To be an effective teacher, you must choose and communicate learning goals with your students. A learning goal explains to students what they will know or be able to do at the conclusion of the lesson or unit of study. Learning goals should be communicated in language easily accessible to your students.
Learning Goals Defined
Learning goals are often confused with learning activities. In his masterful book, The Art and Science of Teaching, Robert Marzano articulates the difference between a learning goal and a learning activity.
“As the name implies, activities are things students do (emphasis added)…activities are a critical part of effective teaching. They constitute the means by which the ends or learning goals are accomplished. However, they are not learning goals.” (p. 17)
Let’s compare teaching to traveling. The learning goal is your final destination. The activities are the roads you will travel to get from here to there.
Lead with Learning Goals
Why are learning goals so essential to becoming an effective teacher? Because a teacher is a leader – someone who leads her students into new discoveries and areas of skill. Without knowing exactly where you want to go, you will be haphazard in your approach, never really knowing if your lessons will make a difference or not. Your students don’t have that kind of time to waste.
Your first priority when writing your lesson is determining the final outcome. How will students demonstrate their mastery or knowledge to you at the end of the lesson or unit? Be very specific. Don’t get distracted by the cute patterns and fun activities at this stage of your lesson design. There’s nothing wrong with those, but remember – that’s the road, not the final destination. Save it for later.
Once you know the purpose for your lesson, consider how you will share that information with your students. They need to know what it is you expect them to know or be able to do when you’re finished teaching. Many schools are adopting the use of “I can…” statements to share their learning goals with students in a way that is meaningful to them. Post them somewhere in your classroom where everyone can see them. As a teacher, they make great reminders for me as to the purpose of each lesson and help me make the most of my precious instructional time.
Measure Your Progress
Determine how you will measure students’ progress toward the learning goal. These are commonly called formative assessments, and their purpose is to provide feedback to both you and the students. The data collected from such a tool lets you know as the teacher how effective your instruction was towards achieving the stated learning goal. This is priceless information! When you share the data with your students, it lets them know how close they are to mastering the objective.
Make It Visual
I’m learning to use charts with my students to help them visually understand the progress they are making in class. I’ve also had them record their scores on math tests so they can measure their growth. Seeing one’s success over time is very motivating. It just feels good to know that your hard work is paying off. In the day-to-day routines of each school day, it can be easy to lose sight of how far you’ve come. A lot of growth occurs in small, incremental steps, often with a few backward steps every now than then. Using charts literally keeps the big picture in front of you and gives you the inspirational fuel to keep going.
Ask yourself, “What do I want my students to know or be able to do at the end of this lesson?” The more clearly you can answer that question, the more purposeful your lesson will be.