Should we share learning objectives?

Sharing learning objectives is a common feature of all lessons in the UK. It is one of the ubiquitous elements that most teachers think Ofsted expect and the expectation of sharing appears on most lesson observation tick sheets. As with many processes there is some truth in the idea but the implementation has, I believe, led to a dumbing down and a lowering of expectation in our classrooms.

Dylan Wiliam says something like, ‘Plan lessons from the end point’. Plan lessons for what you want the learning to be. So the construction of learning objectives, construction of the description of the learning, is a powerful thing. For me, it is not the creation of learning objectives that is the cause of the issue. I think the teacher must create high quality learning objectives. They must be very clear about the learning that are planning for.

Think about what the learning actually is and how you might describe it to a colleague. It would be quite complex. I am not thinking that you code the learning for your colleague. Not, ‘Learning about electric current today’, but that we describe the complete learning that we want to plan for. It might take a paragraph. It could not be done in a few words or even a couple of sentences and do justice to the detail and complexity involved. It would be couched in the complex language of learning and contain the description of the content. Quite a technical paragraph. Not one that your learners would be able to understand.

But that is what we expect teachers to do. To share this complexity and depth with learners. To rewrite the complex learning for the lesson in a short statement and share that with the learners. Not only that we also expect the learners to be able to understand the learning from the shared learning objectives. Not only that we also expect them to understand the learning BEFORE they have done the learning.

In a sense, what the above would do is make the sharing of learning objectives a pointless task for the teacher. It would just waste the teacher’s time. But that is not what creates, in my opinion, the dumbing down part.

Think about what actually happens. Teachers create the shared learning objectives before they plan the lesson content. They create the simplified, in language and detail, learning objective and the plan to meet these. They do this partly because that is how they think the lesson will be judged. Did you share the LOs? Did the lesson deliver the LOs?

I think you see what I mean.

What i do want is for teachers to properly plan the learning, as Dylan says. But not to have to share the LOs. I have a view about what they might share but it is not the LOs!

There are some constructions that don’t automatically dumb down.

We are learning about electricity SO THAT we can …

It is the so what that defines the learning and possibly the quality of the learning expected. I think I got this from Zoe Elder, @fullonlearning. if not then she is well worth checking out. Great structuring and simplification of some complex ideas.

A question that we can answer better as the lesson progresses. “How does a spring stretch as it is loaded?”

One can imagine asking the class, at various stages in the lesson, questions such as, “What do we now know about the answer to the question?” Hinge questions galore.

What I really like is to not have any learning objectives but to have a ‘road map’ of the lesson. These could be, get this, a list of the tasks the children will do in the lesson and then, critically, success criteria that define the quality measures for the work. The child will then be able to know what a good outcome looks like compared to a great outcome. This takes more work and my view is that one has to plan these well before the lesson planning. Plan these with the scheme of work when there is time to think about what is required. It is too much to do to plan, in a secondary setting, for five of these for the five lessons you will deliver the next day. I am not too keen on the process of detailed lesson planning the night before. But more of that in a future blog. Perhaps!