On posting learning objectives …

When I taught in independent schools, no administrator or mentor teacher ever really weighed in on my teaching practice, at least not the specifics.  It would have been odd to receive feedback on something as mechanical as posting the learning objective at the beginning of class.  And yet, in my limited interactions with math teachers in my new public-school district, it seems clear that posting the learning objective on the white board at the beginning of each class is an expectation.

I haven’t actually read any of the research that no doubt exists to support this practice, but I have my doubts.  How exactly does writing “Students will be able to prepare okra” on the board actually motivate students to cook okra, or promote okra achievement? Simply writing the objective doesn’t change the actual lesson, right? Isn’t it the students who are doing the learning?  Shouldn’t they be the ones to tell us what they actually learned?  Instead, I think I might use an exit ticket as a way to assess who is cluing into the bit ideas.  The exit ticket might include two questions:

  • What was the big idea (the main topic) of today’s lesson?
  • What did you learn how to do today?

I do typically show an agenda on the board briefly at the beginning of class, and usually the heading of the agenda might say “Introduction to Okra,” but from my perspective, writing the learning target (SWBAT…) on the board—no matter how Hemingway-esque—is akin to skipping to act three, in the Dan Meyer’s sense of the term.

I want my lesson to unfold for the student.  I want them thinking about what’s important, what they think the main idea is.  I don’t want to spoon-feed them. To me it seems that writing the objective on the board is playing directly to the kid who asks on day one of a new unit, “Is this gonna be on the test?”

Also, after day one of a new unit, they might not realistically be able to do anything that they couldn’t already do before the lesson (by design).  And then you’re left with some really lame teaching objective like:  “Students will be able to notice salient characteristics of okra.” I hope I don’t come across as vainglorious, believing that my lessons are so wonderfully designed that the objectives just unfold magically, but that there objective is just plain icky.