Beyond Learning Targets


dots                                                                                                           Shared on flickr by Yuki Ishikawa


In an intelligent classroom collective, things will arise that the teacher may not have considered previously.
~Brent Davis

Do you remember connect the dot drawings you did as a child? You drew lines to connect numbers and created a simplistic outline of a more complex image. It was a great way to feel a sense of mastery and had an element of surprise. I can draw an owl! 

But let’s face it, is was no artistic masterpiece! At best, the finished outline hinted at the subject. For instance, a dot-to-dot of an owl described owls in a very generalist way. The outline did not provide any detailed information about any specific owl. If you wanted to know about owls in the general sense, then the outline was great! But to discover more about the nuances and special features of a specific owl, a definite no go!

A dot-to-dot drawing tells us more about owls in general. It does not describe any ONE owl.

Ok. How about learning targets? Are they a bit like a connect-the-dots outline? Do they describe every child rather than any specific child? And, if each child uses the same dots to connect their learning lines as they move through school, what picture are they creating for themselves, about themselves? Are they finding out and exploring who they are? Specifically. Uniquely. Individually.

Or, are learners discovering more about who WE want children to be? In general. Do learners discover more about how their learning compares to the connect-the-dots outline of every child?

I wonder if learning targets (or outcomes, standards, intentions) might serve as a starting point rather than a stopping point on the journey of fostering learner agency and personalization. Are the creation and sharing of learning targets THE ultimate destination? Or, are learning targets, perhaps, a move TOWARDS inviting students into owning the learning, and a doorway into clarifying what is important in the learning landscape.

Maybe, learning targets are a step towards clarity but perhaps a world of exploration lies beyond?

Moving Forward with Learning Targets

Continuum over Comparison

  • Celebrate jaggedness
    When students are presented with learning targets and a corresponding 4 point criteria scale (whether these are in words or in numbers) we inadvertently create an unspoken expectation that EVERY child should work towards a 4 for every learning target. But is this realistic? And is this what we want? Could we find a way to represent and emphasize the learning journey of each child as a unique continuum rather than as a comparison to an artificial standard?

Acknowledge the Lived Curriculum

  • All targets/standards/outcomes in play all the time
    Do we see learning as a linear march through the curriculum? Do we as the teacher cover the topic and that determines when it has been learned? Or could we have ALL the learning targets out (like a deck of cards spread out on a table top) and put them in the hands of the learner?
  • Students identify when they have experienced a learning target
    Learners come with unique backgrounds and strengths. Can we assume to know what each child takes away from a learning experience? Or could learners be empowered to do this for themselves? Of course, we as educators still have a vastly important role in this process but maybe it shifts to designer, observer, documenter, and nurturer.

Encourage Diversity 

  • Learning targets that are expansive and open
    Do the learning targets invite diversity of thought? Sometimes learning targets can be quite specific and narrow. For example, I can multiply 2 integers, emphasizes the technical skill. In comparison, I can explore multiple strategies when I multiply integers, invites the possibility of diversity of thought.

Moving Beyond Learning Targets

I have just begun to consider what this might look like in practice. Currently some clues I am exploring are:

Consider Emergent Outcomes

More and more, we are required to map our assignments, assessments, and curricula to learning outcomes. But I find it strange that teachers and institutions would pre-determine outcomes before students even arrive upon the scene. I have argued, instead, for emergent outcomes, ones that are co-created by teachers and students and revised on the fly. Setting trajectories rather than mapping in advance the possible shapes for learning.
~Jesse Stommel 

Use Larger Frames 

Invite learners to consider themselves at a more holistic level. Rather than asking students to measure themselves against a predetermined standard in a content area, use the content area as means for students to explore who they are. The curriculum serves the child rather than the other way around. In B.C. we have the unique opportunity of leaning into the frames provided by the core competencies.

Consider Community as Curriculum




















The Gift of Competence


Competent                                                                                                                Shared on Flickr by djemili amin

That you do for me, without me, you do to me.


One small bone of contention between my husband and I is the unloading of the dishwasher. If I begin to unload the dishwasher but pause for a second, say to rearrange the pot drawer or maybe wipe a spill on a cupboard door, he swoops in to complete the task.  In that moment he sees himself as being so helpful. In that moment, I see him as being very unhelpful! He is doing for me what I wanted to do myself.  And in that moment, I feel incompetent.

In comparison, if I bring to mind a context of when I feel competent, say like planning a lesson or creating a vision for a learning experience, boy, do I feel like a different person. I am open, I feel positive, I want to help, I want to add to. I feel like a good human! I even feel so good I might consider unloading a dishwasher!!

When I look back to my first year of teaching, my principal at the time helped me to see my competence. He presented me with the contexts in which I was becoming a competent teacher. At a time when I was uncertain about my competence as a teacher, he created the space for me to move into my struggles and missteps, rather than away from them. I felt empowered to find workable answers, I felt valued and valuable. I felt I could do for myself what I needed to do to be competent and I began to believe I was a competent teacher!

The gift of competence was not in what was given to me. Rather it was the space that was created for me to move into, to see myself, to know myself.

To this day, I still feel his gift of competence. Of course, the competency was mine, but he held up the mirror, he created the space for me to own it, for myself. He never did for me what I could do for myself. He pointed out my competencies, and in doing so, he created a place for me to identify my next steps forward, for myself.

To a large part, he helped define for me the contexts in which I felt successful and competent. I recognized that I felt confident and competent when I could forge relationships. I came to understand that I felt confident when I could connect and make real-time meaning with people. I came to see that my confidence grew when I knew I was making a difference. His gift wasn’t that he told me that I was competent. His gift of competence was that he helped me to identify and shape the contexts in which I was competent.

And I wonder:
What contexts and experiences might allow all leaners to see and feel their competence? What contexts might reveal the specific and individual competence of each child, for that child?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear the dishwasher cycle ending.