It’s All About Hitting the Target!

According to Robert Marzano, “Students who can identify what they are learning significantly outscore those who do not.” As I interact with and visit my colleagues’ ABE programs, I’m seeing many classrooms with posted learning targets.

Learning targets in the form of “I can…” statements are “newer” additions to ABE but they are a powerful tool to shift to more focus on student-centered thinking and reflection on learning rather than strictly teacher-led instruction. You may recognize the term learning targets from the ELA and math templates I posted in the CCR Standards resource library, or may have been introduced to them through the CCRS Implementation Cohort Training as one of the 14 ABE consortia participating this year.

“I can…” learning target statements empower students, provide a common focus, communicate what is important, build community and engagement, and increase motivation and confidence.

Instructional objectives and learning targets may seem similar, but they have different purposes. Instructional objectives are broad and unite related lessons or a unit. They help to guide instruction and are for teachers. In contrast, learning targets highlight smaller-sized chunks of learning that occur during a particular lesson. They are to help guide learning and are for students.

Let’s take a look at some examples of each.

Instructional Objectives

Oh how I remember writing lesson plans in college using Madeline Hunter’s template. Anticipatory Set, anyone? Instructional objectives specify new skills that students will gain as a result of instruction, are derived from content standards, written in teacher language, and guide teaching during a lesson or across a series of lessons. Here are some examples:

  • Students will be able to use the vocabulary words approach, despite, incompatible, eliminate, and role correctly in speaking and writing activities.
  • Students will be able to role-play a phone call to explain absence due to illness.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the letter-sound relationship for the short /u/ sound.
  • Students will use data from a diagram to interpret the functions of the branches of government.
  • Students will be able to draw evidence from text to identify the gist and infer meaning.
  • Students will be able to generate a number pattern following a given rule.
  • Students will be able to identify a collection of various polygons based on their attributes and verbally describe the differences.

Learning Targets

Learning targets frame a lesson from the student point of view and can be written in an “I can” statement in student-friendly language. They can be written on the whiteboard or Smartboard and referred to at the beginning and end of a lesson. Students reflect on their own progress toward meeting a learning target and can become more metacognitive when they do so. It is not uncommon to have multiple “I can…” statements associated with a single instructional objective. Here are some examples:

  • I can use the vocabulary words approach, despite, incompatible, eliminate, and role correctly when speaking and writing.
  • I can call a manager or teacher to say that I am sick and cannot come to work or school.
  • I can read on-level text fluently and accurately.
  • I can identify key details in an informational text.
  • I can use a semicolon to link two or more closely related independent clauses.
  • I can write an equation to find unknown information.
  • I can talk about what shapes look like and describe how shapes are alike or different.
  • I can divide a fraction by a whole number.

As we move forward with CCRS implementation across the state, taking the time to reflect on what we want students to know – and how we (and our students!) know if they have met the benchmark of the standard – will become even more important to our daily instruction. While writing learning targets may not be something you do formally, it’s likely you think of them as you are planning your day or working individually with a learner. Being more explicit with ourselves, our students, and our colleagues will make this process feel less daunting.

Kristine Kelly, Literacy & ELA Coordinator ATLAS