Whose objectives are they anyway?

I have been thinking for a while that the recent obsession with learning objectives is a load of old baloney (please feel free to insert your own word here – if you know me well you’ll know the word I would like to use). At one point at my school we were even given separate little whiteboards upon which we were to make sure we had our ‘LOs’ clearly displayed at all times (I have since taken mine down and put it in a cupboard, and nobody has said anything. What rebellion!). We had learning walks where having objectives on display was monitored. I have observed lessons where (gaah!) the starter involves students copying down the learning objective: imagine having to do that five times a day – it would have driven me from top-set swot to isolation room in no time!

Working with trainee teachers, I have come to the conclusion that it is the teachers that really need the learning objectives. All too often, trainee teachers (and it can’t only be trainees either) get caught up with what they/the students are doing in a lesson that they lose sight of why they are doing it (i.e. what the students are to learn/gain from doing that activity). So thinking about learning objectives helps them to link activities with learning outcomes, and what impact (if any) a proposed activity has on the students’ learning.

As a lesson goes along, things can change. I don’t want to ignore an interesting and potentially fulfilling tangent just because it doesn’t fit with my LO. We may need to change what our LO is, depending on how things go. We might get to a particular LO next week, or maybe decide we’re not going there at all, and we’re going somewhere different instead. I might want to take my students on a magical mystery tour, and not reveal the LOs in advance.

As with most things, it is necessary to strike a balance. Working with students there needs to be a balance between providing variety and having routines which function well and give students the security they need to thrive and take risks. At my school we have been working with students to try to identify the skills that they will need at school and beyond to be good learners. We call these our lifelong learning skills and they come under the following headings: communication, leadership, independence, creativity, teamwork, and learning from mistakes. Merits are now awarded for demonstrating these qualities (we concluded that there was nothing merit-worthy that a student could do that would not fit into one of those categories), and staff are encouraged to identify opportunities in lessons for students to develop these skills.  One of the DT teachers designed logos to go with each one that we use on our slides and so on (they are designed to be simple enough that teachers can draw them as part of their feedback).

life long learning map

I have been working on drawing this emphasis on the qualities that students need to develop/demonstrate into the way that I communicate what students need to do. While I don’t feel a compulsion to share LOs as such, I do, of course, want everyone to know what they should be doing. So, I’ve been making slides which, I hope, make this very clear.


The logos at the bottom show that the students need to be learning from mistakes, be creative, work effectively in groups, and communicate well, and echo the text in the green box above. The red box makes clear what needs to be done, including along the way some of the success criteria (we have talked in depth about what ‘style’ means and what accuracy, confidence and ensemble add to the whole thing).

If I had just put up LOs for this lesson, what would they have been? They would need to be pretty wordy if they were to incorporate all the stuff about the qualities that students need to demonstrate along the way. So this is the way I’m doing things for now. So far, I like it, and so do my students.



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