Learning Objectives: What Are They and How Do I Write Them?
Do you sometimes find yourself using the state standard as your learning objective because you are unsure of how to write one yourself? Or maybe you are just leaving them out all together? Find out what information you should be including in your student learning objectives, as well as how you should be using them in your classroom with this article.
Learning Objectives: What Are They & How Do I Write Them?
Have you ever heard the Lewis Carroll quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”? Have you ever thought about its meaning? Without a direction or knowledge of where you are going, you will always end up in the exact same place - nowhere. This line speaks such truth in education. You can’t know what roads to take, or even know if you have arrived until first you know where you are headed!
Learning objectives are the key component to knowing where you are going. A learning objective is a statement, in specific and measurable terms that describes what the learner will know and be able to do after completing a lesson. When it comes to designing a great unit, or planning out your week of instruction, objective writing should be your first step. Only when you have clear learning objectives can you design activities that make learning engaging and interesting. Without having a solid grasp on what you want your students to know and be able to do, you are left to blindly pick and choose and hope the lesson is successful.
The Three-Part Learning Objective
Every effective learning objective has three main parts: the behavior, the condition, and the criterion. The behavior describes what the learner will be doing. It can be something as simple as matching a word with its definition, or it may be something more challenging such as creating a model. But it must be some form of an observable action verb. You want to avoid words such as “know”, “understand”, or “comprehend”. These actions are unobservable and therefore more difficult to measure mastery. You will also want to have only one verb when writing the behavior portion of your learning objective. Having multiple verbs in an objective can cause confusion when it comes to student mastery. Instead, either write them as two separate objectives, or choose the verb that is at the learning level of your students.
The second component an effective learning objective must contain is the condition. The condition gives specific and clear guidance to the student as to what they can expect when completing the behavior that is stated. For example, it may include specific information the learner will use, such as a specific formula, or it may list the tools or references the student will need in order to complete the behavior such as a dictionary, diagram, or T-chart. Don’t confuse this with the instructional activity or event that is occurring before the learning behavior. For example, “after finishing the book” or “after reading the chapter” is not considered a condition. These phrases do not list the tools or references that will be provided for the actual behavior. Instead they describe what is leading up to the behavior.
The final part of an effective learning objective is the criterion. This is the part of the learning objective that specifically tells the learner what they must do to show mastery of the objective. This can be done in one of three ways: by telling the degree of accuracy the behavior must be performed, by giving a quantity of correct responses that must be given, or by giving a time limit in which the behavior must be completed. Notice the list did not include a grade specific criterion. Grades are not the most effective way to give a student feedback; therefore they should not be used in a learning objective. There may be times when you feel a learning objective needs more than one criterion and that is perfectly acceptable. You may add as many as needed to clarify for students what is expected of them to show mastery.
Tips For Writing Effective Learning Objectives
- Learning objectives should be student-centered. When writing learning objectives, make sure the focus is always on the student. They should always describe what the student will be doing, not what you will be teaching or what your instruction will look like. A learning objective should never be confused with a learning activity.
- Make sure to use simple language all learners can understand. Learning objectives should be shared with students prior to the learning. This gives the learner a sense of purpose. Therefore, it is important that they are able to read and understand each word we use.
- Keep the learning objective statement brief. Limiting your objectives to one sentence will help your learners focus better on what is expected of them, instead of becoming discouraged and overwhelmed by the wordiness.
- Match the learning objective to the level of your students. When choosing an action verb for your objective, make sure it is at the same learning level as your students. For example, if you were introducing a new topic to your class, you would want to start them at a lower level and choose a verb such as “describe” or “list”. Using a Bloom’s Taxonomy verb chart can help with this.
- Write objectives with outcomes in mind – not content. Your focus should be entirely on what a student should be able to do, not on the lesson itself. The lesson will develop out of the outcome, not the other way around. Remember, you need to know where you are going before you can choose your path to get there.
After writing your learning objectives, use a checklist like the one included to carefully examine each one. In order for an objective to be the most effective, it must meet each and every criteria.
Sharing Learning Objectives With Students
How many of us have written a learning objective on the board only because we are required to do so, and never do anything with it? I bet there are quite a few of us. We are missing out on a huge opportunity to improve student learning in the classroom when we do this. Learning objectives shape what students learn. When a student knows before hand what they are expected to learn, they are able to direct their attention towards those particular areas. There is a sense of purpose for their learning.
The most important step of sharing learning objectives is to ensure students actually understand the objective. One way we can do this is by engaging students in a discussion about the learning objective prior to the lesson. Ask questions such as:
- What are we going to be learning today?
- How does this relate to something we have already learned?
- Why do you think it is important that we learn this?
- When do you think we would use this in the real world?
- How will you know if you have got it?
This gives students the opportunity to stop and process the information found in the objective. Classrooms where students understand the learning objective for the daily lesson see performance rates that are 20% higher than those where the learning objective is either unknown or unclear. (Marzano, 2003)
Now that you know what goes in to writing an effective learning objective and how to share it with your students, I challenge you to start each planning session with writing learning objectives. Let this guide the planning of your lessons. Then consistently start each lesson discussing the objective with your class. You will begin to see a change in student learning in your classroom.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE CHECKLIST - Use this checklist to help you write your learning objective.
DOWNLOAD THE LEARNING OBJECTIVE CHECKLIST
Choose one subject area that you teach and start your next planning session by writing your learning objectives before deciding what lessons or activity you will be using. Use the downloadable checklist to check your objectives for effectiveness. Use these objectives to build your lessons off of for the week. Then each day start your lesson by discussing the objective with your class. Use the questions found in this article to lead the discussion. Do it for two weeks before adding in another subject area.
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