Learning Targets


The first step in thinking about how to provide students with frequent feedback is having students identify their learning targets. Not just the goals for the unit or year, but also the daily or weekly targets that are going to get them there.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m training for a half-marathon. The event is April 26th. My goal is run all 13.1 miles before they close the course (which I think is after 4 hours) without any permanent damage to myself.

In order to do this, I set weekly goals. For example, this week, my goal is to complete one 5-mile run and two 30-minute runs. For me, that’s much more manageable than thinking about running 13.1 miles.

I track my progress using an app on my phone and I know right after each run if I hit my target. At the end of the week, I know if I’m on track or not and I set my goal for the next week.

How does this relate to math class?

Do your students know what their goal for class was for the day? For the week? For the unit? If they don’t know the goal, they can’t begin to monitor their progress.

Often, we, as teachers, know what the plan is.  We have an objective in our lesson plan or an aim on the board. We can see how this goal will help them reach later goals and where it falls in the curriculum map.

Our students don’t necessarily see these connections.

When I visit classes, I ask students what they are learning for the day. They tell me, “page 70”  or “the problem on the board.” Sometimes they point to the aim that is written in their book but often it’s not in kid-friendly language so they don’t know what it means when I ask them about it.

It can be hard for a child to know what they are supposed to be focused on. Sometimes we are lucky if they even know what they are supposed to be doing in class–never mind what the goal of it is.

That’s why clear learning targets are so important.  Think about these questions:

  • What do you want students to walk out of your room knowing that they didn’t know before they walked in?
  • Can students explain the goal for the day in their own words?  Do they know how it will help them achieve larger goals?  Do they see the connection to pervious goals?

I’ve seen changes in achievement when students are clear on what their goals are.  When students take ownership of their learning and their progress (and I’ve seen this happen even in early grades), they know what they should focus on during class, they know when they are successful and they know when they still need to work on something.

The research supports my experience. Students who can identify what they are learning significantly outperform those who cannot.  Educational researcher Robert Marzano reviewed the research on goal setting and found that student achievement increased 16 to 41 percentile points when students could identify what they were learning.

In my experience, it also helps students change their attitude towards math. Just like running 13.1 miles seems impossible to me, so do goals like passing math class or getting a high grade on a unit test or project for some students.  Breaking down what it means to get there helps students see exactly what they need to do. It also helps them see progress so that getting there becomes possible.

Want to know more? Check out the following:

Marzano, R. J. (2006). Classroom assessment and grading that work. ASCD.

Moss, C. M., & Brookhart, S. M. (2012). Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today’s Lesson. ASCD.