Ditch Writing Lesson Objectives

Are lesson objectives a waste of time?

We all familiar with Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ – well education is full of ‘Munch moments’ and writing lesson objectives are one of them.

Certainly the idea of children spending the first 5 minutes of a class mindlessly writing objectives into their books is a waste. For some children transcribing long and convoluted objectives is not easy and definitely an uncomfortable way to start the lesson.

I have written before about the madness of writing lesson objectives (along with success criteria!) yet I still see it and can’t understand why teachers think it is somehow ‘good practice’. It isn’t.

The thing is, when we communicate the lesson objectives to children, we set the learning. We are pretty much saying that we, as teachers, are in control and we will be driving this lesson, not you, the pupils. Yet learning is a series of conversations and those chats and discussions set the learning. Within 60 seconds of a lesson starting, the objectives we’ve asked children to write could be dead in the water. The purpose of objectives is not to restrict spontaneity but they do.

Why? Because they have told us something we didn’t know and it’s this information that determines next steps. By sticking rigidly to an objective we might be ignoring valuable lines of enquiry along the way that are worth pursuing. Taking a different route could be more productive and result in more learning.

Lesson objectives should be loose and flexible because in reality they are at their very best, just hopes for how a lesson will go. Some children will say things and learn things that are not on your nice neat plan with its self-contained objective and lovely bullet points.

Sharing lesson objectives might sound like the right thing to do but this gives the game away before we have even started. Surely the point is for children to work things out for themselves and to come to their own conclusions. This is what the ‘Invisible Sun’ strategy is all about – keep the objectives covered and keep children in the dark.

Writing the lesson objective on the board doesn’t help the learning experience for children. It pacifies it, curtails it, locks it down and silences it. For those who say “How will children know what they are supposed to be learning?” then politely remind them that this removes the joy of discovery.

Joe Bower has written about this too and helpfully draws our attention to a video well worth watching. He asks us to consider what affect writing the objective on the board would have had on student learning:

The writing of lesson objectives is almost a non-negotiable policy of many schools which is bizarre. What is this duty-bound nonsense? It wastes time. Some teachers try and get around this by having the learning objectives already typed out ready to stick in books. But this is a waste too. Sir Ken Robinson reminds us that teachers spend too much time proving rather than im-proving.

Teachers will say that writing the learning objectives out tell students what is important and specifically what a student should be able to do. That just sounds like a lesson inside a strait-jacket to me.

Writing lesson objectives is just an administrative task that serves no real purpose. We can start with an end in mind but we don’t need to be so up front with what we are aiming for and anticipate the unexpected.

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