How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Writing Learning Objectives

Writing Effective Learning Objectives

Lesson objectives are a key part in the creation of effective lesson plans. In essence, they tell what a teacher actually wants their students to learn as a result of the lesson. More specifically, they provide a guide that allows teachers to ensure that the information being taught is necessary and vital to the goals of the lesson. Further, they give teachers a measure which can be used to determine student learning and achievement, and this measure should also be written into the objective.

However, as teachers write learning objectives it is important that they avoid common errors. Here is a list of four common errors along with examples and ideas on how to avoid them.

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The objective is not stated in terms of the student.

Since the point of the objective is to guide the learning and assessment process, it only makes sense that it is written regarding the learner. However, a common mistake is to write the objective and focus on what the teacher is planning to do in the lesson. An example of this error in an objective written for a Calculus class would be, "The teacher will demonstrate how to use a graphing calculator to find the limit of a function."

This error is easily corrected by beginning each objective with a term such as, "The student will..." or "The learner will be able to...."
A better example of this type of objective would be: "The student will use a graphing calculator to find the limit of a function."

If the lesson is part of a series, then the objective should state what the student will be able to do at each point in the series. For example, if the week's grammar lesson is on using a comma in direct address, then the first day's objective might be written as, "The student will be able to use a comma in direct address in the opening or closing of a sentence." The second day's objective might be written as, "The student will be able to use a comma in direct address in the middle of a sentence."

The way the teacher can know if students have met the objective is to write how the learning will be measured as explained below.

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The objective cannot be observed or measured.

The point of any learning objective is to provide the teacher with the ability to tell if the student has learned the expected information. However, this is not possible if the objective does not list items that are readily observable or measurable. Example: "Students will know why checks and balances are important." The issue here is that the teacher has no way to measure this knowledge.

Measuring can be done in many different ways: discussion, oral responses, quizzes, exits slips, interactive responses, homework, tests, etc.

The same objective would be better if the way the learning will be measured is written into the objective. For example, "The student will be able to list how the checks and balances of the three branches of government work."

Depending on the grade level and the level of complexity, all lesson objectives need to be specific as explained below.

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The objective is too general

Any teaching objectives need to provide teachers with the specific criteria they will use to judge their students' learning. For example "The student will know the names and symbols of elements on the periodic table," is not specific. There are 118 elements on the periodic table. Do the students have to know all of them or just a specific number of them? This poorly written objective does not provide the teacher with enough guidance to determine whether the objective has been met. However, the objective, "The student will list the names and symbols of the first 20 elements on the periodic table" limits the criteria with a specific number of elements and designs which elements they should know.

Teachers should be careful how they describe the means to measure the learning or limit the criteria in an object. Learning objectives should be clear and concise as explained below.

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The objective is too long

Overly complicated and wordy learning objectives are not as effective as ones that simply state what students are to learn from the lesson. The best learning objectives consist of simple action verbs and measurable outcomes.

A poor example of a wordy objective that does not have a measurable outcome is, "The student will understand the importance of the major battles that occurred during the American Revolution including the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Quebec, the Battle of Saratoga, and the Battle of Yorktown." Instead, a teacher would be better to state, "The student will be able to create an illustrated timeline of four major battles of the American Revolution" or "The student will be able to rank four battles in the American Revolution according to their order of importance."

Given the need to differentiate for all learners, teachers should avoid the temptation to create blanket learning objectives for all classes as explained below.

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The objective does meet the needs of the students

Teachers may have several sections of the same course during a school day, however, since no two classes are exactly alike, well-written lesson objectives should be customized for each class based on the needs of the students. While this may seem to be an added complexity, the learning objectives are designed to be student specific and measurable.

Writing the same learning objective for each class, regardless of student progress, will not help to measure student progress. Instead, there should be class specific lesson objectives. For example, a social studies teacher may develop two different learning objectives based on student assessments for civics classes studying the 14th Amendment. The lesson objective for one class could be written to provide an opportunity for more review: "The student will be able to paraphrase each section of the 14th Amendment." For students who have demonstrated a better understanding, however, there could be a different learning objective, such as: "The student will be able to analyze each section of the 14th Amendment."

Different learning objectives can also be written for flexible grouping in class.