complex as inventing a new “machine” to establish the hypothesis for a science experiment, “doing” is a very necessary complement to “knowing.” This is the heart of apprenticeship training, music lessons, and athletic skill development—learning how to produce a product or render a service under the watchful eye of a caring expert. The evaluation process here is most likely going to require a rubric/list that itemizes various components of the task and assigns appropriate value to each.

It may seem that TWSBAT objectives are a bit pedantic and that the “fruitfulness” designations are awkward or even artificial. But I guarantee that the mental exercise of identifying what you really want to accomplish in your children’s lives on a lesson-by-lesson (or unit-by-unit) basis will reinforce your confidence as a teacher and encourage you to pray more specifically about your educational priorities. Summarizing your list of specific TWSBAT objectives would also make it possible to create a quarterly evaluation tool (report card or progress report) that does more than simply list a letter for each general topic area in your curriculum.

The following sample provides some ideas for generating such a quarterly report for a child ages 9-11 or who is studying 4th – 6th grade material. You can indicate a traditional letter grade (A-B-C-D, etc.) next to the subject title and use a rating system (such as 1-2-3, etc. or Excellent, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory, etc.) to indicate specific achievement levels that reflect the criteria you established with your TWSBAT objectives.

Following are examples of basic starting points for each subject; these could be lengthened according to your own learning objectives.

The child will be able to:

Participate in family (class) discussion
Recite Bible memory work accurately
Discern truth vs. error / wisdom vs. foolishness
Apply Bible knowledge in practical ways


Writes neatly and legibly
Demonstrates consistency in slant and letter formation
Practices good posture
Applies handwriting skills to other subjects

English Grammar

Demonstrates knowledge of sentence mechanics
Completes worksheets in a timely and thorough manner
Edits written work effectively
Applies grammar skills to other subjects in spoken and written communication

Comprehends passages read silently
Applies deductive and inferential reasoning skills
Discerns intellectual, moral, and spiritual issues
Shows initiative in selecting challenging reading materials

Memorizes spelling words from assigned lists
Demonstrates retention of spelling skills in other written assignments
Uses spelling skills efficiently in dictionary and research applications
Identifies Latin and Greek roots in English vocabulary

Knows math facts and understands concepts
Computes accurately and solves word problems
Applies math vocabulary and concepts to daily living (e.g., measurement, comparison, time, money, metrics, shapes, sequence, etc.)
Completes worksheets in a timely and thorough manner

Participates in class discussion
Demonstrates growing awareness of scientific knowledge
Completes projects in a timely and thorough manner
Appreciates and respects God’s design in Creation

Demonstrates timeline and mapping skills
Differentiates major eras of history and cultural distinctions
Applies understanding of historical concepts in projects
Articulates an understanding of God’s sovereignty in historical developments

Maintains steady rhythm
Understands musical concepts
Identifies musical notation
Listens carefully to music and performs enthusiastically

Physical Education
Displays growth in locomotor skills
Demonstrates growth in coordination
Shows muscular strength and endurance
Improves flexibility

Start by thinking through just the next month of your training. Identify the content areas or subjects each child is studying. List one or two goals—achievable and measurable—in TSWBAT terms. What will be mastered? What formulas must be memorized? How will the student demonstrate comprehension? What attitudes do you want to see formed or reinforced? What should the child be able to produce in a tangible way? Then ask yourself, What training do I need to provide to cultivate the “fruit” I want to see? Finally, write down what you consider to be an outstanding demonstration of achievement vs. an adequate one. In other words, ask yourself, How will I know that the student has succeeded? This is the secret to accurate evaluation and forms the foundation for the next month’s (or quarter’s) plans.

Believe it or not, the process of viewing educational tasks in this manner can become as automatic as being able to get dinner on the table with all hot items hot and all cold items cold at the time you’ve decided to serve the meal. That took some practice too when you first started!

Inge Cannon has served the homeschool movement for twenty-five years and is currently the executive director of Education PLUS, a publishing and teaching ministry dedicated to helping home-educating parents maximize the benefits of a tutorial lifestyle in their families. She is the author/seminar instructor of Transcript boot camp on DVD, a thorough four-hour presentation about high school planning and transcript documentation. Her TranscriptPro software gives the professional edge to every parent and is extremely easy to use. Details are available at and

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Spring 2010.
Used with permission. Visit them at


 By Inge Cannon

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