Effective Lesson Objectives

When thinking of improvement strategies for teaching practice, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start.

One of the very best places to focus upon is at the planning and preparation of curriculum delivery, both at the unit and individual lesson levels.

In previous posts the unit planning level has been covered, specifically using Backward Mapping. This is absolutely key to determining where the overall unit is going and how that goal will be broken apart into discreet lessons.

At the lesson level, one of the most effective ways to ensure that the lesson is delivered is to have properly written lesson objectives, which encapsulates all of the elements you wish the students to achieve in that lesson.

There are many ways to write lesson objectives but one I tend to return to time and time again is the ABCD model.

This model succeeds for the most part because not only does it capture the elements for lesson success, but it also is written for student learning, in language that they will understand.

The ABCD model

In a nutshell the ABCD model is an abbreviation of…

  • Audience
  • Behaviour
  • Condition
  • Degree

When teachers write lesson objectives that include all four of these elements, both they and their students will clearly understand what is to achieved by the end of the lesson.

This is very powerful for teachers, for they focus on what they need to prepare and deliver, avoiding both the fluff and the ‘interesting but peripheral’ stuff that makes its way into lessons.

This does not mean that a teacher cannot explore areas of interest as they arise in a lesson, but rather it reminds the teacher of the student learning priority that is the core of the lesson.

This is Explicit Instruction in action. In fact Archer and Hughes (2011) listed 16 elements of Explicit Instruction that tend towards great learning experiences for students.

I have written in more detail about Explicit Instruction in this post.

Three of these elements in particular are integrated into a teacher’s lesson plan when they use the ABCD framework…

  • Focus instruction on critical content.
  • Design organised and focused lessons.
  • Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lessons’ goals and your expectations

With this in mind, let’s have a look at the four areas of the ABCD model in some detail.

Audience

Audience refers to the students the teacher is planning to deliver the lesson to. On the surface this sounds so obvious that its inclusion might be glossed over as a given.

I mean, who else is the lesson aimed at? Well I’m glad you asked, because the teaching professional will appreciate that the classroom is composed of varying degrees of ability, at different stages of their learning.

Some of your students will be perhaps be in a different year level from their class mates if they are either on a modified program of work or you are teaching a composite class.

It makes sense then when planning to deliver a lesson, that the objectives are tailored towards particular audiences, or sections, of a class.

It makes no sense for example, to have a composite Maths class of year 9 and 10 students, and deliver a year 10 unit of work. What about the students who have just come up from year 8 and suddenly have year 10 Maths to figure out?

You should begin to see the importance of delivering the lesson elements to particular audiences.

Some teachers may recognise these pedagogical facets as differentiation. 

Teachers should be delivering tailored curriculum delivery through differentiation according to the learning abilities of the cohort.

There is simply no point in moving the whole class into a trigonometry unit of work, if several students have not achieved competency in geometry foundations.

Teachers can differentiate in many ways depending on the needs of the students. They can differentiate the content, the process, the product and even the environment.

When writing student friendly lesson objectives, be clear to define the audience accordingly. This may mean having to modify the lesson objective to suit several sections of the class…

“Good morning, Year 9/10. Today Year 9 we are going to continue on our geometry work on Equilateral triangles, whilst Year 10 we will be looking at Equilateral triangles using trigonometry.”

Of course such an introduction is broad but it at least differentiates audience. A teacher would then focus further on the particular audience individually in outlining what he wants the students to achieve.

Behaviour

Behaviour in this instance does not refer to behaviour management but to the activities you want the students to perform or demonstrate.

A teacher should be asking themselves when planning the lesson, what they want their students to do.

Mistakes in writing objectives, that result in poor learning experiences, happen when the behaviour is too vague. For example…

“Good afternoon Year 12 students, today you will understand…

You can immediately see the problem here. How will you know if they have understood?  Behaviours therefore should be observable and measurable as much as possible.

A teacher should really consider what actions a student has to undertake to prove they have demonstrated the learning behaviour.

So rather than use words like ‘understand’ or ‘comprehend’, they might consider more observable actions like ‘illustrate’ or ‘summarise’. Thus…

“Good afternoon Year 12 students, today you will show your understanding of Roman Imperial propaganda  by summarising two elements of propaganda from primary sources created in both the reign of Caesar Augustus and from another Emperor of the Julio-Claudian era.”

This example allows the teacher to observe whether or not the student understands by allowing them to demonstrate by stating the main ideas.

In realms of cognition, this would be in (Bloom’s taxonomy) in the lower order echelons of ‘Understanding’: cognitively above ‘Remembering’ but below ‘Applying’, ‘Analysing’, ‘Evaluating’ and ‘Creating’.

If a teacher wanted to add a cognitive skill to the lesson they would simply add an action verb that allowed a student to demonstrate it.

So for instance, the history teacher above might want the students to not only understand but to show some analytical skills.

Therefore…

“Good afternoon Year 12 students, today you will show your understanding of Roman Imperial propaganda  by summarising two elements of propaganda from primary sources created in both the reign of Caesar Augustus and from another Emperor of the Julio-Claudian era.

You will contrast the motive behind one source from each of your chosen Emperors.”

Contrast and motive are both elements of analytical cognition.

Determining which elements of lower to higher order thinking you wish a student to demonstrate throughout a lesson plan is important. This will generally move from lower to higher order thinking as they progress through from primary to senior secondary schooling.

In terms of classical education and specifically the trivium, we would see this cognitive progression gain complexity and fulfilment as students move from the grammar stage, through the logic stage to the rhetoric stage.

Just remember that students need to be able to walk, before they run. That is why the lower cognitions such as remembering, in taxonomies such as Bloom’s, are really important.

Unfortunately there has been recent and ongoing disparaging attacks within some education circles on the importance of thinking skills such as memorisation and remembering.

Teachers should appreciate that these are the building blocks that hold up the higher order elements of thinking.

Condition

Condition refers to what the students will be expected to use to fulfil the learning objective.

This element will ensure that the teacher has considered that the students are given the tools for success.

In the case of the history teacher, will he provide the primary sources himself, or will students go to their textbooks?

It is vital that the teacher has thought this through and does not ask the impossible from his students. So…

“Good afternoon Year 12 students, today you will show your understanding of Roman Imperial propaganda  by summarising two elements of propaganda from primary sources created in both the reign of Caesar Augustus and from another Emperor of the Julio-Claudian era.

You will contrast the motive behind one source from each of your chosen Emperors.

You will find photocopies from a variety of artefacts from the the specific era at the front of the class which you can access when I tell you. Further primary sources can be found within your textbook.

If a teacher was teaching life cycles in primary school they might take the students into the school grounds and show them seeds or fruit from a tree, to allow the students to access the conditions necessary to succeed. This might also compliment the work they have done in class.

Whatever the teacher does, they have to be realistic and state conditions that are practical and within the resources of the school.

Degree

Degree is an often overlooked element of a good lesson objective. A lesson objective can have all the other elements present but still be inadequate if the degree is not present.

So what do we mean by degree? Simply put, it is the standard at which you wish the students to demonstrate by the lesson end. It really means how well you want something done by the students.

Think of a Maths lesson. You want students of your grade 4 class to multiply two numbers up to 10 x 10.

A teacher might have the correct audience (after considering differentiation) of 80% of his students. He might have stated to the students the method and strategies he wants them to use to find the correct answer. He might have told them the conditions to succeed: whiteboard, jotters, pencil, test paper etc.

All of these are required, but it remains necessary for the teacher and the students to know what constitutes success. How well do they have to demonstrate to achieve the lesson objective?

Is it complete mastery at 100% or just a pass at 50% or somewhere in between? Do you have different degrees for different students?

Unless the degree element is present, the lesson can be a missed opportunity for demonstrable learning to occur.

So back to the history lesson…

“Good afternoon Year 12 students, today you will show your understanding of Roman Imperial propaganda  by summarising two elements of propaganda from primary sources created in both the reign of Caesar Augustus and from another Emperor of the Julio-Claudian era.

You will contrast the motive behind one source from each of your chosen Emperors.

You will find photocopies from a variety of artefacts from the the specific era at the front of the class which you can access when I tell you. Further primary sources can be found within your textbook.

Year 12 you will demonstrate success in this task by doing three things by the end of this double lesson. Firstly writing a sound summary in paragraph form, of around 50 words, on each of the four propaganda sources you are working with. Furthermore you will correctly identify the motives behind one primary source from each of your Emperors in a written sentence. Finally, you will write a concluding sentence that accurately contrasts the motives behind each of those two sources. I will check these for accuracy as you complete them. “

You should be able to see how important stating the degree or how well the task should be done is to the students and teacher.

Some subjects require more teacher feedback to students than others due to varying degrees of subjectivity and objectivity wrapped up in the degree: e.g in correctly executing an addition sum in Maths, compared to properly writing a paragraph of an interior monologue in English.

It’s worth noting that some ABCD objectives are more easily written in one full sentence, whilst others require further elucidation over several.

The rule of thumb, is to avoid vagueness, so it is much better to thoroughly explain than to leave students guessing.

Objections

There are teachers who might object and state that such a strategy wouldn’t work in their lessons, but I’ve yet to meet a circumstance where this is true.

Remember, the teacher who wants to spend a double lesson getting their students to read 20 pages of a textbook, might claim that an ABCD model wouldn’t work in that instance is correct: but that is not teaching. At best it is babysitting, at worst inexcusable laziness.

Teachers are paid professional salaries to teach, not to supervise. So even at revision time, it should never be a case of “Look over your books”: that is homework, not classwork.

That doesn’t mean that a teacher cannot reward students by quiet reading or some other practice, when rewards are due. However the difference should be obvious.

Conclusion

Properly written lesson objectives are vital for delivering lessons that are focused and aligned to the overall unit of work that the individual lesson forms part of.

This strategy can be used in every year of schooling. The teacher just has to modify the language to that which can be understood by the cohort.

Writing lesson objectives in this manner allows a teacher to accurately plan delivery of core curriculum elements rather than moving through each lesson with vague goals of where the students need to be.

Objectives written in such a way are best used in conjunction with unit planning that has been designed using some kind of backward mapping process.

The whole process focuses upon student learning rather than teacher performance.

It greatly assists in knowing what content to each and how to teach it for student understanding.

It moves the teacher to seriously consider what materials and environment is suitable for delivery and how success can be measured across a range of student abilities.

Go ahead and try this if you haven’t done so before. It seriously enhances student learning with visible and immediate results.

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