A friend and colleague of mine recently posted an article he found on the blog For the Love of Learning that begged teachers to stop posting learning objectives on the board. The author explained that this practice:
a. Tells students that the teacher drives the learning
b. Gives away the end goal, making inquiry instruction impossible
c. Forces learning into a box that does not allow for flexibility or adaptation
Communicating learning goals to students is just one small part of my practice, but I have always found it to be incredibly important (so important, in fact, that I presented a workshop on the use of learning targets at the 2014 AASSA conference). It makes learning relevant, understandable and engaging for students. If students have goals that teachers are guiding them to reach, shouldn’t students know about them?
Of course, if teachers are simply posting learning objectives on the board without referencing them any further, translating them into student friendly language, or tracking student progress then, yes, that is pretty pointless. However, clearly communicating learning goals and engaging students in their importance lets students understand what they are expected to know and, perhaps even more importantly, why that is at all meaningful.
In a well-planned classroom, the teacher has learning goals and a summative assessment in mind before a unit begins. I have rarely heard of an experienced teacher refusing to plan because he or she wants students to drive the learning. This does not mean that the classroom is not student-run or student-centered, it simply means the teacher is organized and has a plan, which will allow the teacher to use his or her time with students in a meaningful way. The teacher can then deviate from the plan as he or she sees fit based on student needs or interests. Teachers can even let students create their own personal learning goals based on the parameters of the unit or guide students to collaboratively create the unit learning goals (which could be posted on the board).
My classroom is an inquiry classroom and learning targets have never spoiled the engagement and curiosity that inquiry instruction sparks. When students see that they the learning target is I can compare and contrast pre and post industrial societies for the first time, they will not necessarily know what it means and I will not necessarily tell them until the time is right. But it guides them through the readings, images, videos, and other content by giving them a guiding focal point. They may not understand every piece of complex text, but if they can synthesize what they do understand to gain some insight into our learning goal, they know they are on the right track.
Finally, a good classroom is an adaptable one. Even though I may use the same learning goals every time I teach my unit on industrialization, the amount of time we spend on each goal and the way we approach each goal will be different depending on the students in my classroom and how I have grown as a teacher. As Alan Lakein once said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” A master teacher is one that can both create a detailed plan and quickly adapt it.