Brianne Gidcumb | January 2015

Posting Learning Objectives: Are There Any Objections?

Objective: Describe contrasting perspectives on posting learning objectives, and develop objectives that foster inquiry-based learning.

Many of us teach in schools where posting daily learning objectives is expected, if not mandated. They might be known in some schools as learning goals, targets, objectives, or “I Can” statements, but the intention is the same: communicate to students what they are expected to learn and how they will demonstrate their mastery of content.

Last fall, a 5th grader walked into my general music class, sat down, raised his hand and said, “So we’re reading and writing eighth-sixteenth note combinations by composing today, huh?” The engagement and exposition pieces of my lesson suddenly seemed irrelevant not only to me but to the class. Then last week, I came across this quote on Pinterest, credited to “Posting a learning target before a lesson is like announcing what a gift is before it’s opened. Post a question. Bring curiosity and thinking back to the classroom.”

I believe very much in learning objectives. Having clear learning targets serves us as educators in helping us plan instruction and assessments coherently and cohesively, guides us in selecting activities and keeps us accountable to teaching to the standards. In addition, learning objectives serve students by giving them a clear picture of what is expected of them. However, I also believe that poorly constructed learning objectives can take power away from students by sending the message that the teacher is driving the learning. They can also take away the opportunity for students to make discoveries for themselves, as well as discourage us from seizing “teachable moments” or lines of inquiry that might seem unrelated to the posted objective. 

So what can we do?

Many of us have a method for displaying objectives prescribed by our administrators. So what can we do to adhere to policy while also leaving the door open for curiosity?

Make learning goals kid-friendly. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean simply posting objectives in kid-friendly “I Can” language, although that might be a piece of it. What I mean is make your learning goals relevant to students. Make sure students know why they are doing what they are doing! Make real-life connections, create relevant experiences, and regardless of whether students are looking at a posted learning objective or not, find a way to communicate what and why they are doing in a kid-friendly way!

          No: “I can read, write, and perform half note rhythms.”

          Yes: “Compose a rhythm piece using quarter, eighth and half notes, and then perform your composition with improvised pentatonic pitches.”

 Post Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings instead. 

Essential questions are a great springboard for inquiry-based learning. Let students take control with problem- or project-based learning based on an essential question connected to your standards. Similarly, enduring understandings can make learning meaningful by guiding students to make connections to the world around them. Challenge students to brainstorm real-world examples of these understandings, and develop a problem or project from there to engage students in inquiry-based learning.

Use engagement activities first. 

This is a great place for arts integration! Any number of the AI strategies that have been posted on EdCloset can be a great place to draw students into your content objective, while creating an experience that students will be able to refer back to throughout their learning. After students have been engaged, and then post the learning objectives. 

How do you communicate your learning objectives while leaving room for inquiry?

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: