their own achievement and needs
through ongoing formative assessment.
Targets in these schools start with the
stem “I can;.;.;.,” indicating to students
what they will achieve as result of a
learning experience. Students discover a
feeling of satisfaction when they realize,
“yes, I can!”—and that feeling translates
to achievement. Formative assessment
gurus Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam
(1998) believe that these formative-assessment practices, which give
students a clear vision of the intended
learning, combined with effective feedback, are “gap-closing” strategies that
particularly help low-achieving students.
In Goldin’s class, once students have
analyzed their pre-assessments, they
place the learning-targets chart in their
binder for that unit or project and refer
to it as they progress through learning
activities geared toward their ultimate
goals. Students enjoy pulling out the
chart to mark progress on it, such as
by changing their rating from emerging
to accomplished. They are motivated to
keep going and growing.
© GALE ZUCKER
How students track their progress
toward a target depends on the type
of target being assessed. When a target
asks students to describe something, for
example, teachers might use a rubric to
help students understand what an effective description is like and to indicate
whether students have met that criteria.
If a target indicates that students should
“tell” something, their correct answers
on a multiple-choice assessment would
show they’ve met the target.
As teachers help students track their
progress, students can tell exactly where
they are. A student who knows he’s far
from meeting a target will realize that
he needs additional practice or more
scaffolding. And a student who meets
a target quickly can tell that she’s ready
for an additional challenge.
a student will gain rather than how the
student will accomplish that learning.
Targets like “I can write paragraphs of
5–7 sentences” or “I can spell the words
on this week’s list” are too narrow. Try
instead “I can write high-quality paragraphs” or “I can recall spelling words
that don’t follow the rules of standard
written English.” Targets like these leave
the door open to vary the specific work
without compromising the learning.
Why Not Differentiate Targets?
Tomlinson (2000) acknowledges that
the standards movement has created
challenges for teachers who strive to
differentiate. However, she concludes
that “there is no contradiction between
effective standards-based instruction
can show us how to teach the same
standard to a range of learners by
employing a variety of teaching and
learning modes” (p.; 10).
How It Works
Let’s look at a hypothetical example of
how learning targets and differentiation
work together in a typical Expedition-
ary Learning classroom. Mr. Bender,
a 6th grade social studies teacher, has
designed a project centered on emigra-
tion from Ireland after the Great Potato
Famine. Students will research the con-
ditions in Ireland and determine why
many people emigrated. A standards-
based learning target for the project
might be: “I can gather historical data
from multiple sources to demonstrate
my understanding of Irish emigration
Following a minilesson in which