One of my personal professional challenges is to practice and pursue the best possible use of learning targets and success criteria. And it’s come to my attention that most educators have strong opinions on their use, prescribed wording, and how students employ them.

Turns out, I’m not the only one who questions this.

Effective vs. ineffective goal-setting. The aim is to ensure that students understand goals and how current activities support those goals. Ideally, then, the student has perspective and sees value in the work: they understand the why of the current work in order to find it more meaningful and to facilitate purposeful learning, and they have a touchstone for gauging progress (and thus use of time).

Think about any long meeting. We have an agenda not only to remind us of what we must accomplish but what action items should follow. Why is that useful to provide a written agenda at the start – and, importantly, keep referring to? Because we easily lose track of time or focus unwisely on less important matters than the goals require. In other words, an ongoing reminder of larger purpose (and a double-check on whether current talk is on-task and a good use of our time) is always wise, given human propensity to get lost in the moment. True for teachers as well as learners.Thus, the bottom line test of the effect of any school policy about goal posting is whether or not students learn better and have greater perspective because of it. For example, when asked, can students  say why an activity is being done and why it matters and how it connects to prior work?

Alas, having hundreds of times asked students in class Why are you doing and learning this?  I cay say that the results are not pretty. I dunno is the most common. (Older kids sometimes sullenly retort: I dunno; go ask the teacher.) And this is often in schools where there are posters on the wall or objectives on the board.

Continually trying to encourage students to read–and talk about ideas. Why is this so hard?

Back to Learning Maps. The author of the article, Azima Thakor, is a French teacher in Canada. She and her colleagues are practicing a gradeless classroom. When asked, her students say:

“Place yourself where you believe you’re doing in the class. The Learning Map helps with self-evaluation. The Learning Map helps communicate how you think you’re doing, the teacher checks in, then we can talk about relating that to a number. I like doing it because I know where I am so there are no surprises – I got what I deserved; I expect the result because I talked to the teacher about it; I know how I’m doing in class.”

Learning Targets are not ‘activities,’ but they are assessments. The trick is allowing students to understand and maintain agency in their success. This doesn’t mean a wild-west free-for-all, but allow the continuum of progress. In a robotic world, a student would parrot the LT/SC and “get it.” I like the idea of reframing the “I Can” statements:

Standards are not the same as learning targets. Here are three tips to consider when converting the former to the latter:

  • If a standard calls for multiple independent actions (e.g., I can identify a dog. I can identify a cat.), split it up into multiple learning targets.
  • Make sure all learning targets are in student-friendly language, because we ultimately want students to be able to leverage these targets to drive their own learning through self-assessment (assessment as learning).
  • To promote inquiry, present each learning target in the form of a question. (“Can I…?” instead of “I can…”)


My attempt at next week’s learning map:

Writing Workshop Feedback Forms

Digital Content and Curriculum Self Assessment (put this together over a year ago for beginning computing skills course)

Reading Life Guide I created to help students with IRLA:

How to Focus Lessons and Learning Goals:

Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning:

Self-Assessment in Middle School:

56 Examples of Formative Assessment

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