Targets, Objectives, and Experiences, Oh My!

The following statement is long, confusing, and will cause you to question your understanding of it, Here we go…


A standard differs from an objective, which differs from a learning target, which differs from a learning experience… and each has a purpose in our planning for instruction.



Translation: Planning for students’ learning is a very complex process!


Quality instruction heavily depends on the knowledge of our students and our relationships with them. This is the affective side of planning for our students’ learning. We cannot teach them what they need to know unless we establish a safe culture of learning for all students. Learning experiences, learning targets, and learning objectives are often used interchangeably, even though they are different components to students’ learning.

Analogy Time…

yh_93015.jpgThink of the classroom culture as a pie bakery. The smells, customer service, and types of pies available impact our senses and pull us in. Just as important is the teacher’s knowledge of the standards being taught, and how to break them down into manageable “slices” that teachers can reflect upon for his/her own understanding. Once a pie is sliced, it is ready to be served to our students in small bites that are just right for indulging, ingesting, and savoring. You  have provided a particular flavor, and may provide toppings, special plates, a sauce, or other additions to enhance the flavor of the pie slices. Compare that to learning experiences that are planned to enhance understanding of a learning target.

To sum up this analogy:

The culture of learning you establish is your bakery.

The standards are the many pies you will provide.

The objectives are the slices of pie.

The bites are the learning targets.

The flavor, and choice of condiments are our learning experiences.

So just what is the difference between the three?

Objectives guide instruction, and we write them from the teacher’s point of view (for our lesson plans and organization). They are the teacher friendly version of the standard! Their purpose is to unify outcomes across a series of related lessons or an entire unit. By design, instructional objectives are broad and don’t serve as a guide for one lesson. They are the BIG rocks over a section of time that we want our kids to have a grasp on. For example, when planning an interdisciplinary unit, your objectives might include multiple content areas. They are broad and might include essential questions.

Learning targets are more refined…they are standards unpacked, and serve as a GPS for learning. They use friendly language that includes academic vocabulary to describe chunks for lessons…skills, content, strategies that students will come to know conceptually for application. We write learning targets from the students’ point of view and share them throughout a day and within a specific lesson so kids can use them as a roadmap for their learning.

Learning targets provide a common focus for us as a collective group of educators, and help us make informed decisions in PLCs about what works, what doesn’t work, what else is needed, interventions, enrichment, and how we can improve our instruction. They help us determine challenging goals for what we as teachers need in order to ensure the best learning experiences for our kids, and will drive adult learning that directly impacts student achievement.

We need both in order to know where we are headed, and where we will make pit stops along the way.

Points for Reflection…

  • Standards…what students will be required to master once broken down into learning targets for them
  • Objectives…guide planning and instruction
  • Learning Targets…what you want students to understand and demonstrate to ensure mastery of the standard, a section that plugs into the big picture, is shared with students through a visual and discussions
  • Learning targets are NOT activities! Activities are the what–the learning experiences you plan to support kids’ understanding of the learning target and scaffold the path to proficiency of a standard.
  • The standard is always FIRST! Unpack each standard to ensure your own knowledge and application, and to define specific learning targets that will support students’ path to proficiency.
  • How will you know when kids understand and can apply their learning? Which comes  first, the learning experience or the assessment to measure what kids learn?

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