In the FE sector, it is now common to see lesson aims and objectives displayed in classrooms and made explicit for learners. I have been a teacher, trainer and coach for twenty five years and now I work as a consultant, trainer and observer across the sector. Recently I have noted some inventive approaches that engage learners really well with objectives and also seen some practices that raise questions for me.
Engaging learners with clarifying the objectives
I have seen several lessons in which teachers encourage learners to predict the lesson objectives:
1. After several short activities, the students work as a team to predict the focus and main objectives for the lesson, then note them on a flip chart or mini whiteboard. At a signal from the teacher, each group flashes their answers as the teacher reveals the objectives on the Smartboard.
2. On the Smartboard as the lesson begins there are six key words associated with the lesson topic/outcome. Pairs or teams guess the lesson aims and outcomes and score points for their answers; the closer to the teacher’s version they get, the higher the score. This also works well using six visual prompts instead.
Watching these lessons, I noted how curious, motivated and engaged the learners were and how clear they were on the lesson objectives, having processed them thoroughly at an early stage of the day. In both cases,the learners had formulated objectives in their own language, had their understanding checked against the teacher’s version and been active in the clarification process.
Approaches to sharing objectives that raise questions for me
The approaches mentioned above contrasted with several lessons in which lesson aims and objectives were written in complex teacher-speak or exam board jargon and stuck on walls or flashed from the Smartboard with little explanation or processing by learners. Chatting to learners, I could see how few of them grasped what they were doing in the lesson or why, and I could see that the approach to objective sharing was part of the issue here.
Interestingly, teachers in several colleges have told me that it is college policy for them to display lesson objectives as the lesson begins in a standard format and that they are penalised in observations if they don’t. I think it is hugely helpful to make sure learners understand objectives of lessons and their links to wider skills development and outcome achievement. I wonder if this kind of guidance to staff is getting lost in translation somehow and the end result is a rather reductive, bureaucratic approach to sharing objectives? To me, this seems to miss the point of sharing objectives – to clarify outcomes, to specify the scope and level of tasks, to identify end products clearly for learners in language they understand.
How can colleges encourage positive approaches to sharing objectives?
One of the great strengths in our profession is our creativity, our search for ways to make things clearer, more relevant, more engaging for learners. I think that when we approach objective sharing with this imaginative mindset and creative flexibility, some very effective and varied methods emerge. For me, the guidance to teachers in colleges needs to make clear the main purpose of objective sharing, but leave space for teachers to find individual ways to implement that in practice. This could translate into a very interesting bite-sized CPD session, micro teach or swap shop event, in which teachers either demonstrate or just show on paper how they clarify lesson objectives with learners in engaging ways.
Coaches or Advanced Practitioners could also be involved to collect examples of engaging practice in objective sharing, through informal peer visits or learning walks. These could be shared through CPD sessions or teacher toolkit areas on your intranet.
For teachers who want to develop their own practice in this area, it can be interesting to get learner feedback using the one-minute paper method, at the mid point in the lesson and at the end. This feedback will give you a sense of what the learners actually picked up from the lesson and how well that connected to the intended aims. Click on aCaseStudyOneMinutePaper to download information about the one-minute paper method of getting learner feedback.
It can be a tad cringe-inducing to video yourself but it can be very enlightening in terms of your intention and the response from the individuals in the group. You can review it alone (locked room, with headphones on!) and reflect on these questions:
1. How well did I present the lesson objectives in terms of the language/conceptual level that learners could understand?
2. Are there any learners who I could have engaged more effectively?
3. How well did my objectives connect with later lesson stages and how clear was the connection for learners?
4. How effectively did I check whether each objective was being achieved and make this explicit with learners?
5. Was there another way of clarifying the objectives that might have been more effective in this lesson with this group?