Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chapter 2-Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson "Book Share"

Learning Targets--Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
By Connie M. Moss & Susan M. Brookhart

I highly recommend that you read this book. It will really help your understanding of what Learning Targets are and their importance.

 *I found used copies on inexpensive to purchase  ISBN  978-1-4166-1441-8

I'm going to highlight the important points that I've taken from each chapter throughout the next few weeks so I hope you follow...

Chapter 2:  How to Design Learning Targets

Mining the Instructional Objective: What Is This Lesson’s Reason to Live?

*Learning Targets use words, pictures, actions, or some combination of the three to express to students, in terms the students understand, the content and performance they are aiming for.

*Your leaning target should spring from the instructional objectives that guide a set of lessons in this particular unit of study—your learning instructional objective for the lesson should be solid, teachable, assessable, and appropriately derived from curricular goals and state standards.

*To plan effective instruction, teachers need to know three things about today’s lesson:

            1. What are the essential knowledge (facts, concepts, and generalizations or principles) and skills    (or procedures) for the lesson.
            2. What is the essential reasoning content for the lesson?
            3. What is the potential learning trajectory  (path or course) in which the lesson is situated?

***If the essential elements of the lesson are trivial, or if they do not advance learning on a trajectory toward more learning, then it is questionable whether this lesson should be taught at all. The whole concept of standards-based instruction assumes that individual lessons, over time, will amount to achievement of a larger standard.

            *Where does the lesson reside in the potential learning trajectory?
                          Ask yourself…

                        -Where are my students headed?
-What specific content (concepts and skill) must be in place to lay the foundation for the next lessons?
-What must my students learn during this lesson so they will be prepared to tackle the content and the reasoning processes in the next lesson?
-What did my students learn in previous lessons?
-What can I build on?
-What should I reteach?
-What concept can I enrich or expand?
-What should my students practice?

The following sections discuss the four steps of designing a learning target.

STEP 1:  Define the Essential Content for the Lesson

To define the essential content for the lesson, you need to have a deep understanding of the intended learning. If you find yourself able only to list the facts and concepts that students should know, without placing them into any larger learning picture, you should work on your own understanding before you try to plan instruction.

-What does your lesson-sized “chunk” of your instructional objectives look like?
-What portion or aspect of the instructional objective are you going to work on during today’s lesson? If you’re only working on part of the lesson today then you should communicate longer-range goals to students but don’t lose sight of the fact that students need a learning target for today’s lesson.

*Once YOU have a deep understanding of the instructional objective and what aspect or aspects of it you will base your lesson on, ask yourself these questions:

-What content knowledge does this lesson focus on? It should include more than facts; is should also include concepts and generalizations or principles.
-How will this particular lesson add to what students have learned in previous lessons?
-How will this lesson increase students’ understanding of the content? Will students develop a more sophisticated understanding of a concept, or will they tackle a brand-new concept?
-What skills does this lesson focus on?
-Will students learn a new skill, practice one they have yet to master, or apply a highly developed skill to a new context?

STEP 2: Define the reasoning Processes Essential for the Lesson

Ask yourself these questions:

-What thought-demanding processes will allow my students to build on what they already know and can do?
-What kinds of thinking will promote deep understanding and skill development so that students can analyze, reshape, expand, extrapolate (infer) from, apply, and build on what they already know?

STEP 3: Design a Strong Performance of Understanding

Ask yourself this question:

What performance of understanding will help my students develop their thinking skills and apply their new knowledge?
            -The performance of understanding is not the instructional objective, but it embodies and exemplifies the instructional objective, so it influences the language used in framing the learning target for students.
*A common mistake teachers make in lesson planning is to confuse learning targets with performances of understanding…
            Think of it this way…a performance of understanding provides one of a number of possible ways in which students can learn and produce evidence of what they are learning in today’s lesson.
The performance of understanding is what keeps students’ heads in the game as they work toward a learning target; from their point of view, what you ask them to do becomes inextricably bound to what they intend to learn.

STEP 4: State the Learning Target

During this step, you describe the lesson-sized chunk of learning for your class as a statement of what the students will learn and do during the lesson. Make sure that this learning target expresses, from the students’ point of view, the knowledge and skills they will be using in their performance of understanding.

An effective learning target must speak to students, express the essentials of the lesson, and provide students with a rationale for why what you are asking them to do is in fact a performance of understanding.

Stating a learning target well is a skill in itself: you must state the target in a manner that students will understand, using student-friendly language and relevant illustrations.

Use Student-Friendly Language

*Student-Friendly Language = language that students can understand

The language of learning targets should enable students to see themselves as the agents of learning. Using the first person works well: targets that start with “we” or “I” communicate to students that they are the ones who will be doing the learning.

“We are learning to…”  or “I can” statements. You can also take cues from the language your students use in the classroom when they describe their understanding.

-There is a nice table on page 33 that gives examples of Writing Learning Targets in Student Language, I’ll go ahead and include some examples below…

Guiding Questions:
-What will I be able to do when I’ve finished this lesson?    (I Can…)
-What idea, topic, or subject is important for me to learn and understand so that I can hit the target?  (To be able to do this, I must learn and understand that…)
-What will I do to show that I understand the target, and how well will I have to do it?                      (I will show I can do this by…)

Use Relevant Illustrations
A strong performance of understanding functions as an illustration of the learning target. From the student’s point of view, the performance of understanding implies a learning target that says, “I can do that.”
*Illustrations or demonstrations that show students as well as tell them about the learning targets are powerful. A strong performance of understanding is the most important but not the only way to illustrate a learning target. What makes a particular illustration useful is that it helps focus students on what they are supposed to be learning. Effective ways to illustrate learning targets include:
-Showing examples of the kinds of problems that student will be learning during the lesson.
-Diagrams & charts that demonstrate the kind of thinking that students will learn to do during the lesson (Venn diagram or time line)
-Use a story or scenario that students know about (news story)
-Use real life experiences (shopping)
-Create an experience for students (watch a video clip)
-For certain learning targets, demonstrate the skill itself (tie your shoes)
Showing Examples
Sometimes you can communicate a learning target to students simply by rephrasing your instructional objective in words that they can understand and adding examples. This method works well near the end of a group of lessons focused by mastery-type objectives, where the goal is for students to learn a specific skill and its underlying concepts.
3rd grade math class—your instructional objective might be “Students will be able to use place value to compare two whole numbers (as greater than, less than, or equal to each other). You know that your students are already familiar with the concepts greater than, less than and equal to, as well as the symbols for those concepts, and you know that you introduced place value at the beginning of the unit. So today, you transform your instructional objective into a learning target and criteria for success simply by telling and showing:
Today our learning target is to put numbers in order using the greater than, less than and equal to signs and to be able to tell how you use place value to do that. Here are some of the kinds of problems you can solve if you meet your target: 378__387; 154__593. Listen for two things as your classmates work the problems on the board: did they talk about place value as a way to solve the problem, and did they put the correct sign in the box? Then ask yourselves the same questions as you work.
*Teachers can write an abbreviated version of this target on the board, such as “Use place value to put numbers in order” and the two example problems.

Use Students’ Real-Life Experiences.
Learning targets come from the chunk of the instructional objective that the students will see as the short-term focus.
The teacher is going to work with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” She might communicate the learning target by starting with a question: “Think of some different kinds of bells you have heard. Describe the sound of one of them. What does that sound make you think of? How does it make you feel?” After a brief class discussion of these questions, the teacher says.
Today, our learning target is to be able to describe how Poe thought and felt about different kinds of bells, and to explain how we can figure that out from his poem. We’ll know we are successful when we can explain how imagery from the poem creates thoughts and feelings for readers in as much detail as we just explained how real bells conjure up thoughts and feelings in us.
This way of illustrating the learning target doesn’t mean that students (or the teacher) lose sight of essential questions and the big ideas, like “Poetry uses imagery to express meaning, and certain literary techniques are common in poetry because they work with both the sound and meaning of the words.” Using real-life experiences to communicate the learning target engages students’ attention and enables them to succeed in the immediate context of the lesson as well as building up, over time, their understanding of the big ideas.

Create an Experience
This strategy doesn’t work with every kind of learning target, but when it does work, it’s powerful and fun.

Another great table is on page 38—I’ll include this because it will show you in detail the 4-step process.
*Defining the specific learning targets for a lesson in four steps:
Instructional Objectives for the Lesson:
            Students will explain how the element of chance leads to variability in a set of data.
            Students will represent variability using a graph.

Step 1.   Define the essential content (concepts and skills) for the lesson.
Potential Learning Trajectory Considerations:
            *My students can create a simple bar graph given a set of data.
*My students have a naïve idea about the concept of chance, and this lesson will deepen that understanding.
            *My students have a solid understanding of how to look for and represent a pattern.
*My students already know that chance exists in games like bingo, dice, cards, etc., but do not understand that chance exists naturally in the everyday world.
Elements for the Lesson:
*My students must learn that chance occurs naturally during everyday procedures—like when they make cookies.
*My students must learn that chance causes the values in a data set to vary.
*My students must learn that variation in data creates a pattern.

Step 2. Define the reasoning processes essential for the lesson.
Potential Learning Trajectory Considerations
            *My students have little practice with mathematical predictions.
            *My students have experience with analysis.
            *My students can build on what they know about cause and effect.
            *My students know how to brainstorm.

Elements for the Lesson
Reasoning Processes-
*My students must learn to analyze an everyday procedure to recognize the elements of chance embedded in that procedure that might cause a data set to distribute itself randomly.

Step 3. Design a strong performance of understanding that will develop student thinking and understanding and provide compelling evidence of student learning.
Potential Learning Trajectory Considerations
            *My students can observe and analyze a simple procedure.
            *My students need to demonstrate an understanding of cause-and-effect reasoning.
            *My students have practiced brainstorming reasons for common occurrences.

Elements for the Lesson
            Performance of Understanding-
*My students must engage in a performance of understanding that simulates naturally occurring elements of chance in ways that require them to observe, graph, analyze, and explain the effect that chance has on data patterns. We will use data on a number of chips to chocolate chip cookies for these purposes.

Step 4. State the learning target.
            *We will be able to see a pattern in graphs we make about the number of chips in our cookies, and we will be able to explain what made that pattern.

I really only meant to highlight the chapter, however there is so much good information that I felt I should include. The book goes into more detail so I do recommend it.
Looking Forward:
We have seen how learning targets work and how to state them, but using learning targets effectively requires two more elements: criteria for success and a plan for sharing the targets and their success criteria with students. Chapter 3 will discuss these elements in depth.

Please add your comments and/or experiences with Learning Targets and check the blog out next weekend for chapter 3.


  1. For our preschool class, we created Skill Boxes. Each student has their very own box with their name on it. Each week, a learning target is given, for example: I can name my shapes. The students practice their shapes and then meet with a teacher to say their shapes. So far the students are loving the skill boxes. The learning target is easily understood. The students love having their own box with their own things inside. They are eager to say the shapes to the teachers and be able to move on to the next learning target. If students are having trouble, the teachers are able to incorporate more shape activities into the daily schedule. In addition, a parent connection sheet is sent home to parents so they know what the weekly learning target is and can help their child at home too.
    Teachers have a comment sheet to record student progress. Also, a chart is hung in the room and when students master a skill, they are able to put a star on the chart.
    This process does help the teacher, student, and parent focus on same learning target. Students are taking ownership in their own learning and having fun doing it!

  2. I struggle somewhat with the "content" involved in planning lessons for preschoolers. When reading chapter two, it provides a lot of guidance in creating lessons that are appropriate, relevant, provide examples and include guiding questions. When you begin to add all these elements to a lesson it can become lengthy, and wordy and you run the risk of losing the attention of students. It is important for us working with young students to be able to include these important elements, but create a concise lesson with age appropriate language. I am still working at this :)

  3. For our preschool FAME group we have created skill boxes for our students. There are 4 classrooms using the skill boxes. Each student has their own individual skill box with a "I Can" Statement. For example, I can identify numbers 1-10. The students have a week (4 days) to master their individual skill and receive a sticker on the classroom skills chart. These skill boxes have learning targets that use words, pictures and actions in terms that the students understand and the content and performance they are aiming for.

    There is also a home connection that is sent home where parents know and understand the skill their child is working on that week and something they can work on at home.

    We have had great responses for the students and parents. The skill boxes are working out really well in efforts of how to design a specific learning target for preschool children.


  4. we too are using skill boxes in our classroom this is going well, but could be tweaked just a bit. Also again the challenges with preschool and these concepts is somewhat overwhelming, everything in preschool is foundational. As a parent to older students I appreciate these concepts and believe when used could help them acheive even more.