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.

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