Students Use Learning Targets to Assess Teaching

learning targets 1

This year, our teachers took on the school-wide challenge of using learning targets in their classrooms. At first, writing up our objectives as bite-sized chunks was difficult, and we made a lot of mistakes along the way (you can read about them here). It also felt awkward and unnatural to unpack the targets with our students. But our teachers are risk takers and learners, so they reflected on their mistakes, took on the challenge of feeling uncomfortable, and steamed ahead. Quicker than expected, learning targets began to feel natural.

And… students liked them.Students felt clearer about what they were supposed to be studying and they were able to evaluate their own learning. Had they met the learning target? If not, what did they need to do to get there?

Our ultimate goal has always been to create students who are independent learners, who can set their own learning objectives, decide how to reach them, and evaluate their learning in order to move forward. Learning targets have been crucial in helping us meet this goal.

But we had another, unexpected, result. Using the learning targets, students were able to evaluate our teachers’ lessons. They realized that at times they themselves were responsible for missing the target, but at others, their teachers hadn’t done a good enough job of teaching the material.

Below, our history teacher, Lincoln, writes about an experience he had when students evaluated four learning targets they had worked on during the first trimester:

learning targets 3This year, TCFL’s 11th grade first trimester’s Social Studies theme was WWI.  Students participated in defining and unpacking four learning targets:

  • Reading beyond the headlines about armed conflicts in general.
  • Identifying the 19th-century developments that culminated in WWI.
  • Analyzing the prevailing notion in Europe of “an armed race for an armed peace” in the early 20th century.
  • Identifying the alliances that deepened the rift and eventually tore Europe asunder for five years. 

In the back of my mind, I knew I had not covered the third learning target “well enough,” to say the least. 

In a quick end-of-trimester evaluation, I asked students to evaluate the skills they had acquired and their deeper understanding of WWI.  This was done silently, timed (10 minutes), and without consultation with other classmates. 

Lo and behold, as I read through their comments, most of them identified the third learning target as the “weakest link” in my teaching goals. Amazing and spot-on! I doubt that this mutual agreement about “a botched learning target” would have been possible had I used another framework for the trimester’s work.

Lincoln’s experience shows us several things that learning targets have facilitated:

  • Students are able to reflect on their learning and identify where things went wrong.
  • The sense of belonging to a “learning community” is reinforced, as students support each other in working towards their learning targets.
  • Students feel empowered and secure in speaking out about where mistakes were made.

Learning targets alone won’t do all these things — we need to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable taking risks, asking questions, and speaking up when they disagree. But within a positive classroom environment, learning targets are an important stepping stone to independence.


  1. I feel that using learning targets definitely has a place in today’s classroom. I have usually always written down the coplete objective on the board and simply broken it down into smaller chunks during the lessons. Now, I see where it would have merit to break it down even further to aid in mastery.

  2. as a teacher of 30 years -I have always tried to make all students feel comfortable in my class and with me. I completely agree with creating a comfortable learning environment!

  3. Timothy Craddock April 9, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    I used similar techniques in my classroom for students to improve their independent learning ability with this same topic of WWI. For example, I had WWI propaganda posters in random places throughout my classroom. Students got to work in teams and answer the objective questions (Learning Targets) pertaining to the picture. This made students more comfortable because they were not put on the spot and singled out in front of the whole class. This exercise was a huge success.

  4. Jennifer Giacone April 10, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    I have incorporated more “chunk readings” in my classroom groups. As a whole, the students seem to enjoy this type of group work and seem to be more engaged. Mr. Lincoln’s realization that he could have covered a specific learning target better, gives me cause to reevaluate how I am teaching each target.

  5. Josephine Gautreau April 15, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    I found this article very informative. I would love to try to incorporate the identifying of learning targets with my students for the next school year. I think it will lead to a better understanding of what is to be gained in a given unit or lesson plus it will hold the teacher along with the students accountable for their learning.

  6. I like the idea of students identifying the learning targets. This is a great way for a teacher to monitor whether he or she is successful in communicating material to students.

  7. I think it’s great that with learning targets, not only are students held accountable, but the teachers are too. I often say that I’m not perfect to my students, and I still learn from them.

  8. I think this strategy works really well with all students across the board. I believe students sometimes do not realize what they have learned until you ask them a critical questions. Learning targets are a wonderful way to use this. It forces them to actually take in all that they have learned on that subject an integrate it.

  9. Students, like adults, don’t appreciate busy work. Knowing you’re reading, producing, and evaluating towards a leaning goal rather than an empty grade can make all the difference. It’s important to provide a welcoming environment where students are free to explore where the learning targets take them. I’ve used both my state standards and CC standards to enlist students in their journey of targeted learning. They enjoy being part of the instructional process by evaluating whether an activity or assignment squared with what learning target was employed for the lesson.

  10. I think learning targets are great because the allow students to begin with a goal in mind. They also help students to focus on what is important without being overwhelmed with information.

  11. I have always put the objective on the board each day but I also use a two week calendar to remind students of what we have learned over the last two weeks. We also talk about how each objective will be on our state test and the ACT. Especially important to master learning targets in Math since you can’t understand the next objective without knowing the previous objective.

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