The Student Will Be Able To: A Brief Introduction to Writing Effective, Standard Based Learning Goals
Learning objectives, sometimes called learning goals among other things, are kind of a big deal in the educational world right now. In my eight years of teaching in a B & M (brick and mortar) classroom, I attended probably a hundred different professional development workshops on the importance of writing effective learning objectives and why students should know how to explain the objective in their own words.
According to research, if the student can’t articulate the learning objective, often times it’s a signal they don’t really understand what they are supposed to be learning. Students should be able to answer the question, “What are you learning?” which is very different from, “What are you doing?” The second question is tied to an activity; the first one is connected to a standard and a specific outcome.
A good learning objective should be measurable and correlated with a standard. One of VIPKID’s big selling points to parents is that all the lessons are tied to the Common Core Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/) as well as international standards for English language learning.
There are many different ways of writing learning objectives, but here is a down and dirty lesson on the basics.
Most learning objectives start with something like, “I can…”, “I will be able to…”, or “The student will be able to…” This last one is sometimes abbreviated with SWBAT (pronounced swah-bat). The next part of the learning goal is the verb. These verbs are tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy and, more recently, the Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Powerful verbs to use are words like: summarize, create, analyze, evaluate, explain, or synthesize.
So far we have: I will be able to analyze…
What is the standard?
The next part of writing a learning goal is connecting it to a specific standard. Often times, teachers make the mistake of writing the learning goal as an activity as opposed to a standard. DO NOT DO THIS! IT’S A TRAP! Okay, not really, but this is still the number one mistake many teachers make.
Here is an example of a learning objective written using an activity as opposed to a standard:
Bad Learning Goal: I will be able to fill out a plot pyramid.
Better Learning Goal: I will be able to objectively summarize the main events in a short story.
First of all, “fill out” is nowhere in Bloom’s Taxonomy or the Depth of Knowledge. This is an activity. It is something that the student does. It can be part of the learning process, but it is not actually what I want the student to be learning. What I want them to learn, which is tied to the standard, is how to objectively summarize a text. You can use a plot pyramid to help the student summarize the text, but it is not actually what I am interested in having them know. Furthermore, nowhere in the standards does it say that the student can fill out a plot pyramid. Okay, time to get off my soapbox.
Going back to standard based learning objectives, here is the 9th/10th grade ELA standard on which I based the second learning goal:
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
The highlighted part is directly connected to my learning objective. In fact, I took it almost word for word and didn’t make a whole lot of changes to it. Why work harder than necessary and reinvent the wheel? When writing the objective, look first at the standards. Don’t pick an activity and then go to the standards to hunt for one that kind of fits the activity.
How will you know that the student met the objective?
The last step is to make sure the learning objective is measurable. How will you know the student was able to meet the learning objective? What is your criteria for evaluation? This is where you could tie the objective to some sort of measurable activity. The key word here is measurable.
Here would be able a measurable learning objective:
I will be able to objectively summarize the main events in a short story by identifying the five elements of plot using a plot pyramid.
The “by” part is the way I will assess whether or not my students can objectively summarize the text. If they can only identify three of the five elements (or none at all), they have clearly not met this objective. I also included the activity they will use to do this: the plot pyramid. This would be the appropriate place to include information like that.
This is a basic template for writing learning goals:
I will be able to verb standard by measurable way.
Now that you have learned the basics of writing an effective learning goal, I hope you can implement them into your own teaching practices!
Teacher Caryn EU