Nobody can inspire us like great teachers can. They seem to come along at just the right moment, at..
Imagine a friend asks you to give them a lift, and you hop in your car to pick them up. When they get in you, ask them the destination, but instead, they respond by saying, “Just drive.”
Unsure, you begin to drive, nervously anticipating the next direction. Will you need to turn left or right, and when? Which lane should you be in? Do you have enough gas for this trip?
Occasionally, you change direction—turn left at the next road, turn right at the corner—until you pull over and stop, and your friend announces, “We’re here.” You most likely are left wondering where “here” is and are focused on the stress of not knowing what was happening.
It’s a bit like this for the learners in our classrooms. We may have a plan and see how it all weaves together, but the learning is more purposeful when the learners also know the destination and share in the journey.
Even though we often believe the curriculum belongs to us, it belongs to the learners. They are responsible for turning it into practical knowledge that can serve them well beyond school, so it only makes sense for them to be able to see it out in front of them.
In modern classrooms, we must strive to make the learning intentions and curriculum clear and put them in front of our learners. With that clarity, what they’re capable of will astound you.
What Are Learning Intentions?
Learning intentions are the understandings and realizations that sprout from our learning. Unfortunately, they are often confused with lesson objectives, so all you have to remember is the critical differences between the two.
- Learning Intentions describe the concepts and understandings we want students to learn and internalize.
- Lesson Objectives might contain the various tasks and activities that will drive the learning for students.
So, in other words, learning intentions are about learning, and lesson objectives are about doing.
Learning intentions are the answer to three questions:
- What are we learning?
- Why are we learning it?
- How will we know we are successful?
Crafting learning intentions involves thinking about past and future learning. We ask, “What was the learning that led to what we’re learning now, and what learning will it lead to?” This is how knowledge and understanding connect within the curriculum.
As their careers advance, our mission should be to enable learners to the point where they no longer need us when they leave us for good.
Why Learning Intentions Are Important
When our young learners first appear in our classrooms, they are dependent on us for the most part. As their learning careers advance, our mission should be to enable them to the point where they no longer need us when they leave us for good.
However, part of reaching this goal is to make sure what we expect of them as far as learning intentions and success criteria are clearly understood. Only then do students have the benchmarks they need to strive for, and only then can they either meet or exceed them.
Suppose our goal is to develop fully capable independent thinkers, and most teachers would agree it is. In that case, this entails making sure our learning intentions and success criteria are made clear to our learners.
There are several ways in which we might develop a learning intention, the simplest being the what and why of an activity taking a single lesson. It might be concerning a milestone in a unit or project spanning days or weeks.
Another way is to consider the essential understanding you are cultivating in relation to curricular content or even to present and unpack the curricular objective in a whole. Ultimately, learners can determine their learning intentions concerning a common goal.
Learning Intentions in Action: Picking and Unpacking
As we strive to bring awareness to our learners of what expectations and hopes we have for them in learning, a great place to start is with the curriculum. After all, we’re responsible for teaching it, and students are responsible for learning it.
This three-part activity will introduce learners to what the curriculum looks like to us, the teachers. Then, as they explore and unwind it, the goal will be to pinpoint the primary focus for the learning and demonstrate a practical understanding.
Begin this activity by having a frank and open discussion with your learners about where they are in their learning and what they want to accomplish. The questions can vary as you choose, and here are some examples to get the ball rolling:
- What is most important to you in your learning career?
- What do you want to learn more about?
- What do you want to accomplish over the next day/month/year?
- When do you struggle most with learning?
- What would make the challenges of learning more accessible for you?
- What are the essential things you need from me as your teacher?
Your students can answer these questions in a discussion or they can give you more detailed written answers if you choose. The idea is to open the lines of communication and ensure students know their voices and concerns are heard. Their responses will inform how they choose to approach the next part of the task.
Break your students into groups, and begin unpacking the curricular standards you want to cover. Give each group a standard to address and have them examine and discuss it together.
Some leading discussion questions like these can be offered as they discuss their standard:
- Where would we encounter/use this in daily life?
- Why is this objective important, and what are the implications?
- How would we go about teaching this content to others?
- How could we assess both our understanding and others (self and peer assessment)?
- How does teaching others benefit our clarity of knowledge?
Throughout the discussion, students should focus on writing examples of where they may see opportunities to use the knowledge gained from this standard in daily life. In addition, get them to brainstorm ideas on what they would do if they were asked to teach this standard in their own way to the rest of the class.
What mediums and applications would they use to connect to their “learners”? How would they make sure other students are engaged and clear on what the learning intentions are and why they’re important to understand?
For the final part of this exercise, guide the students in building lessons around each of their standards and determining tasks and roles for all teaching team members. They’ll also be creating their own success criteria for assessment. Lastly, make sure the teams give formative feedback as they work with the other students.
Be on hand to facilitate each group as they take turns teaching their objective to the class. At the end, both a group debrief and a whole class debrief can occur where students discuss their experiences as both teachers and learners, including what their most beneficial moments were and what they felt they could have done better.
Set The Intention To Succeed
It’s not unreasonable of our learners to want to know what is expected of them rather than have it remain a mystery they can’t uncover. This is a large part of fostering our learners’ ability to self-direct their own learning.
By unpacking the curriculum together with our students and making success criteria clear, we give them a pathway to learning goals. When intentions are clear from the beginning, we level the playing field and give each student a chance to shine in their own way. Soon each student realizes they can be successful and that there is value in their class time.