The Focus of Lesson Objectives
In order to be complete and effective, objectives must include two elements:
- They must define what is going to be learned.
- They must give an indication of how that learning will be assessed.
First an objective tells students what they are going to be learning in a lesson. However, the objective does not end there. If it did, they would read like a table of contents. In order for an objective to be complete, it must give the students some idea of how their learning is going to be measured. Unless your objectives are measurable in some manner, there is no way that you can produce the evidence necessary to show that the objectives were in fact met.
Anatomy of a Lesson Objective
Objectives should be written as a single sentence. Many teachers like to start their objectives with a standard beginning such as: "Upon completion of this lesson, the student will be able to...." Objectives must include an action verb that helps the students understand what they are going to learn and how they will be assessed. The best place to look for these verbs is in Bloom's Taxonomy. Bloom looked at verbs and how they related to learning, dividing them into six levels of thinking. These verbs are an excellent starting point for writing effective objectives.
Following is an example of a simple learning objective that meets the criteria listed above:
Upon completion of this lesson, the student will be able to convert fahrenheit to celsius.
By stating this objective from the beginning, students will understand exactly what is expected of them. Despite everything else that might be taught in the lesson, they will be able to measure their own learning if they can successfully convert fahrenheit to celsius. In addition, the objective gives the instructor an indication of how to prove that learning has taken place. The teacher should create an assessment that has the student perform temperature conversions. The results from this assessment show the teacher whether or not the students have mastered the objective.
Pitfalls When Writing Objectives
The main problem that teachers encounter when writing objectives is in the choosing of the verbs that they use. As previously stated, Bloom's Taxonomy is a great place to find many action verbs that can be used when writing learning objectives. However, it can be tempting to use other verbs that are not part of the taxonomy such as enjoy, understand, appreciate, and like. Here is an example of an objective written using one of these words:
Upon completion of this lesson, the student will understand why tobacco was such an important crop to the settlers in Jamestown.
This objective does not work for a couple of reasons. First, the word understand leaves a lot open to interpretation. There were a number of reasons why tobacco was important to the settlers at Jamestown. Which one should they understand? What if historians disagree about the importance of tobacco? Obviously, because there is a lot of room for interpretation, students do not have a clear picture of what they are expected to have learned by the end of the lesson. Second, the method for measuring learning is not clear at all. While you might have an essay or other form of assessment in mind, the student is not given insight into how their understanding will be measured. Instead, this objective would be much clearer if it was written as follows:
Upon completion of this lesson, the student will be able to explain the impact that tobacco had on the settlers at Jamestown.
Upon reading this objective, students know that they are going to be learning about not only the impact that tobacco had on the colony, but they are also going to have to explain that impact in some manner.
Writing objectives is not meant to be a form of torture for teachers, but instead it is a blueprint for success for both teachers and students. Create your objectives first, and many questions that need to be answered about your lesson will fall into place.