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It’s a simple premise:  our students should know what they are learning and why.  The best way to accomplish this is through having learning objectives for every lesson.  Yet, teachers tend to make some common mistake around learning objectives.  Knowing these common mistakes will help you maximize your practice of using learning objectives:

1) Clearly post learning objectives.

Don’t make the students continually guess what they will be learning.  It’s not fun for the students, and they will eventually give up trying.  Your learning objective should never be a secret.  Your learning objective should be written or placed in a prominent place in your classroom.  Some teachers write it in PowerPoint, some use document cameras, and others have their learning objectives written in a dedicated space on their white board.  Do what works best for you and your students, but the key is to consistently post it.

2) Make your learning objective relevant.

Reference your learning objectives in the beginning of each lesson.  If you continually talk about (give attention to) the learning objective students will come to understand that this is important and something they should pay attention to.  Another way is to have the students do some activity around the learning objective.  For instance, you may ask students to reflect on their progress in achieving the learning objective and what they need to meet it.

3) Write the learning objective in simple, student-friendly language.

Avoid going crazy with a paragraph-long learning objective.  Keep it simple, allowing the student to understand it.  To ensure students understand the learning objective you can have students rewrite the learning objective in their own words.

4) Double-check to see if  it is really an objective or activity.

Examples of activities masked as learning objectives:

“Read Chapter 2 in the your textbook.”

“Summarize Chapter 2.”

Examples of a learning objectives:

Students will be able to

“Describe the author’s perspective in Chapter 2”

“Compare and contrast between current author and a past author’s perspective”

5) Ensure your learning objectives drive the lesson.

Every activity and assessment must be connected to your learning objectives.  Often teachers have great activities, but they have nothing to do with the learning objective.


Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job


Lately, I have noticed something was afoot.  I saw school administrators visit and observe my class several times over the past week.  I was not alone.  This team of observers jumped from one class to the next.  They weren’t there to evaluate, rather just look for best-practices in our school’s classrooms.  I haven’t seen this, save planned evaluations, in years.


This is a good step forward to break down the isolation teachers (and the system) build into our teaching practices.  We spend so many hours in professional development and meetings learning about best-practices dealing with curriculum, instruction, and classroom management.  However, what’s the take away?  Maybe the motivated teachers implement these ideas and strategies into their classrooms.  It’s a good start, but how do we know if we are using these strategies correctly?  Marzano – the current education research guru – explains that using a high-yield instructional strategy doesn’t always translate into student achievement. 

What’s the next step?  It’s not simply just checking off the best practices, but providing targeted individualized feedback.  There are certain ways of implementing, using, practicing these high-yield strategies, which may result in the desired gains.  Therefore, we need feedback to determine if we are implementing these targeted ideas/strategies correctly, and identify ways to improve.  We desperately need other teachers in our classes to watch us teach, and having them provide timely and constructive feedback on how to improve.  In my last 6 years of teaching, I have had only 2 teachers observe my class and how I teach.   If research shows that the teacher is the #1 factor in student achievement, then why aren’t we observing, practicing, and reflecting on our peers’ and on our  own teaching practices on a much greater systematic scale?

Student teachers have FUN.  When planning your curriculum, imagine yourself as that student.  Would this be a lesson that you would be interesting and engaging?  If the answer is no, then inject some FUN and be a little silly.  It’s okay!  Be experimental, which means taking some risk that the lesson won’t work.  So be it.  We are practitioners, always seeking better ways to connect curriculum to our students’ lives. 

Elementary and middle-school teachers do a much better job at this than high school teachers.  Loosen up already.  Think outside the box.  Do something that will surprise the students, capturing their attention.  All in all, learning can be FUN and academic.  Not to mention, its reenergizing for the teacher and keeps our content fresh.

I write in my book, Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job, about when I taught a lesson on world poverty in my middle school Social Studies class.  To kick it off the issue of world poverty, I removed most of the students’ desks and chairs.  The remaining desks represented the rich, chairs represented the middle class, and the floor represented the poor.  The number of desks and chairs were proportionate to the breakdown on income levels of the world.  When my students entered the classroom they were immediately stunned and hooked.  Some wondered out loud, “Why are there only three desks in here?”  They were desperate to find out what they were going to learn.  The lesson that followed was rich and engaging.  The students “felt” the problem.  At the end of the lesson, one of my challenging students said “we should do something about this.”  I said “okay, what were you thinking?”  The following week the entire class and I went to a local soup kitchen, resulting in an awakening experience for many of the students.

There’s another benefit to having FUN.  Injecting a little FUN may get your noticed by your principal.  I remember the principal coming in during my poverty unit to see what all the buzz was about.  He loved the lesson.  This experimental lesson led to a glowing recommendation letter, which helped me land some teacher interviews.  Also, it was a great talking point when asked in an interview, “Describe a lesson that you felt went well.”  (click here for more interview questions)

Try something new this week and get noticed!  Have FUN!

D.O.E. offers thousands of free lesson plans in many subject areas.  It’s your tax money, so why not use it?


Free Lesson Plans at the U.S. Deparment of Education

It dawned on me the other day how powerful lesson planning is.  It affects so many things: student learning, classroom atmosphere, student discipline, and, of all things, my mood.

Yesterday was a rough day.  I had not lesson planned for the 4 different classes I teach.  My planning period was eaten up by paperwork, parent phone calls, and a meeting.  The previous evening I had a personal obligation which didn’t allow me time to plan.  I had a basic idea of my learning objectives and how I was going to do it.  This lack of clarity and planning resulted in a horrible teaching day.  The day felt like it dragged on.  I felt disorganized, always trying to find this or that pile of paper.  I felt like I was always putting out fires, and running from one place to another.  The students became restless with the gaps in instruction.  Student learning was not at the level I expected.  Then, I became frustrated, which quickly transferred to my students.  At the end of the day I was drained, out of energy, and irritated.  The lack of lesson planning completely affected my mood, and, the outcome of my day.   I was stressed.

Today was a different day.  I had time in the morning to plan.  I created a comprehensive lesson plan for each of my classes.  The lessons were organized and I communicated my expectations and learning objectives to the students.  Students were engaged and had fun learning the various learning objectives.  The day flew by.  I was energized and realized that this is why I love teaching.  I practically didn’t have any stress.  There was not one discipline issue.  Students were happy and, most importantly, learning.

It’s amazing to see the stark difference between yesterday and today, and how lesson planning affected my day’s outcome in such a high degree.  I usually lesson plan, but after yesterday I am going to make sure that I wake up a little earlier or find some time to at least organize my thoughts for the days I am crunched for time.  The payoff is definitely worth it.