Tool for the Field

Helping Students Meet Learning Targets

Learning targets are brief, clear statements of what students are expected to be able to learn from an upcoming lesson or set of lessons.  The webinar gave an example of a learning target for students in the primary grades:

I can list and describe the eight planets in our solar system.

This learning target offers a good start in helping students understand what is expected of them. Learning targets, including this one, do not typically offer enough information to enable students to understand fully what is expected of them.  For example, in meeting the above learning target, answers to the following questions might vary from classroom to classroom or from student to student:

Would students be expected to write the list or simply say it?
If they are to write the list, do they need to spell the names of the planets correctly?
Are they to list the planets in a particular order?  (Some curriculum standards require students to learn the order of the planets in distance from the sun.)

The students might have even more questions about this learning target, such as . . .

How much detail is needed to describe the planets?
Will we be expected to tell what color each planet is?
Will we be asked to describe each planet’s size relative to other planets?
Will we be expected to tell each planet’s relative distance from the sun?

For any learning target that students are using, you might work with the teacher to help the students understand the target by asking them to think of questions they have about what is to be learned or done. Discuss possible answers to those questions with the students to be sure they’re clear about what the learning target really means.

If the teacher thinks it would be helpful, you might work with the students to make a checklist they can use to be sure they’re approaching the learning target in the way the teacher expects.  For example, for the learning target above, a checklist like the following one could be helpful to some students.

Checklist for Learning Target

Learning Target: “I can list and describe the eight planets in our solar system”

______I can name all eight planets.
______I can name the eight planets in order, from closest to the sun to farthest from the sun.
______I can write the names of the eight planets in order, from closest to the sun to farthest from the sun.
______I can write the correct spelling of the names of the planets.
______I can write a paragraph telling each planet’s color, size compared to the other planets, relative distance from the sun, and number of moons.

This type of checklist can also be used as a starting point for creating a detailed assignment sheet. For some students, having a detailed set of instructions improves the likelihood that they will meet expectations for performance of the assigned work. A detailed assignment sheet might include a grading rubric along with detailed step-by-step instructions for completing the work.