Educational Fad: Lesson Objectives

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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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Do your pupils write out their lesson objectives?

The framing or copying of lesson objectives in still commonplace today and for many almost a ‘non-negotiable’; “All students will; most students will; some students will …” meant that teachers had to record three variations of their lesson aims on to lesson plans and on to the whiteboard.

The intention meant that you were planning to ‘predict’ differentiation from various outputs from groups of students; this is despite having 20-30 students in every class that would produce that number of varied results.

Debra Kidd recently renounced this as a waste of time in her book.

What’s the point?

Sharing a learning objective (LO) is important but don’t get students entering into the charade of copying and pasting what you’ve written on the board.

Why spend the first ten minutes of a lesson getting students to write them down? Will you be marking their ability to copy accurately? No, thought not.

Some students can copy a LO in 3 seconds and some take a very long time and then get it in the neck for not being quick enough (not great teaching). How long is your lesson? I thought the idea was to get down to business asap….it is.

Copying LOs for 3 mins per lesson = 10 school days (50 hours) ‘wasted’ per pupil per year.

Who says?

Where and how did this nonsense ever gain traction? Who said that a teacher has to explain two or three intended learning outcomes and then students’ mindlessly copying them into their books? Was it Ofsted?

No, in fact, in its Made to Measure report Ofsted highlights an example of good practice that involves a teacher purposely not sharing the LO to a lesson “until later in the lesson, at which point they challenged the pupils to articulate for themselves what they have learned”.

LOs are just white noise to most students and quite frankly a meaningless routine. Why even tell them what their LOs are anyway? Talk about education on a plate. Let them work out what their LOs are for goodness sake and employ the Invisible Sun strategy.

Is writing LOs on the board good practice? Uurr, really? You are even asking? No it isn’t.

In his blog post Objectively Speaking, Mike Fishback identifies three reasons why we should question the wisdom behind writing LOs on the board. He says that communicating objectives to students:

  1. sends a strong message about who is driving the learning.
  2. gives away the ending before the uncovering even begins.
  3. discourages students and teachers from pursuing potentially constructive lines of inquiry that appear tangential to the objectives.

Back to the future

If you are struggling for ideas when it comes to sharing LOs then nip over to David Didau’s website and take a look at his 40 ways to introduce learning objectives. Have you ever thought about using QR codes? See Mr P’s ICT blog for ideas about that.

Mr Pink, @PositivTeacha on Twitter, published a post saying “If you still have learning objectives up at the start of every lesson, you’re in 2012”.

When this was posted on Twitter it got a conversation going. Mr Pink defends his views by saying:

  1. They’re clunky
  2. They’re limiting
  3. They facilitate the abomination that is differentiated learning objectives
  4. They’re a waste of time
  5. They’re a stick to be beaten with

To find out more read his excellent blog where he explains the thinking behind each one in more depth.

It’s your professional prerogative to decide whether writing the LO on the board is pedagogically sound and appropriate but please, don’t waste precious learning time getting everyone writing them down.

There are lots of confusions and mythologies surrounding learning objectives, so why not take a look at Will Thalheimer’s video in which he helps to “help disambiguate some of the worst misinformation.”

What other Fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

4 thoughts on “Educational Fad: Lesson Objectives

  1. I work in SEN school. The marking policy states that teachers should type up the learning objectives on stickers and place them in pupils books against every new piece of work. Teachers use the assessment criteria . I feel this is teaching directly to the assessment. It wastes a lot of teacher time to produce such stickers and narrows the focus of learning. For example if the focus of a lesson was to count to 10. I gave a pupil shapes in order to do the tasks. If that pupil told me the names of all the shapes I can’t recorded that because what I’m only looking for is the skill of counting to 10. If that pupil only counted to 8 they did not achieve! I think this is a very narrow minded view of how and what our pupils show us. I want to show all the progress my children make across the board. However I’m trying to compel evidence against this practice with very little success. Most research points to the use of LO at the beginning of lessons pros and cons. I can’t find anything against teachers writing LOs in pupils books because it’s not common practice.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear this; what a waste of time. Have you read Dr Debra Kidd’s book, Teaching on the Front Line? If we assume it takes you:
      a) 20 mins to create the stickers
      b) 1min to stick them in
      c) x30 pupils = that’s 50 mins per lesson
      d) you teach 20 lessons per week
      e) 16 hrs 40 mins per week to just stick things in books.

      Even if we assume you are teaching English, maths and science 3 or 4 times a week, we could reduce this by 50% of your timetable, that’s still 8 hours. Surely any sane headteacher will know this is ludicrous and no evidence is needed?

      1. A bad example. x30 pupils does not equal 30 minutes as they stick in at the same time. However, it’s still a waste of time.

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