Learning Targets

A clear focus for a lesson with high expectations for student learning is a promising teaching strategy that both John Hattie and Robert Marzano agree has high impact on student learning. Stop, take a deep breath, and look at the learning target in your classroom right now. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have a learning target? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  2. Is my learning target a complete sentence? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  3. Is my learning target what all my students shout be able to do by the end of today’s class? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  4. Would my students know what this learning target means and be able to reflect on their progress toward this learning target? If the answer is “no” keep reading.

What is a learning target?

Do you have an instructional objective or a learning target? What is the difference? Both objectives and learning targets are goals for what the student should know and be able to do that are derived from our standards. Standards or evidence statements are broad statements describe how the students will demonstrate understanding. Both objectives and learning targets are more specific measurable student learning outcomes of what a student should know and be able to do. Both guide teaching and learning in the classroom. So what makes them different?


An instructional objective measure the student learning outcome for what a student should be able to do at the end of an instructional sequence, such as a unit. Objectives guide instruction and are written from the teachers point of view of what students need to know and be able to do.

Learning Targets

By contrast, learning targets measure the student learning outcome for what a student should be able to do at the end of today’s class. Learning targets are written to guide the learning and use language that students can understand and use to guide their own learning.

In a nutshell, instructional objectives are broad and measure what a student should be able to do at the end of an instructional sequence, and learning targets are specific and measure the learning within the class period. Objectives guide instructional moves while learning targets guide the learning moves.

Here are some tips for evaluating the clarity and rigor of your learning targets.

Tip #1: Make it a Complete Sentence

Let’s face it, teachers are busy. We are often rushed and sometimes that includes being rushed to write our learning targets. We have all written learning targets that are phrases such as “multiply fractions” or “physical and chemical changes” on the board and not complete sentences. We know what that means, but do the students? Writing a clear learning target is important and research supports that it does have high impact on learning especially when the students can use it to reflect on their own learning. Slow down and prioritize the time to write your learning target in a complete sentence that contains a learning action. Turn “multiply fractions” into “I can explain how to multiply two fractions and how it is different from addition.” Turn “physical and chemical changes” into “I can explain evidence for why a change is physical or chemical.”

Tip 2 Involve Students in Learning Targets

Students become more motivated when they understand the task, know it is within their reach, and can experience success within a short term. Read through your learning target and make sure it is in language your students understand. Ask the students to explain what it means or how it would look if they could demonstrate understanding. Students are motivated when they have a sense of purpose. In the book Leaders of Their Own Learning by Berger, Rugen and Woodfin the authors provide many examples of ways to involve students and use learning targets with students throughout lessons. Check out this video of how one teacher uses learning targets throughout the lesson. Have students reflect on the progress they have toward a learning target, or the strategy, attitude or effort they use to reach it. Assess each students progress toward the learning target today with a quick ticket out the door so you can plan your next instructional moves for tomorrow.

“Students who can identify what they are learning significantly outscore those who cannot.” – Robert J. Marzano

Tip 3 Small, Manageable Chunks

Our state standards are not written to be individual learning targets. One standard itself contains many different skills and learning outcomes. Learning targets break down abstract content standards into many smaller learning tasks. Consider the standard from math: Determine the unknown whole number in a multiplication or division equation relating three whole numbers. This one standard could be broken into many different learning targets in small chunks throughout many days of instruction. Learning targets along the way might include:

  • I can explain how repeated addition and multiplication are related.
  • I can explain how repeated subtraction and division are related.
  • I can show how to solve a problem with repeated addition.
  • I can show how to solve a problem with multiplication.
  • I can explain how multiplication and division are related.
  • I can prove my answer to a multiplication problem is correct by using division.
  • I can solve a division problem by using a related multiplication problem.
  • I can prove my answer to a division problem is correct by using multiplication
  • I can write multiplication and division number sentences relating 3 numbers.
  • I can determine the missing parts (quantities or symbols) in number sentences.
  • I can find the missing number in a multiplication or division problem relating 3 numbers.

There are likely a number of other learning targets that you could break down further into smaller learning chunks to meet the needs of your learners or limited class time.

Tip #4 Add Language to your Learning Target

Keep your English learners in mind and add language acquisition to your learning target. How will students read, write, listen, or speak about what they are learning. English language learners in the classroom are acquiring language skills at the same time as content skills. SIOP or Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol provides research supporting the importance of developing your objectives into language objectives to help your English Learners. What does this mean? It means being transparent right from the start of how student will demonstrate their mastery of the standard through language. You are clear about whether students will read or listen (receptive language skills) or speak or write (productive language skills). This sets your English Learners up for success when they know what the end goal is, and how they will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge through language. For example, a learning target of “I can understand the events that led to the Civil War.” can be changed to “I can write about the reasons different events led to the Civil War.” It makes it clear that by the end of the period they will need to write about these events, not just explain them. This changes how students may engage or record notes throughout the period with that end target in mind.

New Podcast: Zero Waste Interns

Episode 10: Zero Waste Interns. Listen to an interview with Mr. Harris and his students and the vision they have for making EPHS a zero waste school.

The Vision

Mr. Harris, EPHS science teacher, had a vision to provide an experience for students beyond the classroom walls that would allow students to apply Global Outcome competencies, get real work experience, and apply their knowledge of environmental science. Visionary teachers like Mr. Harris in our school district are changing the way that we think about education and preparing students for job opportunities in our knowledge economy. His creative approach to project-based learning has inspired students to take something they are passionate about and create a program for the school.

Zero Waste Interns

Sarah and Alex, Zero Waste Interns at EPHS, talk about the goals they have for moving their school toward zero waste. They have worked with their peers in the Environmental Club to build “The Clean Machine” to separate compostables, food waste, and landfill items. They have spend their first 20 days educating teachers and students in their school about composting and the actions they can take to reduce waste. They have big goals to expand the program to the elementary and middle school, as well as apply our school to be an Eco-School designation.

Zero Waste Interns, Alex and Sarah next to the Clean Machine in the school cafeteria.

Global Outcomes

Communication and perseverance are the two global outcomes that they feel they have most acquired in the first 20 days on the job. As you listen to the podcast you will hear them identify other global outcomes such as critical thinking & problem solving, social emotional wellness, collaboration, as well as global awareness and compassion.

What do Alex and Sarah want everyone to know?

  1. You create more waste than you think you do.
  2. Your choices make a bigger impact than you think you do
  3. By changing small habits, you can have a positive Global impact
  4. Your habits can cause a chain reaction
  5. Together we can make a huge difference!

A Culture of Learning

Commitment to Lifelong Learning

Continued learning has always been important in our profession, and in every profession, but progressively more in education recently. The rapid growth of the information technology industry as well as the change from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy has caused rapid change and transformation from what we understood as traditional public education practices to very innovative practices. This means teachers, counselors, and school administrators have to learn at a rapid rate. At EPSD our staff has wholly embraced the belief that we are all lifelong learners, teachers, and leaders. Over the last year, 70% of our staff members have participated in our in-house professional learning book studies courses and classes, and 59% participated in more than one class.

I’m blogging to share the impressive amount of learning our staff has been doing in just the first 20 days of school.

Middle School Team Uses a Protocol to Find Evidence for Student Learning in Math Reasoning

Professional Learning Communities

This year, one of our major improvement strategies is to improve the impact of our professional learning communities (PLC’s) through developing leadership capacity in our district. We have a team of district leaders that came in for a leadership retreat to learn together about promising leadership practices and how to increase the impact of the PLC team they lead. We adopted PLC’s as a promising practice in our district a decade ago, so what does that word impact mean?

In the busy life of an educator when there are so many decisions to be made, problems to solve, and emotions to support, the day can fill up quickly. It is easy to lose focus. High impact PLC’s establish the purpose of the team is to maximize impact on student learning and believe in the collective efficacy of the team. They use evidence to make impactful decisions using formative evaluation of student work. Our district leaders are studying together, learning from each other, and keeping the focus on evidence for student learning. Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford offer great a great model for high impact PLC teams combining formative assessment and collective inquiry in the book Leading Impact Teams.

Professional Learning with TeachUnited

Building Leadership Capacity

A team of middle and high school teachers are participating in professional learning through TeachUnited to increase their own knowledge and capacity in providing personalized and blended learning opportunities for students. Our vision for the future is to provide personalized learning for students. This group of teachers developing their own personal knowledge and skills will enable them to lead and support other teachers in their PLC and school.

Instructional Coaching Personalizes Professional Learning at the Elementary School

Instructional Coaching Personalizes Professional Learning

A second of our major improvement strategies is to personalize professional learning for teachers based on talent and need and make professional learning job-embedded. We have made a commitment in our district to increase instructional coaching opportunities. It brings me so much pleasure to write that we have 4 instructional coaches in our small district bringing personalized learning to our staff every day. They bring support to teachers for what is needed now to improve student learning in the classroom.

New Podcast: Passionate Goal Writing

EPSD PD PODCAST Episode 9: Passionate Goal Writing

This latest episode offers 5 tips for putting passion into your goal writing. Inspired by chapter 8 of Dan and Chip Heath’s book The Power of Moments, I offer some suggestions to educators how these ideas can be applied to goals that improve student achievement.

Tip #1

Make sure it is something you are passionate about and care about deeply. Invest some time really reflecting about what makes you really motivated.  After writing your goal ask yourself these questions:

  1. How will I feel when I have completed my goal?
  2. How will I feel if I don’t achieve this goal?

If thinking about the prospect of achieving this goal fills you with joy and excitement and thinking of the prospect of not achieving this goal puts a pit in your stomach, then it is a good goal and you will achieve it. 

Tip # 2

Set milestones along the way and level them up, meaning make them more challenging along the way. 
In The Power of Moments the Heath brothers talk about why video games are so motivating because you achieve levels and then when you accomplish a level you get to level up, and then level up again, and again always feeling a greater sense of accomplishment and then getting the next challenge.  Do the same with the actions steps and milestones you set in your goals. For example, your first milestone may be to have students reflect on the feedback you give them, the second may be to have them assess their own writing and give self feedback, the third may be to have them provide feedback to a peers. Keep leveling up and by the end students have completed a self assessment portfolio of how they have met all 10 learning targets.

Tip #3

Make your milestones passionate measures that fill you with pride. 

Consider my guitar goal. What if I take those same milestones but now write with meaningful measures that will fill me with pride. Consider these milestones:

  1. A student tell me how much they learned or that they did something they never thought they could do.
  2. See one of my students with disabilities celebrate after a big accomplishment in class. 
  3. Students compare a sample of student work from August with a sample of student work on October and celebrate the improvements with my students.
  4. Hear a student turn a negative self-talk comment about themselves and their abilities into a positive one.
  5. See one of my English Language learners get over a learning barrier independently and smile with pride.
  6. Receive a compliment from my evaluator after they walk through my room. 
  7. Receive a glowing thank you from a parent for how much they feel their son/daughter is learning in class.
  8. Students gather an artifact for each of the learning targets that show their best work.
  9. Host an end of year achievement celebration with my students to celebrate learning.

Tip #4

Every time you reach one of these milestones treat yourself!     Since you have set milestones that are passionate, there is going to be an intrinsic reward and sense of accomplishment already, but what gift do you want to give yourself when you reach your milestone?

Tip # 5

Write your goals down.  I mean don’t just write it down, but post it somewhere where you will see it every day! Make them visible.  You can do this digitally too! You could set a reminder on your device to remind you of your goals each week. How about setting your browser to open immediately to your goals? Find what works for you whether that is physically posting them or digitally posting them, but make sure you see them frequently and make them visible.

One final bonus tip that I will leave you with is this … Share your goals with others.  Talk about them. Find a colleague who will support your efforts and share your celebrations with them.  Share your celebrations with your instructional coach, PLC teams, or evaluator. 

I am sharing a few of my goals with you! See how I attempted these tips here.

Resource: Goal Writing Template

Welcome to EPSD PD Podcast Blog

Welcome to the blog for EPSD PD Podcast. Find links from episodes here.

We hope to enlighten, inspire, and spark conversations about teaching and learning in our Estes Park school community.


  • To personalize your professional learning
  • To celebrate excellent educational experiences
  • To bring creativity and innovation to our profession

Catch the links to the latest episodes here and find links to resources from those episodes.

Podcast topics for the 2019-20 school year will be aligned with our 5 major improvement strategies

  • Becoming culturally responsive teachers
  • Implementing Restorative Practices and SEL
  • Implementing Global Outcome Performance
  • Increasing the impact of our PLC teams
  • Personalizing professional learning

Adding the blog are to provide our educators with more resources and to connect Globally with other educators to increase our knowledge of promising practices.

Our world is changing rapidly and education is changing with it. Transform your teaching and increase innovation in your classroom. Become equipped to prepare your students to enter the knowledge economy. Communication, critical thinking and problem solving, social emotional and physical wellness, collaboration, global awareness and compassion, perseverance, and creativity are the Global Outcomes we have committed to teach our future graduates. Share your ideas here!

#epsdpdpodcast, #epsd, #education