Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do objectives really make a difference?

My daughter has been learning to ride a bike this summer. We got her a balance bike and have been going outside to take lots of summer rides. 

In the beginning she would walk standing next to the bike and then walk riding on the bike. There was the moment when she picked up her foot a little bit and started to coast for a mini second. Then she was back to walking. A few weeks later, she did this again. Then, at some point, she got it. She was able to take longer strides, and then she was balancing! She was so excited, smiling from ear to ear.

This last year my school has been very focused on objectives. We are supposed to have language objectives posted for every lesson. We are supposed to have learning objectives for every lesson. They are supposed to be specific enough so that 80% of our students can master the objective in each lesson.

Now, what if her learning to ride a bike was based on objectives? Day one, what would my objective be? When my daughter sees the bike, she will know to put one leg over the pedal? She will walk forward? She will take strides that are 2 inches longer than her normal walking stride? Is this really how we learn?

It took my daughter a few months to learn to ride the bike, while it took her brother 2 or 3 days. If I were to actually use objectives that 80% of kids could reach, I would be using the lowest common denominator?

I do think there is a place for learning goals. It does make sense to say that we want our students to do X, and here are the specific skills that need to happen for the student to be able to do X. But, in my opinion, daily learning objectives do not differentiate enough for each learner. I would say that the more complex and interesting the task, the more variability there is going to be among your students. In that case, the less a daily learning objective is going to make a difference.

And, what does the research say? Do objectives really make a difference? If they do, why are so many schools using them, and yet so many students are still not meeting grade level? Maybe they are not as important as we have been lead to believe. After reading Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, I learned what I've been suspecting for some time. Objectives make very little difference in achievement.


  1. Hi Luria

    I have been wrestling with this same issue. We are being pushed to have our learning intention clearly written on the board each lesson so students know what they are aiming for. However, we are also supposed to have individual goals for each student. I can't seem to balance these two ideas in practice on a daily-write-it-up kind of basis.

    My overall goal is to improve their confidence and skills in using language for written and oral tasks (big idea: like learing to ride a bike!).

    Individually they are all at different points with this and pick things up at different rates.

    I am actually going to spend half my lesson writing up my learning intentions while the kids sit and do nothing (tonge-in-cheek).

    What happened to trusting a skilled practitioner to do their job??


  2. thanks for exposing this to world, amazing stuff!
    Resume Objectives