What are Learning Targets?

These are solid outlooks of what a student is meant to learn from a particular lesson or by the end of a specific project, unit, or class. In other words, learning targets are concrete goals, typically written in student-friendly language, which convey to students what they’re aiming to learn. For instance, they can be statements that start with “I can” and posted in the classroom to send the message to students that they’re aiming for something particular.

Usually, learning targets are

  •         Developed from state or national standards embedded in district or school documents like curriculum maps and approved program materials
  •         Written in student-friendly language
  •         Quantifiable and use concrete and measurable verbs (such as compare, identify, and analyze), which indicate how the target will be evaluated
  •         Particular and precise, often referring to the specific context of a project, lesson, or case study
  •         Phrased statements that put emphasis on planned learning, not the intended doing; this means they refer to the knowledge or skills students will develop rather than what they’ll complete (e.g., the ability to explain a polar bear’s ideal habitat vs. writing a paragraph about a polar bear’s habitat).

Without a learning target, students won’t know the intention of a lesson and end up wasting their energy and time trying to figure out what their teachers want them to learn and do. And several students, after getting tired of this futile process, may question why they should even care. Even when the content is essential to learn, the student activity pretty appealing, the assessment formative, and the instruction differentiated, unless all students notice, identify, and understand the learning target from the start of their class; one factor will stay constant. 

The teacher will always be the solitary one offering the direction and focusing on making students meet the instructional goals. But the students will just focus on doing what their teacher says instead of learning. This is in direct opposition to what the actual learning goal is – nurturing self-regulated, motivated, and intentional learners.

To make the most of learning targets, students should answer these questions:

  •         What should they be able to do after finishing this lesson?
  •         What theme, idea, or subject is important for them to learn and understand to do the thing mentioned above?
  •         How will they show they can do this thing, and how well do they need to do it?

By framing learning targets, teachers can unpack “bite-sized” learning or the precise “chunk” of specific content that students are expected to master. Although teachers derive learning targets from instructional objectives, the former differs in function and design.

Instructional objectives are derived from content standards, written in a language suitable for teachers, and used to direct the teaching process during a lesson or throughout a series of lessons. Thus, they’re meant for teachers, not the students. In contrast, learning targets are framed for the students and help them grasp the lesson’s purpose, namely why it’s essential to learn this part of the information on this particular day and in this specific way.

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