Invisible Sun

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Should we share learning objectives with pupils?

A practice commonly subscribed to by teachers, is to ‘publish’ learning objectives (LOs) at the start of a lesson and collectively share them so that everyone knows what the purpose of the lesson is. Pupils then routinely copy them out into their books and there’s your evidence! Objectives covered.

But is this really necessary? Do we need to signpost a lesson?


What Are We Learning Today? Good question, that’s for pupils to find out. Forget WALT, that’s too obvious. Keeping pupils in the dark seems counter-intuitive, crazy almost, but is there a case for keeping LOs concealed?

Marcella McCarthy in her book ‘The Spider Strategy: Six Steps to Outstanding’, devotes a whole chapter to ‘Purpose’ and shares one strategy that involves not sharing LOs. She calls this ‘Invisible Sun’.

The idea behind this strategy, is to have your LO written out, but have it hidden from view until the end of the lesson. So, teachers dive straight in and teach and pupils are given the task of trying to work out what the purpose of the lesson is at various points in the lesson and/or as a plenary. Would you feel comfortable doing this? It’s not for the faint-hearted and as the author says,

“This idea takes a really confident and cool-headed teacher to carry it off. I’ve seen it done and it worked brilliantly – but I’ve also seen it attempted when it was a bit messy and it worked far less so. Therefore, use it with caution, and never as a substitute for planning.”

But why do it all? The purpose is that pupils have to think harder about what they are doing and it turns the lesson into a mystery that they have to solve. Setting LOs up-front, may enforce unnecessary limits on learning.

Total Eclipse

The Invisible Sun idea might seem dangerous, reckless and potentially confusing, but that isn’t the intention. If you feel that your pupils have the metacognitive skills to actually understand LOs in the first place, then they could benefit from trying to unravel what they are learning.

Whilst clearly defined objectives provide pupils with a means to organise their efforts, some LOs that are shared with pupils at the start of a lesson can sometimes be obscure and written in unfathomable teacher-speak, with many children failing to understand the ‘purpose’ right from the off.

The author is right to highlight that ‘Invisible Sun isn’t for everyone’ because it could lead to pupils getting hopelessly muddled or leaving the class having learned something, but not really understanding ‘why’ and ‘what for’.

But, Invisible Sun could have a place and as a strategy, it is worth experimenting with. Presenting the LOs up front is absolutely crucial for most lessons, but occasionally it could be useful for adding another layer of challenge. Could it be useful therefore, as a deeper learning experience?

A shallow learner will say their objective is to learn, whereas a deep learner will argue their objective is to understand.

Invisible Sun learning could enable pupils to form deeper and more personal connections when the learning objectives are related to them and made visible at the end of a lesson – aren’t they more likely to stick?

It could be argued, that we need to accomplish the learning first before we can understand what the learning objective is and what the knowledge and understanding relates to.

By not publishing LOs at the start of a lesson, pupils may be more likely to try a wider variety of approaches to solving a problem, for example. When it comes to actually sharing the LO with pupils, you could get them to find it using a QR Code: if you want to find out how to do that, then go to the excellent ICT Blog by Lee Parkinson found here.

Creating eclipses in the classroom could actually shine a spotlight on learning, far more than blinding pupils with learning objectives they don’t understand at the start of a lesson.

Should we share LOs with pupils? Yes, but sometimes at the end of a lesson and not always at the beginning.

As for copying LOs down? Well, that’s another story!

2 thoughts on “Invisible Sun

  1. One thing missing here. Copying down LOs helps T and Ss have some extra time to breathe, Sir/Madame. You must be teachers of 8 hours a day to know What’s what! Assessment? Testing? Self-assessment? Grading? Face the World? Theories just help; they cannot solve the problem. The heads must be properly and superficially to help change the world.

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