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Learning Targets

download_pdf_smIn the Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI) Model, curriculum is written in terms of outcomes – what the students should know and be able to do at the conclusion of a unit of instruction. Teachers in districts using the CLI Model know that those outcomes should be shared with students at the beginning of instruction. How would students know when they’ve met expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are? Along those same lines, some educators prefer to use the term learning targets – meaning “something students aim for in their learning.” A target is a familiar term for students, so they relate to it quite well. Usually no distinction is made for targets in regards to range or size; the term may refer to an outcome (a full unit of instruction) or a component (a specific skill or concept within a unit). So, as we use the term here, keep in mind that it may represent a single day’s lesson, or several weeks of instruction for a full unit.

What is a target? Learning targets are not teacher objectives, which are written in terms of what the teacher does. For those objectives, educators often use language derived from educational standards, and that language may not be student-friendly. In order to assure standards are met, teachers need to translate them into student-friendly terms, and present them as “targets” posed from the student’s perspective. Then, students will be able to describe what they are learning, evaluate their own progress, and describe how close they are to “hitting the target” at any point during the lessons.

Why do students need targets? Consider traveling as an analogy. When traveling, a clear sense of direction is necessary to make it to the destination. Travelers plot out the course, locate stopping points for fuel and rest, and gauge the approximate amount of time it will take for the total trip. The pathway for success in achieving a learning target takes a similar course. Students should know their final destination from the start of the trip. They should be aware of what it is going to take in order to get there and the amount of time involved. Research tells us student learning increases when students know their target ahead of time. Planning their “learning trip” helps students share responsibility for their learning and allows them to focus on the tasks at hand. As an added benefit, students become better decision makers in the process!

How is the learning target shared with students? Ideally, the learning target needs to be presented so students can both see and hear it. Expectations can be announced at the introduction of a lesson and displayed in writing on the board or in another semi-permanent location. Following specific target identification, teachers should make it clear to students why they are learning this new information and how the learning relates to the world around them.

What else? Teachers need to assure that assignments leading up to an assessment directly match the learning target. Providing descriptive feedback on those assignments usually results in the greatest gains in student learning. Also, throughout the instructional process, each required step of the target should be clarified with criteria for success. If the criteria are described in simple checklists, then students should be shown the checklists so they can mark off the items themselves to evaluate their own work. Likewise, if a rubric is to be used for student evaluation, it should be shared with students at the beginning of instruction, and students should use it themselves to evaluate their work as they progress.

Students are important stakeholders in their own learning. If we expect them to get positive results, then they must have their eyes on the target and educators must teach them how to aim for success.