Great lessons start with a clear focus and lesson goals provide that focus.
Do you want to help more of students to succeed? Would you like to push each child to new levels of personal excellence?
Then try setting lesson goals every day.
Research1 shows that teachers who are clear about what they want their students to learn as a result of each lesson have a higher impact on their students’ results.
Focusing students’ attention and activity is a core part of evidence based teaching. Time is precious, and you need to make sure that you spend it wisely. You have to choose what activities to include, and which ones to leave out. You cannot do this well if you are not clear about what you intend your students to know and be able to do by the end of each lesson.
Lesson Goals & Learning Intentions
John Hattie is one of the main go-to-gurus on evidence based teaching. He recommends setting clear learning intentions to gain the focus you need.
Learning intentions describe what it is we want students to learn in terms of the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values within any particular unit or lesson.
Some people refer to learning intentions as lesson goals.
The key difference is that learning intentions can relate a broader array of tasks, including assignments, units of work and even yearly overviews. When you write learning intentions, they are typically accompanied by a set of success criteria that explain in detail what success entails. These criteria then inform teachers’ judgements about how well each child has done.
Why You Should Set Lesson Goals
Why should you worry about setting lessons goals?
The short answer is that setting lesson goals is easy, inexpensive and has a huge effect on student results that rivals the effect of socio-economic status1.
Writing a lesson goal takes seconds. Writing a day plan with lesson goals takes no more time than writing any other form of day plan. You can download a sample day plan here.
Most importantly, writing lesson goals has a significant impact on your students’ subsequent results – an impact that is even larger than other high-impact strategies such as using effective questioning, sound classroom management and holding high expectations of your students1.
How Goals Help
Setting lesson goals allows you to focus on relevant activities in a way that topic-based lessons do not – and that is what this article is about.
Imagine the wide range of different activities that could be included in a topic-based, ancient history lesson on the River Nile. You could learn about the river god, Hapi, or you could learn about Papyrus. You could even build a model Shaduf. Now compare this to the more focused activities that you would include in a similar, goal-driven lesson. The lesson goal children should be able to explain three ways the River Nile helped the ancient Egyptians focuses the subsequent activities you would include.
Similarly, a lesson on prime numbers could go in many different directions. Yet, a lesson with the goal that students should be able to compare and contrast prime and composite numbers, would be far more focused.
What Lesson Goals Look Like
Your lesson goal must describe the knowledge and/or skills that you want your students to learn, typically in a format such as, the children should be able to ….
- Today we will be doing page 88 in our Math’s textbook, which is about equivalent fractions.
- It’s time for silent reading.
- Now we are going to read chapter 13 of our class novel.
- Sit on the carpet, I have a great book to read to you.
- Today we are going to learn about the Nile River.
- Add fractions with different denominators.
- Compare the Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods using a Venn diagram.
- Use a dichotomous key to identify an insect.
- Identify examples of persuasive devices in a text.
- Use the ‘organised list’ strategy to solve mathematics problems.
These goals clarify what children must know and be able to do by the end of the lesson, providing a clear picture of what success entails. This, in turn, allows you to focus what you teach, what sort of practice to provide, and even what homework to set. Try writing your day plan with a short goal for every lesson.
Writing Lesson Goals
Well-written learning goals always explain what the students need to understand and what they must be able to do by the end of the lesson. For example, in the goal, ‘add fractions with different denominators’, students need to understand what fractions and denominators are. They need to be able to add those fractions. Often, goals also contain a specific condition, which in this case is that the fractions in the sum must have different denominators. You must then compose a goal sentence, which typically includes:
- A goal starter, such as, The students should be able to …
- What you want your children to be able to do. You can do this with verbs such as, write, read, calculate, analyse, plot, evaluate, add, solve, describe, recall, answer and compare. With lesson goals, avoid using verbs, which do not allow you to measure success, such as, learn, know, understand and appreciate.
- What you want your children to understand – the major concepts in the task. These concepts are usually nouns or nouns with adjectives (e.g. fractions, inferences, dichotomous keys, Neolithic Period).
If you want to know more about lesson goals, I recommend Designing & Teaching Learning Goals by Robert Marzano.
- Start writing your day plan using lesson goals.
- Consciously start to focus your lessons more in line with those goals.
- Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge. [↩]