Learning Goals are the foundation for success

In this post, I would like to address how a simple tweak in classroom practices could have powerful results.  I plan to follow up with a series of short posts that address how to use learning goals effectively.

Best practices for all content areas require that we teach with the end in mind, in other words, we have already established what we want students to know or do as a result of our teaching.  Sometimes we assume that because WE know where we are going that our students do too.  Many teachers will agree that making these types of assumptions about students can often lead to stress and frustration on both ends. Writing and using clear goals help students and teachers by giving them a specific target to aim for and the means to measure the progress towards that target during instruction.

“The research strongly implies that the more specific the goals are, the better they are”(Marzano 2009).


Learning Goal in US History

Common mistakes using learning goals:

  • Goals are not stated or posted at all.
  • Goals are posted but teacher does not refer to them explicitly.
  • Goals are too general (Understand Photosynthesis –> Students will be able to describe how photosynthesis functions in terms of respiration, nutrition, and growth).
  • Teacher does not explain relevancy of goals to students.
  • Teacher does not establish criteria for learning goals.
  • Activities are posted in place of learning targets.


  • Begin with the standard then clarify specific daily learning targets (knowledge and skills) required to meet standard.
  • Ask yourself before each lesson what do I want students to understand after this lesson or what will I want students to be able to do? The answers are your learning goals. Write them on the board.
  • Take the first bit of class after bell work to review previous learning goals from day before.
photo 2

Learning Goal for an ELA class. More specific daily targets were provided for students in handouts and lecture.

After explicitly explaining current learning goal, ask students to summarize what they are supposed to learn today? “What are you going to be able to do before you leave today?”

  • Take some time to explain why the goal is important for them. We need to do better than “because it is on the test” if we want students to really buy in. Try explaining how skills or knowledge you are teaching can impact their academic lives, social lives, or their future career if possible.
  • Writing the goals down on the board and referring to them constantly when lecturing or answering questions.
  • Provide positive reinforcement when students answer questions or provide evidence of progressing on that goal.

Learning Target for reading class.

I’d like to end with a sports metaphor.  A coach would not simply go tell his team to score a touchdown, or hit a home run and expect players to do that.  A good coach would identify specific skills or knowledge along the way  that would result in the ultimate goal.

Then the coach would focus on those in practice and say things like “Today we are going to work on (running routes, blocking schemes…)” Then, more than likely, the coach would  explain how working on those will help result in a touchdown to insure players have some degree of buy-in. Once a coach has a little buy-in from players, he may demonstrate that skill to show what his expectations are in a game. This will help players know what success looks like and give them a picture of where they are in relationship to what is expected.

Now during half-time of the next game, the coach will have a better reference point to speak to players about HOW to score more touchdowns rather than providing an overly general goal: “Just get out there and score more points then them!”

So moving forward, here are some questions to reflect on.

  • Am I communicating to students what I want them to know and do?
  • Do students know what success looks like in relationship to the learning goal?
  • Are my learning goals specific enough?
  • What can I do to improve my own use of learning goals and learning targets

Please share any Questions/comments/insights that you have concerning this topic.


2 thoughts on “Learning Goals are the foundation for success

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of a Lesson | PC Instructional Coach Blog

  2. Pingback: What? Why? How? | PC Instructional Coach Blog

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