Real Talk: Using Targets That Engage Students

There are a number of teaching practices that are lauded as effective, but they are not always easy to enact in ways that students connect to. One is establishing a clear purpose for a lesson/activity. You can see this article on how Hattie and Marzano think about the subject.  From what I observe, this strategy often manifests as a learning target on the board with some time devoted to going over it in class. With evaluation models like 5D setting expectations that students be able to know and refer to targets, this strategy is commonly used, but teachers struggle to make it engaging.

The value of a clear of objective makes sense, whether it’s working with coding or learning sentence structure. Without some clarity of purpose, there may be some learning occurring, but it is random at best, and it may be kids just messing around. Now, I recognize the value of play and exploration, but I also recognize that without some awareness and assessment of what is being learned, the end result is typically lackluster. My ongoing question is how do we get students to give a rip about a learning goal, and, more importantly, how do we involve them meaningfully in the process?

One connection that makes sense to me is empowering students in the process. See this ISTE article on empowered learners to consider the importance of student choice, self-direction, scaffolding, and feedback among other things. Trying to set this up though, especially for every learning outcome, is overwhelming. That is what led me to create this empowered target example. It sets a goal, explains a connection/purpose, and establishes what success looks like. The doc provides scaffolds for students and asks them to find their own resources on the topic as well as set a plan for showing they know it. If a copy is provided for each student, a teacher could provide real-time feedback on the doc and even facilitate assessment of the target.

Full disclosure: I have not used this doc in any learning setting, but I feel confident about the thinking behind it. There are many other forms these ideas could take (example from Agile Classrooms), and I’ve seen how something like it has been used in PBL and competency-based / standards-based systems. It could certainly be used in any traditional approach as well. With an outcome defined, a process for students to be empowered, and avenues for extension, we can make learning targets meaningful, and having a digital structure in place will enable us to support students as they progress. As with anything, it will require refinement and iterations, and if it isn’t useful, it should be scrapped. I’d love to see what others are doing to be intentional, engaging, and supportive with students.

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