The first thing students need to learn
is what they’re supposed to be learning.
Connie M. Moss, Susan M. Brookhart,
and Beverly A. Long
One of Toni Taladay’s students walked into Lenape Elementary School wearing a colorful tie-dyed shirt with a tiny bull’s-eye shape in the lower front corner. That small design caught the eye of his classmate, who
exclaimed, “Look, Joey, you’re wearing a learning target!” In
the Armstrong School District in southwestern Pennsylvania,
learning targets are everywhere: in lesson plans, on bulletin
boards, in hallways—and as this story illustrates—firmly on
What Is a Shared Learning Target?
If you own a global positioning system (GPS), you probably
can’t imagine taking a trip without it. Unlike a printed map, a
GPS provides up-to-the-minute information about where you
are, the distance to your destination, how long until you get
there, and exactly what to do when you make a wrong turn.
But a GPS can’t do any of that without a precise description of
where you want to go.
Think of shared learning targets in the same way. They
convey to students the destination for the lesson—what to
learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate
their new learning. In our estimation (Moss & Brookhart,
2009) and that of others (Seidle, Rimmele, & Prenzel, 2005;
Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2009), the intention
for the lesson is one of the most important things students
should learn. Without a precise description of where they are
headed, too many students are “flying blind.”
The Dangers of Flying Blind
No matter what we decide students need to learn, not much
will happen until students understand what they are supposed to learn during a lesson and set their sights on learning
it. Regardless of how important the content, how engaging
the activity, how formative the assessment, or how differentiated the instruction, unless all students see, recognize, and
understand the learning target from the very beginning of
the lesson, one factor will remain constant: The teacher will
always be the only one providing the direction, focusing on
getting students to meet the instructional objectives. The
students, on the other hand, will focus on doing what the
teacher says, rather than on learning. This flies in the face of
what we know about nurturing motivated, self-regulated, and
intentional learners (Zimmerman, 2001).
Students who don’t know the intention of a lesson expend
precious time and energy trying to figure out what their