The idea that teachers need to post the day’s objective on the board is revered as gospel in many schools. So what’s behind this common practice? Does it help students learn?
Supporters would argue that posting the objective makes it a focus for both teachers and students by making that day’s goal visible.
Thus, the bottom line test of the effect of any school policy about goal posting is whether or not students learn better and have greater perspective because of it. For example, when asked, can students say why an activity is being done and why it matters and how it connects to prior work?
Alas, having hundreds of times asked students in class Why are you doing and learning this? I cay say that the results are not pretty. I dunno is the most common. (Older kids sometimes sullenly retort: I dunno; go ask the teacher.) And this is often in schools where there are posters on the wall or objectives on the board.
So it’s important to remember that posting the objective is not an end in itself. It’s a means for helping students understand where they are going.
This could also be achieved, as Wiggins explains, by posting Essential Questions:
A reason for highlighting Essential Questions is to help students keep the broader goals and value of the immediate learning in view, to connect specifics to bigger ideas and issues which are easily lost in more specific lessons. So, in a unit on the writer’s craft, it makes sense for the teacher – and, eventually on their own, the students – to continually refer back to the Essential Question – whether it be on a poster, in one’s notes, or on a Google Doc: How do good authors hook and hold the attention of the reader? When the EQ is prominent, by whatever means – various Turn and Talk prompts, an exit slip, after each specific reading is considered, etc. – the available document is helpful….the EQ is there to remind all of us to self-assess, make inquiries, and take notes on the priority question as we engage in discrete and easily tunnel-vision-inducing activities.
So the great question about posting objectives comes back to the distinction between principles and strategies. The underlying principle is that students should understand the goal and be able to track their progress towards that goal (now that’s active processing). The exact strategy that teachers use could vary as long as it results in students truly understanding their learning goals.
p.s. For more ideas on this topic, check out the second chapter from Robyn Jackson‘s book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching.