I’m back from attending my third Powerful Learning Conference at Lake of the Ozarks. This one was much better than last year…mostly because I did not sign up for four sessions about data collection and analysis! I’m not against data, but I need it in small doses and not marathon sessions.
Targets versus Goals
One session I attended was about how to use learning targets and feedback to improve student learning. The presenters clarified two definitions that I had previously used interchangeably – learning target and learning goal. A learning target is a small, lesson-size chunk of information you want students to learn that day. A learning goal, however, is what you want students to know by the end of the overall lesson even if that “lesson” took several days to teach. These are more than just objectives. Those are for us, the teachers, but learning goals and targets involve both teachers and students. They provide a clear purpose for a lesson and students who know what they are supposed to learn often succeed.
Learning Target Example
I’m getting ready to teach my students about data analysis. My learning goal that I want students to achieve by the end is to read and construct different types of charts/graphs displaying data. There’s no way I can get that done in a 60-minute period with my 4th graders in a single day. So, I break it down into daily sessions with each session taking us one step closer to the goal. Learning targets would include being able to identify different types of charts, explaining which chart/graph is best to display different data sets, collecting data to display visually before culminating in the creation of our own charts and graphs.
Getting From Here to There
The real impact of learning goals and targets is how teachers can use them to provide specific feedback that elevates a student’s performance level. Your strongest students, for the most part, actively seek your feedback. They have strategies for soliciting a response from the teacher that lets them know if they are on the right track. But struggling students often lack these feedback strategies. We must be more intentional about providing all our students with sufficient feedback that they can answer these questions:
- Where am I now?
- Where am I going?
- How can I get there?
It may seem overwhelming to answer the last question – sometimes there are so many corrections that need to be made by a student! That’s where the learning targets come into play. Feedback should use the language of the learning target to let students know if they are close to achieving the target, or if not, how to get there.
Feedback can be as simple as short statements such as the following stems…
- You are good at…(Good at what? Be specific using the language of the learning target.)
- I like how you…
- You did this, but you didn’t do that…
- Here’s what you did well…, and this is what you could improve on…
Research shows that students will seek feedback…if not from you, then from their peers who may not always give them accurate responses. Our students want to do well. Success feels good. I’m going to look for small, yet specific ways I can help my students through the use of feedback based on our daily learning targets.