Learning Targets vs Essential Questions

Wow. It has been a while since I have been moved to create a blog post, but this Learning Target topic has crossed my path twice in the past five days. It must be a sign from the Edu-gods poking me to spew forth some thoughts.

On Sunday, September 30, the #HackLearning Hacky topic was Learning Targets and today during our school professional development time our learning laid the foundation for a Learning Target discussion that will transpire during our weekly PLC.

I do not think the theory of learning targets is new or even a revolutionary idea when it comes teaching. A learning target guides instruction by creating a goal that will be achieved when the activity has been completed. I find it interesting that the rationale for this idea is to make learning student centered … with teachers creating “I can” statements.

The question that came up during the #HackLearning chat was What is the difference between a Learning Target and an Essential Question? This is a perplexing question because in my world the Essential Question and the Learning Target are pretty much synonymous. Being able to answer the essential question at the end of the learning activity is the learning target. So I wonder why we have competing terms that can guide our lesson creation and from I am reading it has more to do with what the students are doing on their journey to the learning target. Pursuing the learning target should be a student centered adventure and not a teacher centered trip. Think of it like the kid driving themselves vs the teacher driving the busload of kids. … but can’t the essential question create a student centered learning environment too?

I use the essential question, which is based on my standards, as my end goal and then build backwards. The activities are what the students will do to move them from ignorance to being knowledgable. For example, instead of me standing in front of the class with a slide show talking and the kids taking notes, I create a series of questions based on my essential question and have the students create responses while I circulate the room. They are finding the answers instead of me telling them the answers. Once they complete their research they will complete a capstone activity that will answer the essential question. The capstone activity can be an OpEd, newspaper article, podcast, video, political cartoon or anything that can be used to illustrate what they have learned. Anything … except a multiple guess test.

I believe what is happening is we are trying to redefine something that is already there as a means to get teachers to create student centered learning. Regardless of which path you choose to follow … Learning Targets or Essential Questions, teachers need to make sure the kids are doing the learning and I think that is key.The kids have to be doing the learning and “doing” is not just working through problems … responding to questions. It is about what can they do with that information. Real learning is proven when they can actually use the information they have been given.

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