Do you know where your students’ learning is going? Do you know what you truly want them to learn each day? What is the purpose of your lesson? Let’s hope it’s not to just fill in a worksheet or to simply complete the next lesson in the curriculum guide. Asking these types of questions, and considering your intent, is what many educators are wondering about these days. It stems from the thought that we should be teaching with purpose and with that purpose, we should be able to set goals or targets for learning. In doing so, we should teach with clearer intent and the students might learn with deeper understanding, and they may take better ownership of their learning.
Laurence Peter said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” How often do we start a lesson and end up talking about and/or teaching something different? You know, when a student asks a question that takes the lesson to a whole new place. Or when something in the lesson reminds you of something important and you veer off track. Or maybe something happens as you walk around after initial instruction and you realize that your students need some re-teaching or redirection. These “bird-walks” – as I’ve heard some referred them to – can be better that the original lesson; and they can also detract from the needs of the students.
When we teach with intent to reach a target, our work is more focused and precise. We keep our eyes on the goal and move in. When students know what this target is, research says that they will have a better chance of meeting it.
In my school district we call these Learning Targets. They are:
- derived from and based on the grade level standards
- linked clearly to the previous lesson
- building on other targets
- enhancing learning
- based on students’ learning needs – academic, background, experiences, culture, language, etc.
- communicated through verbal and visual strategies
The students should be able to understand how the lesson builds on or is related to other lessons. They should also be able to answer the questions, “What are you learning today?” Using the learning target they should be able to explain their learning and not just tell the questioner what they are doing? For instance, instead of answering with, “We’re reading this text and answering the questions.” They could answer with, “We’re learning how to find things in the text that are new and surprising to us.”
Everyone in the classroom or small group should understand and aim for the same target. It’s the Target that provides clear direction.
When planning our next lesson and writing a good learning target, we might ask ourselves some guiding questions.
- What did the students learn yesterday?
- How well did they learn it?
- Where are they confused?
- What can they use meaningfully?
- Where is their learning heading in upcoming lessons?
After answering these questions, you should have a better understanding of where your students’ learning is going. Then you can plan a more purposeful lesson; remembering that a lesson should never ask students to just do more of the same. When you plan your lesson, the task should fit the target perfectly and make the target crystal clear. If the students aren’t required to do a task that deepens their understanding during the lesson, their responses tend to be vague when asked, “What are you learning today?”
After teaching the lesson, reflect on the following:
- Did my students deepen their understanding of the essential content and skills?
- What evidence do I have that supports my conclusion about what the students knew or where able to do?
- As a result of today’s lesson, what do I want them to learn and be able to do?
- Why is it important that they achieve this new learning?
- What will they be able to do as a result of having gained this learning?
How the students’ answer should be equivalent to the Learning Target. When students use the learning targets it helps them take ownership of their learning. This helps them understand the importance of why they are learning it. Your teaching will have demonstrated its purpose and your work will be more focused.