Thursday, July 3, 2014

Build Student Engagement w/ Learning Targets (Ch. 3)

Learning Targets Chapter 3- Sharing Learning Targets with Students (The following is part of a series summarizing the book Learning Targets by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart)

Student engagement: Can we see it? Can we measure it?  Is it possible to even know when and if it is happening?  Is it realistic to think that students will be engaged in every lesson, every day?

In Chapter 3 of Learning Targets, Moss and Brookhart define student engagement by “what students actively think about, what their minds are on, rather that what their hands are on, that determine active engagement.” (p. 43)  They also pose the importance of sharing learning targets with students, not just at the beginning of the lesson, but throughout, based on formative assessment to make sure students recognize, understand, and aim for what is important to learn during the lesson.   With that being said, the performance of understanding remains at the forefront of the planning process and cannot be an afterthought.  We have to intentionally plan to connect the daily learning target with compelling evidence of student learning.

Last year, in our district, we were fortunate to begin our first Teacher Leader Academy.  A large portion of this Academy focused on building capacity in formative assessment (resources can be found at  The pieces these teachers learned align perfectly with the performance of understanding cycle outlined by the authors on page 45:
  •      Embody the learning target
  •      Promote mastery of essential content
  •      Develop students’ proficiency in specific reasoning skills
  •      Provide evidence of student learning
  •     Prepare students for the elevated degree of challenge that will face them in tomorrow’s lesson

The performance of understanding provides the necessary tool to engage the student.  They will own their learning if they understand what they are trying to do and why it is important. I would also add, that the performance of understanding results must inform the teacher on their own level of success and provide a basis to adjust tomorrow’s lesson as well.   This year, another group of teachers from each campus will be part of the Teacher Leader Academy…they will be trained in assessment for learning and charged with helping lead their PLC’s design learning targets that include performance of understand.

Chapter 3 also emphasizes a third component to the design cycle:  Criteria for Success.  This piece is often not used on a consistent basis although we do have several structures in place to allow it to happen.  First, the criteria for success must align to the learning target (How many times have we seen a great task displayed that doesn’t match the Student Expectation outlined in the lesson?) and must include the students’ perspective.   Teachers should use exemplar pieces of student work, rubrics, and modeling among other things to insure that students understand what quality means. Our district initiative of Standards Based Bulletin Boards are wonderful examples of quality work with commentary from teachers and students, however this happens after the lesson; the success criteria must be embedded “into” the lesson.  They must make meaningful learning visible (pg 48).

A final piece of sharing the learning target outlined by the authors is the concept of “make it relevant”.  This speaks directly to student engagement. Students in our classrooms today, more than ever, want to know why they need to know the information.  Do we remember this as we plan the learning target, performance of understanding, or the criteria for success?  If we want students to have ownership of their learning, we must give them a reason to own it.  In NISD, our Profile of a Graduate sets an ambitious goal for the type of learner we hope to cultivate.  It is a great place to start building the “why” behind learning, however individual lessons must have relevance to the student as well.

As you prepare ways to share learning targets with students, questions to consider:
  •      Do you believe it is possible to create a relevant learning target that inspires student ownership for each lesson? Why or why not?
  •      What do you find most difficult in creating performance of understanding for each lesson?
  •      Do you regularly use student “look-fors” as part of your teaching?  How do you share them and how do students articulate they have met the criteria for success?

 To see a video describing connecting learning targets to assessment for learning:


  1. I think it is totally possible to create relevant learning targets for every lesson. It is going to take a lot of time, effort, and practice on the teacher's part to have them ready for every lesson. I think teachers have to do this to lead the students to the place where THEY become the owners of the learning. Like Lisa said the last time, a lot of the time, teachers feel that they care more about what the students are learning than the students. If we make the LT relevant to them, maybe more would "come to our side." :)
    With such a diversity of students and levels of differentiation, I don't think one performance of understanding will reach all students. I think that this will be our biggest struggle. In reality, I don't think that any project, activity, etc really ever reached all students, but maybe if the team of teachers working together on these LTs and who are designing the performance of understandings will take that piece into consideration.
    I do use look-fors in my teaching when I remember that I kept a strong exemplar from another class, a previous year. I wish that I had kept more from this year than I did. What I need to do is snap a picture and digitally save items, that way I can put it in a file and see it when I sit down and do my planning.

    1. I believe that the most difficult work involves the building of the performance assessments. For the most part, we do a good job of creating rubrics that describe the expectations; however, I often wonder if the performance assessments are created in such ways that will allow us to examine the complexity of the thinking tasks and the expected learning outcome. It is much easier to design a learning target and even think that we've included relevance (as defined by the adults as to what we think is relevant for students) and appears to be fairly easy to describe the rubric. Yet, the "messiness" and hard work of the learning task causes us to default back to minimum "ways of knowing". I remember, early in my teaching career ( a long, long time ago), that states like Massachusetts and New York were moving towards performance-based assessments and I was intrigued by this idea. I also believed, as a teacher at the time, that it might be very difficult to do. Based upon my experiences over the past 27 years, these are not new topics...they are just difficult to implement. Just because they may be difficult to build is not an excuse. However, they can and must be done if we expect our students to experience a safe struggle so that our students experience success beyond high school. It is not easy work; however, I believe that we are ready to accomplish this kind of classroom work today because our teachers are better prepared than in the past.

  2. "Sharing the learning target is the means. The desired end is students who develop into self-regulated and assessment-capable learners." (pg 43)

    As an educator this is the ultimate goal for my students. Students who feel independent and confident to regularly self-assess their own progress are on their way to becoming productive citizens who can and will use these tools to achieve future success. I love the idea of every student responsible for their own learning and developing a sense of self-regulation. Knowing their own strengths & weaknesses and setting forth to achieve self-appointed goals sounds a lot like student-directed differentiation!

    The biggest struggle I foresee is making sure we address the learning target not only at the beginning but DURING and then again at the END of the lesson. However, this will be easily overcome when we witness increased student motivation and my favorite, students who regularly self-assess.

    My thoughts regarding an effective performance task is based on formative training we attended during Teacher Leader Academy...Can performance tasks and formative assessments be one and the same? Because formative assessments can be quick and easy yet can still guide instruction. I look forward to seeing how these two concepts relate and how they can be applied..

    1. Thanks Erika. I think you right. Will be great if we can get the kids to own their learning and be motivated to meet goals.

  3. I liked how you used the example of the great task on an SBBB that wasn't aligned to the rubric (Student Expectation). That is exactly what I was thinking about during Chapter 3.....all those rich tasks with undefined expectations. I feel a powerful piece of the learning occurs when we align WHAT we're doing with HOW we want it done. I might have stated this more than once in my comments, but I firmly believe LT will the be piece that takes us up another level in our instruction by intentionalizing and focusing our efforts even more.

  4. As I am reading this book, a word keeps gnawing at me...plan, plan, plan. If we do not take the time to plan our learning targets, plan what and how we are going to teach, plan for engaging lessons, plan for assessments, plan for success, plan for differentiated lessons, plan connections to students' lives, plan to meet with other teachers and share ideas; then we might as well save our breath! Teaching is hard work and it takes TIME to do it well. We can spend our time being a mediocre teacher or a dynamic teacher...the difference is what we spend our time doing!
    Learning targets are about "Action" - getting our students involved in their own learning through student friendly language and assessing themselves on where they are on their learning target. It brings our students to the table to become active participants...not passive empty containers. If we truly plan our learning targets and assessments as this book recommends, then our students achievement/successes will excel.
    Zimmerman, page 59, says it so well, "Students who self-regulate no longer view learning as a covert event that happens to them as a result of instruction controlled by their teacher. Rather they view learning as an activity they do for themselves and that is under their control." Let's plan for success!

    1. Hi Cathy,
      I agree that planning is the key to this process. I believe before the planning or during the planning comes a time where teachers need to understand deeply the TEKS in order to know how to break them down to manageable tasks. Knowing where a student is and being able to communicate to the student where they are and what they need to do next is the key. A student will learn to self regulate once they understand the power they have in learning small manageable steps.