Students do better when they know what to expect from lessons. A good introduction to a lesson might be provided in lots of ways. Two common methods for introducing lessons are called “learning targets” and “advance organizers.” Both let students know what’s coming. They do it in different ways.
- Learning targets communicate specific, short-term goals. These targets can be reached fairly quickly—within days or even hours.
- Advance organizers preview the main points of lesson or series of lessons. They do this with descriptions that might be verbal (spoken or written) or graphic (pictures).
The idea behind learning targets is simple. It’s about knowing why we’re doing something. As they begin a lesson, students should know why they are learning the material in the lesson. Doing this might sound like common sense, but it doesn’t always happen.
At the beginning of a lesson, the teacher posts the learning target where students can see it. Then the teacher briefly discusses the target. The discussion should remind students what they already know about the content of the lesson. And during the lesson, the teacher can refer to the learning target. Referring back to the target helps students stay focused on the purpose of what they’re doing.
Learning targets are sometimes called “I can” statements. That’s because they use the phrase “I can” (do something). In the primary grades, a learning target for science might be “I can name and describe the eight planets in our solar system.”
Advance organizers are diagrams, bulleted lists, charts, outlines, or texts used with students at the start of a lesson. In whatever form they are presented, advance organizers preview the main concepts or skills. Think of an advance organizer as a brief lesson-before-the-lesson. It provides a framework for the content. It’s a kind of preview.
The advance organizer sets up a framework in three ways:
- It connects the new ideas or skills to ideas or skills the students have already learned.
- It briefly explains the new ideas or skills.
- It points out key connections between new ideas and skills.
Whether it is text, an outline, a map, or a picture, the advance organizer helps students understand, remember, and apply the ideas and skills in the lesson. There’s an important point to remember. The more complex and unfamiliar the new ideas, the more important the advance organizer is to student learning.
The importance of an advance organizer depends on students’ experience and existing knowledge. Students with less experience and knowledge about the content need advance organizers even more than other students do! Otherwise the lesson will seem difficult and confusing.
In this light, it’s good to know that advance organizers can take many forms. Graphic organizers, in particular, help students with visual and spatial talents that surpass their talent with words. Parapros can be of great help here. They can find and make a variety of advance organizers. That way, they can help several different types of students in a classroom.
To summarize, learning targets and advance organizers orient students to a lesson. Learning targets specify what students are going to learn. Advance organizers preview the content by showing how it fits together and how it connects to other content. They help make facts, ideas, and skills more meaningful as a lesson gets underway.
udents to understand the new content and skills more readily as well as to remember and apply them better than they would have without the preview the organizer provides.
Illustration: What an Advance Organizer Presents