Learning Targets vs Activities


We’ve done some work this year on understanding the difference between a learning target and an activity. We primarily looked at this topic with literacy and math consultants as we participated in lab site work with classroom teachers.

learning_target_activity shadow

As part of the lab site experience, teachers created and posted learning targets for the lessons they would teach when their colleagues would be visiting their classrooms. The discussions around these lessons brought up an interesting predicament; while we all knew the definitions of the words targets and activities, translating this difference into practice when designing the lessons got a bit tricky. Often, what was identified as a learning target was actually an activity.

During our discussions, we challenged ourselves to understand if we should be concerned about whether we label something as a target or an activity. The work of Robert Marzano (a leading researcher in education) suggests that the distinction is important, and identifying and sharing targets can have a significant effect upon students’ learning.

[blockquote source=” Marzano, 2003″]Classrooms where students understand the learning outcomes for daily lessons see performance rates 20% higher than those where learning outcomes are unclear.[/blockquote]

These definitions helped solidify the terms for me:

Learning Goal (or Target): A statement of what students will learn or be able to do as a result of instruction. Example: Students will be able to recognize the protagonist, theme, and voice of a piece of literature.

Learning Activity: Learning activities and assignments help students reach learning goals.  Example: Students will produce a book report on a book of their choice, including a table of contents, with proper pagination and format throughout.

Understanding the difference between a target and a goal – and translating that knowledge into action in the classroom – does require deliberate attention. As I’ve been reading and building my own understanding, I’ve come across some useful resources from across the web that I’ve included in a list below. (I’m constantly amazed at the amount of high-quality information that schools, researchers and educators make publicly available!) Here are a few that have informed me and helped push my thinking.

Looking Forward

We’ve done some good work as a faculty in thinking about learning targets. I look forward to continuing to challenge ourselves, and I’m excited about the positive effect our work will have on our students’ learning.


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