Questions as Learning Target Prompts

For me, hearing the words, “learning target” can create an uneasy feeling. Mostly because I find a range of understandings and practices live within its frame.

When I think about what a learning target is, I remind myself that it is an abstract and often intangible entity. A learning target is an idea wrapped in explicit understandings. It is frequently distilled to a statement and presented to students with an expectation. It is something, as a teacher, I can aim for and collect associated evidence to understand. However, I can’t crawl inside the minds of my students and watch the synapses form. 

As I plan a progression of learning targets, it forces me to identify the connected pieces that create a big idea. I can think about how my students will respond and plan teaching points. I can collect monitored evidence as we go to see if my expectations were correct or need adjustments. Learning targets can be used in a way that is effective in our planning of teaching writing, or they can become words on the wall based on a formulaic statement. 

For me, within a progression, learning targets can take on different forms. My favorite being one that encourages inquiry and focus. 

Here is one example of how I might present and process the creation of a learning target that invites students into the conversation and encourages building up our understanding together. Just like everything, it doesn’t work every time for every skill or standard. I would encourage you to try it and see how the engagement within your learning targets shifts. Can you go from pointing and telling kids what they are about to learn to shift responsibility toward students? Can you determine the points of entry, how students are learning, and how to replicate it again and again?

For the sake of this post, I am choosing a standard from the Common Core State Standards for third-grade opinion writing. 

Standard: CCSS W.3.1.B

Provide reasons that support the opinion.

Instead of:

I can provide reasons that support an opinion.

Try starting with:

Collect student responses:

Push further:

Using a prompted question to engage students in a thinking state alerts their brain to begin seeking an answer. Your writers may not know the answer yet; this will be informative. The responses will help lead you to your follow up discussion, second question, or learning target statement. 

Not all learning targets need two question prompts, and some are challenging to turn into a question. I would encourage you to try using a learning target prompt in place of a learning target statement and observe the impact. As the teacher, we need to know where we want our writers to go, while making room for worthwhile detours. Using a question to prompt thinking within a standard not only helps us unlock the smaller pieces of a big idea, but it also helps students become more involved in their learning process moving forward.