Whether you call it a goal, a learning intention, a purpose statement, or an outcome, establishing what you want students to learn matters. Here’s why:
- Human behaviour is goal-directed. When students attend to a clearly written goal and the information that supports its’ achievement, that information moves into working memory. When there isn’t a clear goal, students aren’t sure what they should be attending to and without attention there’s no way to store and process information.
- Goals don’t just make initial learning easier. Because students are working with focus and purpose, they are also able to more readily transfer knowledge to familiar and unfamiliar situations both within and beyond the provided subject area.
- When you know exactly what you want students to know, understand and be able to do, you will know what successful achievement looks like. That knowledge makes both differentiation and assessment very easy to do. If, on the other hand, you start with an activity and then try to differentiate or assess it without a clear goal, chances are good that the work will not be aligned with the most salient features of the learning.
- Clear goals help students to develop the metacognitive awareness that is necessary for both critical and creative thought. This is because a good goal is focused on learning, rather than an assignment.
- Feedback is considered one of the most effective ways of improving student performance. Good feedback has three stages: telling students what they are doing well relative to the learning goal; telling students what they need to improve relative to the learning goal, and using a combination of pressure and support so that students persist until success has been achieved. Feedback loses its potency when there is no learning goal.
- Goals keep teachers focused on student thinking rather than student activity. I’ll say more about this in subsequent posts.