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Aurora Institute

Target Practice

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction, Learn Lessons from the Field

I work in a school moving towards a vision of customized learning.  I work closely with our “phase 1 teams,” the eight teachers in our building taking the first giant-steps closer to that vision.  I work with all the other teachers in our building too, all of them at varying levels of comfort with and understanding of performance-based practices.  I work with them in their classrooms.  I work with them in planning meetings.  I work with them in our professional development sessions. I work with them in short copy-room consultations. I work with them at multiple-day workshops.

Without fail, at some point when I am working with an individual or a group, not matter what the context of or reason for our work, the conversation bumps into the question “What is the learning target?”” Well, sometimes it feels like more of a crash. I ask this so often that it is practically my catch phrase .  What I want them to do is clearly articulate is the end goal of their instruction.  It can totally change the direction of a conversation about learning and teaching.

Crystal clear learning targets are the terra firma of any effective feedback, instruction, or assessment.  Learning targets are literally what you want your students to aim for. A good learning target is a single, measurable statement of what a student is expected to be able to do or know and does not include any assessment language. All learning targets can be categorized as either procedural or declarative knowledge.  Procedural targets always begin with “The student is skilled at…” It involves knowing how to do something. Declarative targets always begin with “The student understands…” Using Declarative knowledge involves knowing about something. Every content area has knowledge in both categories, but the balance may be different.  Think English Language Arts vs. Social Studies. Here are some examples to help you process that:The student is skilled at creating accurate summaries that explain how major characters relate to a theme (English Language Arts)

The student is skilled at representing proportional relationships between quantities (Math)

The students understands the rights and responsibilities of US citizens (Social Studies)

The student understands the role the sun plays in evaporation (Science)

Make sense? Now you try making one.  What are you teaching right now? Use that. How’d that feel? If you want to hit the gas pedal a little, I highly recommend reviewing chapter 1 in Marzano’s The Art and Science of Teaching. When you are ready for some serious speed, check out Designing & Teaching Learning Goals and Objectives also by Marzano;  Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim For Understanding in Today’s Lesson by Moss and Brookhart; as well as Tovani’s latest book, So What Do They Really Know?

Establishing crystal clear targets is well worth the speed bumps, (and occasional crashes), you and your colleagues will encounter along the way.   There are some great examples and sets of targets out there, but your targets have to match your school and your students. Plus, working through a few only deepens your own understanding of what makes a good target. Once you have them everything else will follow.