Answering Chris’s Questions about Student Friendly Learning Goals

A few years ago, I wrote a bit on the steps that my learning team has taken to convert the clunky objectives in our state curriculum into learning goals that parents and students could actually understand. 

The process was INCREDIBLY important and INCREDIBLY rewarding because it forced our team to REALLY look carefully at what the state expected us to teach to our students. 

For the first time, we had meaningful conversations about what we wanted students to know and be able to do.  We collectively wrestled with the size of our curriculum and started to make careful decisions about how we were going to spend our instructional time. 

While the original goal of our work was to help our STUDENTS to understand the targets that they were expected to master, writing student friendly learning goals also created opportunities for our TEAM to have the kinds of meaningful conversations that define successful professional learning communities.


A reader named Chris stopped by yesterday and left a comment on that post asking a TON of questions.  It sounds like he's struggling with some of the work that his school is doing with student friendly learning goals. 

I wanted to answer a few of his questions and thought you'd be interested in my replies.

Chris asked:

Stating goals/targets/objectives in student friendly terms seems to be a
no brainer and something that is done on a frequent basis.

What I have
difficulties with is that there seems to be, at least in my district,
only one method for stating these targets, the "I can…" statement.

seems that while we expect differentiation for our students, we will
not except anything less than total homogeneity from our teachers.

there any other way to express learner targets/objectives other than an
"I can…" statement?

Chris is right that there is no single structure or rule for writing student friendly learning goals. 

As long as the final product that you create helps students to better understand what they are supposed to know and be able to do when they are finished with a learning sequence, your student friendly learning goals will be useful.

I DO believe, though, that a school SHOULD decide on ONE structure for student friendly learning goals that will be used across grade levels and content areas. 

Think about it this way: If different teachers and/or teams in the same building are using different formats for the learning goals that they are writing and posting, students are forced to adjust every time that they move from room to room, grade to grade, or content area to content area. 

That's inefficient and frustrating to learners.  It's the equivalent of talking to someone who has a heavy accent you can't quite understand.  You KNOW they're speaking the same language, but you have to work hard to figure out exactly what they are trying to say.

Why do that to our kids? 


Chris also asked:

Do [student friendly learning goals] have to written on the board and if they
are, the "miracle" of education will fall upon them?

There are those in
my school who believe that by writing the goal on the board, the
students will be able to improve their learning.

By writing it only as
an "I can…" statement, that learning will be improved even more.

Chris is right here, too.  Student friendly learning goals DON'T become magical the minute that they are written on the board.

Instead, they become magical when teachers use them on a daily basis to make instructional choices AND to help students monitor their own progress towards mastering the key content in a curriculum. 

I NEVER post student learning goals my room.  Instead, I've developed overview sheets that list essential questions, student friendly learning goals and key vocabulary for every unit that I teach. 

Each overview sheet has a place for students to record scores on assessments connected to learning goals for that unit.  More importantly, each overview sheet gives kids a rating scale to track their current understanding of each goal. 

Here's the unit overview sheet that my students are using right now:

Download Matter_ICan_Statements

If I'm on my game, students pull their overview sheets out at the BEGINNING of every lesson and read the goal that's attached to the work we'll be tackling in class.  Then, they pull their overview sheets out again at the END of every lesson to reflect on their own learning.

Bare minimum, students use their overview sheets to track progress towards mastery five or six times every unit. 

Heck, we used overview sheets yesterday to review for a unit test that we're taking on Monday. Students reflected on the goals they felt confident about and the goals they'd need to spend extra time studying over the weekend.


Long story short: Writing student friendly learning goals is an ESSENTIAL first step for any learning team even if they AREN'T written as I Can Statements or posted on the board at the beginning of every lesson. 

Student friendly learning goals force teachers to clarify key outcomes together, make it easier to integrate student self-assessment into your lessons, and serve as the perfect tool for communicating essential standards to parents and practitioners beyond your classroom. 



Related Radical Reads:

Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals

More on Student Friendly Learning Goals

Why IS Understanding Learning Outcomes is so Important?


4 thoughts on “Answering Chris’s Questions about Student Friendly Learning Goals

  1. Jo-Anne Jackson

    Thank you for posting the file (Download Matter). It is very well designed and quite useful without a lot of fluff. Please post MORE!

  2. Anna Zhuo

    Greetings Mr. Bill Ferriter,
    My name is Anna Zhuo and I’m a student in EDM310 at the University of Alabama. I am currently a pre-service teacher and this post is very helpful to me. I also took the time to read your other post, Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals.” I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.
    I’m currently taking an “Evaluation and Assessment” course that teaches us how to write “proper” learning objectives according to standards, create proper assessments, stages of assessment, and etc. It is stressed that we properly write our objectives as it will help the teacher and the student with the learning process. It is also an outline to provide to the school, state, parents, students, and etc. the goals the student is going to meet throughout the school year. It really helped in the creation of my lesson plans! In the creation, we had to use Blooms verbs, which helped even more. I am sure the format of learning objectives is different for everyone but there needs to be elaboration. A simple “I can….” statement can be pretty vague and confusing for the student and a lot of teachers tend to take the easy way out (in my opinion). I think it’s good to spend a little bit more time on the learning objectives since it is so important.
    It will help you when you create an assessment such as a quiz or a test since they are to assess the student’s knowledge and allow them to show what they have learned throughout the course. These assessments also provide feedback to the teacher. When we created our assessment, each question had to relate to one of our learning objectives.
    Learning objectives are important and I cannot agree more! Thank you for these posts! It will be very helpful for other pre-service teachers at my university as well as current teachers.
    Anna Zhuo

  3. John Wink

    Enjoyed this thought. I had to reflect on the importance of student friendly learning targets. Here is what I believe.
    Targets must be visible so that students can access them when they lose the purpose for what they are learning. Having it visibly accessible is critical to gain clarity.
    Second, I have a teacher that posts the target and then over time students rewrite the target collectively so the target takes on a deeper meaning because the wording in the target belongs to the students. That’s better than student friendly.
    The other reason I like having the target visible is so when I or other staff come in to support, we can ask questions of students to see what they know about the target, thus we can direct our support toward the target.
    Here’s the deal, when you post the target to meet a structural requirement, you are wasting your time. When you post the target because it is your guiding beacon behind what we expect all kids to learn, then and only then is this action meaningful.

  4. DMelegos

    This process is not only ideal for curriculm development, allignment, and implementation but ideal for students to take ownership of their own learning.

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