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When students clearly know what they are supposed to learn or get better at, they learn more.

Curriculum Lesson Objectives

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pp The objective may be read aloud, but never touched again as the teacher plunges the students into activities, so any connection between what they do and the objective is lost.

pp The students don’t connect to the objective; it has no relevance or mean- ing for them.

There’s nothing wrong with posting an objective on the board. It’s just that it’s a useless act unless we make sure the students understand it and connect what they are doing in class to accomplishing that objective. Posting the objective can become empowering if we then get the students involved in self-evaluating their progress toward the objective at the end of the lesson time.

Try the exercise in Exhibit 18.1. What did you notice?

Exhibit 18.1 Actions Related to Objectives-Driven Lessons

Rate the frequency with which you do (or observe) each of the following practices:

Always Sometimes Never

1. The objective is written on the board.

2. Prior to the lesson, the teacher analyzes the content to identify the most important items in the objective that should be high- lighted as the lesson(s) proceeds.

3. Students have taken a pre-assessment.

4. The objective describes what students will know or be able to do with a specific performance verb.

5. The teacher expands the objective in student-friendly language.

6. The itinerary (agenda) is posted and reviewed with the students.

7. Students can tell a visitor what the objective is.

8. The teacher provides an explanation of why the objective is worth learning.

9. The criteria for success are apparent and visible.

10. The objective is referred to during the lesson.

11. Teacher and students spend several minutes unpacking the objective at the beginning to find out what they understand and don’t understand about the vocabulary used and meaning of the objective.

12. Students self-evaluate using the criteria for success.



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A clear objective creates an image—a picture in your mind, a sentence of inner speech you say to yourself, or a written statement—of what a student will know or be able to do when the instruction is over. What’s important is that the image is framed from the students’ point of view. The objective is a clear picture that the teacher has of desired student performance, which then becomes a clear picture for the students too.

We would argue that all objectives can be framed as a clear image of student performance—even objectives pertaining to attitude or appreciation. For ex- ample, if the focus of a lesson is for students to be able to appreciate why dis- ruption of the ozone layer should be of concern to us then we can ask our- selves, “What would we look or listen for to ensure that they had developed that appreciation?” Second, objectives that are not thought through in this way typically wind up with coverage, activity, or involvement thinking. All three are weaker than mastery thinking which we explain in Chapter 19, “Planning.” Third, mastery thinking improves teaching by leading teachers to do more goal stating with students, more checking, more feedback according to criteria, bet- ter record-keeping, and more diagnosis of individual student needs.

Objectives that only say “students will be exposed to” are not acceptable. If you’re going to “introduce” students to an idea or “expose” them to an experience, do you expect anything to stick? If you do, you can say what it is and go for it spe- cifically. If you don’t, why are you exposing them to the idea to begin with? In our work, we have found that the question, “Was there a clear objective?” can be answered by “yes,” “no,” or “yes, but fuzzy.” The type of class most likely to look like a “fuzzy” on objectives is a rambling discussion that touches assigned mate- rial in an erratic way or covers course material without making relevant connec- tions between items or linking to other course material. Another “fuzzy” class is one where there are weak connections between the activity students are doing and what they are supposed to be learning. A “no objectives” class has some stu- dents doing busywork, often on worksheets, about material they already know or have mastered. Calling this “reinforcement” won’t wash. Practice has its place, of course, but the practice must be strengthening a learning that needs it.

Madeline Hunter, former director of the UCLA Lab elementary school, used to tell a story that illuminates how fuzzy thinking about objectives can dilute learning. She finds a kindergarten teacher holding her head amid a room that’s a mess of paper and glue. There are paper turkeys all around on which children have been pasting squares of colored tissue paper to make Thanksgiving col-



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lages. Madeline asks what’s been going on. “Well, it was an art experience for the kids,” is the reply. The exchange then continued:

Madeline: “Why did you go to the trouble of mimeographing the tur- keys? Why not just give them a piece of paper and the tissue, and let them be creative, express themselves?”

Teacher: “It really wasn’t that. It was really a lesson in eye-hand coordi- nation.”

Madeline: “Well, then why didn’t you have them outline the turkey? You can’t tell whether they stayed within the line or not when they’ve got them pasted all over the turkey.”

Teacher: “Well, it really wasn’t that. It was a lesson in conservation.”

Madeline: “Conservation!”

Teacher: “Yes. The kids have really been very wasteful of paste. So I was trying to teach them to put just a tiny piece of paste on.”

Madeline: “Then why didn’t you give them a piece of paste, or a paper of paste, and see how much of their turkey they could finish before they ran out of paste? You can’t tell if there’s a cup of paste under some of these turkeys.”

Teacher: “Oh, for cryin’ out loud, can’t kids just have fun?”

Madeline: “Sure they can have fun. What do your kids like to do?”

Teacher: “The thing they like to do best is just chase out on the school grounds.”

Madeline: “Why didn’t you take the last half-hour and go around, super- vise them while they chased, and you wouldn’t have this mess to clean up.” (Hunter, 1977)

So again, the big question is, “Was there a clear objective?” When you reflect on the class period, can you infer a clear statement of what students were supposed to know or be able to do at the end? If you can’t, the students probably can’t either. And if they can’t, that’s trouble. It doesn’t matter if the objective is on the board, it matters that the students can tell you what it is and with understanding. We en-



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courage teachers to write lesson objectives on the board; but unless they do some- thing to ensure that students understand it we might as well save the board space.


We lay out the steps required for objectives to play a powerful role in student learning. “Improvement is not doing one thing exceedingly well; it’s doing many aligned things well” (McAdams, 2006, p. 36). This is no simple matter because the objective (think “learning target” if that language has been adopted by your peers) must be appropriate for the students to begin with; certain students may be ready for it and others not.

Here are the 12 steps we explain in some depth:

1. Identify the most worthwhile objective.

2. Determine whether students have adequate prior knowledge.

3. Compose the objective in mastery language so you get it clear in your own head.

4. Post the objective.

5. Communicate the objective in student-friendly language as a para- graph of talk.

6. Check for understanding of the objective and the vocabulary in it.

7. Tell students the steps we’ll go through to meet the objective.

8. Get students to understand why the objective is worth learning.

9. Establish the criteria for success you would take as evidence of mastery.

10. Have students self-evaluate according to the criteria for success.

11. Return to what the objective is at least once during the lesson and again at the end.

12. Provide for thinking-skill objectives that students might have to learn.

“Improvement is not doing one thing exceedingly well; it’s doing many aligned things well.”

(McAdams, 2006)



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