The Heart of Every Lesson
For lessons to come to life in the classroom, they must emanate from the heart. Philadelphia consulting teacher Michelle Shields believes Learning Objectives are the heart of every lesson. They give a purpose to learning. They are the foundations for lesson planning. Objectives provide the criteria for evaluating student achievement.
She says, “Objectives ensure learning is focused so students have a sense of purpose to learning and know what is expected of them.”
A Philadelphia Consulting Teacher
We met Michelle Shields while working with the new teachers in the School District of Philadelphia in August 2010. She was in the audience as one of the consulting teachers, directed to work with new teachers and teachers who have received unsatisfactory ratings the previous year in the elementary, middle, and high schools. She was there to listen to our presentation and provide follow up and guidance to the teachers under her charge.
During the course of the day, Michelle introduced herself to us and explained the school district’s concept of a consulting teacher. Click here to learn more. After years in the classroom, Michelle was asked to work with teachers on her Learning Objectives method. This was a natural fit as Michelle had presented this topic at regional meetings. Now, she was being asked to use her expertise to help teachers improve their instructional practices.
The research of John Hattie says:
Simply tell students what they will be learning before the lesson begins
and you can raise student achievement as much as 27 percent.
A Learning Objective states what a student will be able to do once he or she has completed instruction. It is a specific, measurable, short-term, observable student behavior. Writing and implementing Learning Objectives in your classroom can have a major impact on the success of your students.
Julie Johnson, a teacher in Minnesota says, “There is no secret as to what is expected of them. When I do this they all succeed.”
As we say in The First Days of School, “If students know what they are to learn, you greatly increase the chances that the students will learn.” The concept of using objectives to serve as a learning target can be found in Chapter 21 in The First Days of School.
Michelle says, “My teachers are writing and implementing the objectives and seeing great progress . . . telling students exactly what they expect (student outcomes) means that students have direction and are more on task!”
Michelle believes the more clear and detailed the objectives are, the more likely students will succeed. Learning Objectives are the heart of every lesson. Objectives give a purpose to learning. They are the foundations for lesson planning. And they provide criteria for evaluating student achievement.
A Learning Objective is a statement that tells the student:
- What specific knowledge or skill is desired, and
- What method of instruction and criteria for achievement are required for success.
Michelle’s teachers who use Learning Objectives with their instruction say, not only do students improve academically, but behavior problems significantly decrease. She attributes this to students knowing exactly what is expected of them, before the lesson even begins. Students do not have to interrupt the lesson for clarification of what is acceptable work. They know what they are supposed to do, the conditions in which they are to do it, and the desired outcome.
Students are not only taught information, but they are taught how to succeed.
Objectives Are Not Goals
Michelle teaches the difference between a Learning Objective and a Goal. The terms are not interchangeable. A Learning Objective is not the same as a Goal.
A Goal is a broad statement of a desired outcome. It explains
- general intentions,
- non-specific achievements, and
- is usually long term.
A goal might be to “understand,” to “acquire knowledge,” to “develop skills,” or to “appreciate.”
A Learning Objective is a specific statement of observable behaviors which can be evaluated and which contribute to reaching the general goal.
- is one of several specific performances,
- ultimately leads to reaching the goal,
- is measurable, and
- can be validated.
A Learning Objective is something specific you want the students to do. A Goal consists of numerous objectives that must be reached to achieve the outcome.
A Girl Scout’s Goal might be to sell the most boxes of cookies and win a trip to space camp. Her Learning Objective would be to sell 50 boxes her first week. Her next Learning Objective might be to sell another 50 boxes the next week, then 100 boxes at her aunt’s wedding, and so on. Each Learning Objective is a small, specific behavior or building block, which ultimately leads to reaching the final goal.
Writing a Learning Objective
Michelle has created a four-part formula for writing a successful Learning Objective:
Who is your audience?
Who are you writing the Learning Objectives for?
What is the behavior you are looking for?
What do you expect your audience to do?
What is the verb that represents the behavior?
What are the conditions of the behavior?
How should students do it?
What tools will they be given to achieve success?
What are the criteria you will use to measure success?
To what degree should the behavior be done?
Using this formula a Learning Objective could be:
Given a list of meteorological terms at the end of the lesson, the student will be
able to accurately explain what each term means in two or three sentences.
After watching the debate, the student will be able to write a one page argument in
favor of the topic.
Given a character in a piece of literature and several cartoons:
- the student will select a cartoon character whose traits resemble that of a
- the student will be able to list five major personality traits of the two characters and share two key differences.
- the student will develop a short storyboard (of no more than 10 scenes) for amovie script that illustrates how the cartoon character would interact in the movie version of the story, including other characters as needed.
When sharing Learning Objectives with students, Michelle suggests writing them in terms of “You” will be able to and not “The student” will be able to. Using “You” keeps the objective personal and friendly.
Create with the End in Mind
A Learning Objective is always written with an end goal in mind. Work backwards. First, identify the overall goal. Then write each Learning Objective as a step towards reaching the goal.
Writing a Learning Objective will help you select content, develop an instructional strategy, develop instructional materials, and construct tests and assessments that are congruent to the Objective. Therefore, they must be developed, planned, and written after the Learning Objective has been written and always with the Learning Objective in mind.
The first step of writing a Learning Objective is to determine your audience. What level of student is this designed for? What learning styles will work best for them? What are the specific needs of this group of students?
Learning Objectives focus on student performance and not teacher performance.
In a Learning Objective, unlike a Goal, the verb describes a specific and observable behavior.
Michelle says, “We ultimately want students to appreciate and understand, but those verbs are not observable and measurable. Include verbs like construct, compare, illustrate. Verbs that are measurable.”
The choice of a verb is very important. As you look at the behavior portion of your Objective, focus on cognitive domain action words. These are verbs that describe a performance.
A list of verbs that show actions can also be found on pages 236 and 237 in The First Days of School.
Michelle says, “If the verb used in stating the objective identifies observable student behavior, then the basis for a clear statement is established.”
Michelle’s third step is to specify conditions. To understand a behavior, students must also understand the context in which the behavior is to be performed.
An effective Learning Objective clarifies the conditions in which the student is expected to perform. What will the student need in order to accomplish the Objective?
These are examples of conditions students need to accomplish an Objective:
Given a set of data . . .
Using a globe . . .
After examining the bacteria . . .
Working in groups of three . . .
Conditions can also be used to give students limitations:
Without the use of a calculator . . .
In one minute . . .
Without your notes . . .
The conditions of an Objective state the circumstances, tools, materials, and references needed for the student to begin work on the behavior.
A Learning Objective states the criteria by which the student will be assessed. A Learning Objective must be measurable. Percentages are difficult to measure and are not as useful to a student as criteria that is measured in quantity.
These are some examples of clear and measurable criteria:
Write at least three . . .
Identify all . . .
Revise two . . .
Incorporate one . . .
When a clear criterion is given, students know exactly what they need to do to achieve the Learning Objective and they are more likely to be successful at achieving it.
Aligning Objectives, Instruction, and Assessment
With your lesson’s Learning Objectives written, the next step is to align them with the rest of your curriculum. Objectives are congruent with the instruction, learning activities, and the assessment. Develop your instructional strategies, materials for instruction, and assessment tools after the Learning Objectives for a lesson are established.
This is an example Michelle shares with her teachers:
“Common sense says, if the Objective is centered around problem solving, then instruction and learning activities demonstrate problem solving.
“Assessment occurs on the problem solving level as well.
“If the Objective is centered around problem solving and students are assessed on problem solving, but instruction and activities deal only with lower levels of learning, such as concepts, then students will most likely not be successful on assignments and assessments.”
Objectives Are for Students
Introduce the Learning Objective before the lesson begins. Clarify each component to the students—the specific behavior, the conditions, and the desired outcome. Tell students up front what they are going to learn, how they are going to learn it, and how they will be assessed to see if they have succeeded in learning it.
Provide students with a copy of the Learning Objectives to refer to as the lesson progresses.
Come back to the Learning Objective as you teach.
At the end of the lesson, review the Learning Objective again in the context of the newly introduced material. Ask students to “check off” the Objective once there is agreement it is achieved. This provides a visual for students on their way to achieving the ultimate goal.
Check off the Learning Objective in your plans as well to confirm your success in teaching it to the students.
Learning Objective Pitfalls
- Your Objective is too vast. It is not specific and incorporates more than one Objective. Vast Objectives are usually Goals.
- Your Objective has false or missing behavior. The desired behavior is not clear, not measurable, or missing.
- Your Objective has false givens. The conditions and criteria are incorrect, unspecific, or missing.
- Your Objective describes your instruction. Objectives are written to measure student performance, not your teaching expertise. Objectives do not tell what the teacher will do.
- Your Objective has no true observable behavior listed to assess.
Why Use Learning Objectives
We know Learning Objectives take time to write. In fact, the longer you teach, the more you will fall into the trap of “I don’t need to use Objectives. I know what I want the students to learn.”
But, remember, Learning Objectives are not for you, they are for your students. The research of John Hattie mentioned earlier in this column bears repeating:
Simply tell students what they will be learning before the lesson begins
and you can raise student achievement as much as 27 percent.
What an incredible opportunity for students to increase their odds of success in your classroom—just give them a Learning Objective.
But let’s not stop here, you can increase the odds of your students success even more! While doing the research on Lesson Objectives, John Hattie discovered something else:
Give students a scoring guide or rubric to assess their learning
and you can raise student achievement as much as 37 percent!
Extensive research has confirmed the importance and significance of Learning Objectives as a means to increase student achievement. Our task is to provide students with every opportunity to be successful in the classroom. Knowing how to write a Learning Objective is an effective tool for you to produce successful students.
There is only one way to improve student achievement and it is not with more books, more money, more programs, smaller class sizes, longer school days, laptops for everyone . . . .
The only way to improve student achievement is with an effective teacher.
Your Learning Objectives
- After you are finished reading this column, you will be able to write a Learning Objective with all four components for a lesson you will teach to your students.
- After you have written the Learning Objectives, you will share them with your students before the lesson begins.
- While you are teaching the lesson, you will review the Learning Objectives with the class.
- At the conclusion of the lesson, you will celebrate success—your success in teaching the concept and your students' success in achieving the Objective.
- At the end of the school year, you will reflect on how something as simple as a Learning Objective can make such an enormous difference in learning for a child—and pledge to provide them with every lesson—until you retire.
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