Instructional Strategy: Learning Targets

What is a learning target? A learning target describes exactly what the students are going to learn and achieve in today’s lesson. Since achievement means that you are looking for evidence of “something,” a learning target explains to the students what that “something” is for today’s class. At a minimum, learning targets help orient both students and teacher to the desired learning outcomes for the lesson. At their best, learning targets help create a formative assessment cycle in the classroom where students self-regulate their learning by checking their progress against the stated target(s).

Why learning targets? Learning targets help both students and teacher organize their learning each and every day, thereby providing intentional framing of the day’s learning. As mentioned above, learning targets also set up a feedback loop between the student and teacher. By clearly stating where the students are going, the teacher sets up the opportunity for students to check in on their understanding and have clarity on whether or not they “got it” that day. Targets also help students understand the why behind the day’s learning activities. In short, a learning target “puts a formative learning cycle in motion, gives it direction, and keeps it moving (Moss & Brookhart, 2015)”.  

What makes a good learning target? First, you want to ensure that your learning targets are achievable, measurable, and reasonable. Will students be able to demonstrate evidence of attaining the target? Is your desired outcome, the target, do-able in the given time for the class that day? Second, you will want to put the learning target in language that your students can understand – this is best done by putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about these questions from the student’s perspective:

  • What will I be able to do at the end of today’s lesson?
  • What do I have to learn to be able to do it?
  • How will I be asked to show that I can do it?
  • How well will I be expected to do it?

Finally, you would then put the responses to the above questions into “I can” or “I will” statements in developmentally appropriate language for your level of learners. This forms the basis of robust learning targets for your class.

The biggest mistake many teachers make when writing learning targets is that they confuse targets with the day’s agenda. An agenda outlines learning activities taking place in the room that day. Learning targets, on the other hand, delineate the specific outcomes that will happen as a result of following the agenda.

How might you put learning targets to use? Unless students understand the target and use it during the lesson to focus their own work, it is not an effective learning target. Crafting the targets and posting them is, of course, a critical first step. Still more important is referencing the learning target(s) during the lesson. This can be done in several ways:

  • You can ask students to measure their learning against the learning targets on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Check in with students as the lesson unfolds using the learning target to frame your check-in. “Do you feel that you can _______”, “What is the hardest (or easiest) part of ________?”
  • Simply share the target verbally with students at the opening of class, and verbally review the target at the close of class.
  • Have students explain their perception of the target to a peer at the start and end of class to compare/contrast understanding.
  • At the close of class,ask for different students to share their learning related to the target.
  • Have students maintain a “learning target journal” that captures their perceptions of where they are with the desired learning outcomes described in the targets each day.
  • An extension would be to have students connect the targets from today’s lesson to what they learned in previous lessons or to have students predict where their learning is headed based off of what they learned today.

If you have a successful instructional strategy that you would like to share with your colleagues, we’d love to include it here. Please contact Laurynn and we will feature you and your strategy in an upcoming column. In the meantime, if you have questions about learning targets or you would like to strategize on how to implement them in your classroom, just ask!  



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