1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600, press 2
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723), press 2
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600, press 2
by Robert J. Marzano and John L. Brown
Table of Contents
This module and the next deal with establishing and communicating learning goals, tracking student progress, and celebrating success. Arguably the starting place for all effective instruction is designing and communicating clear learning goals. Although this might seem self-evident, actually executing this behavior is anything but routine for a number of reasons. First, there is a good deal of confusion about the difference between learning goals and instructional activities or assignments. All are important, but all have distinguishing characteristics. Once learning goals are clearly identified, they should be stated in a form that provides clear direction for students. Here we present a scale or rubric format. Well-written rubrics set the stage for assessments (addressed in Module 3) and can be used to provide students with effective feedback (also addressed in Module 3). Finally, the teacher should not be the only one setting learning goals during a unit of instruction. Students should be asked and invited to establish their own learning goals that complement those established by the teacher.
Before examining the strategies in this module, take some time to examine your current beliefs and practices by answering the following questions:
This module addresses the following instructional strategies for Design Question 1:
There is a great deal of confusion regarding the differences between learning goals and activities and assignments. There is also confusion regarding how they interact. Essentially, activities and assignments are used to help students achieve learning goals. Consider the following list of elements, all of which are activities or assignments:
Everything in the list represents something students will do to help them learn new information or new skills. We call these activities or assignments. Activities are typically things that are completed during a single lesson. For example, the first element, previewing the chapter on the adverse effects of smoking, would most likely be an activity. It would be done in class in preparation for reading a chapter in the textbook. The last element, about the experiment for tomorrow's class, might also be an activity done in class; however, it could also be an assignment. Typically, assignments are done outside of regular class time, although students may begin assignments during class time. The second element, involving comparing and contrasting the use of technology in World War I and World War II, would most likely be an assignment because it would probably take more than one class period. Frequently, assignments turn into homework. (We address the issue of homework in a subsequent module.)
We have worded the activities and assignments in the list somewhat formally. However, teachers usually record activities and assignments in a shorthand fashion in their planning books. For example, a teacher might simply write "preview chapter" to remind herself that she will have students preview the chapter on the harmful effects of smoking before reading it.
Identify one activity and one assignment you have used with students. Remember that activities are completed in a single class, whereas assignments are not.
Learning goals or objectives state what students should learn over the course of a unit (or a lesson or an entire semester). Consider the following list:
As the list illustrates, learning goals have a very specific format:
Students will understand _____________.
Students will be able to ______________.
The format "students will understand …" is used when information is the target of a learning goal. Technically, information is referred to as declarative knowledge. Declarative knowledge includes information such as vocabulary terms, facts, generalizations, and principles. The following are examples of declarative knowledge:
The format "students will be able to … " is used when a process is the target of a learning goal. Technically, processes are referred to as procedural knowledge. Procedural knowledge includes processes such as skills, heuristics, and strategies, as well as complex processes such as writing. The following are examples of procedural knowledge:
For a more detailed discussion of learning goals for declarative and procedural knowledge, see Designing and Assessing Educational Objectives (Marzano & Kendall, 2008).
Occasionally a learning goal will include both declarative and procedural knowledge. In these cases the following format can be used:
Students will understand _________ and be able to __________.
To illustrate, a physical education teacher might design the following learning goal, which includes both declarative and procedural knowledge:
Students will understand the dynamics involved in stretching the hamstring muscle and be able to demonstrate the proper form.
It is important to note that the rules we are presenting regarding how to write objectives can be relaxed after a teacher understands the difference between declarative and procedural knowledge. This is illustrated in the next section of this module and in the next module for Design Question 1.
Distinguishing between learning goals versus activities and assignments as well as writing effective goals are important aspects of effective teaching. Figure 2.1 provides more examples. In the figure, the language arts and the science examples involve learning goals that incorporate both declarative and procedural knowledge. Note that each learning goal is associated with a specific activity or assignment or both. Making sure that learning goals are linked to specific activities and assignments is a critical aspect of the art and science of teaching.
Activities and Assignments
Students will understand …
Students read Chapter 10 of the biography of Mary Todd Lincoln.
Students will be able to …
Students time each other in groups to see who can plot the most points on a graph.
Students will understand the rules of capitalization and will be able to correct capitalization mistakes in their own writing.
Students identify capitalization mistakes on a teacher handout.
Students will understand how weather patterns change locally and be able to measure those changes using basic tools.
Students write the weather forecast information, the high and low temperatures, and the precipitation in a daily journal.
Elementary Art. This elementary art teacher is working on the concept of perspective with her art students. She wants them to understand two different ways perspective can be established in paintings or photographs. She states her learning goal as follows: Students will understand two approaches to establishing perspective. To help students accomplish this goal, she plans an activity in which students will be shown paintings exemplifying the two types of perspectives that are the focus of the learning goal.
High School Technology. This technology teacher designs a unit devoted to helping students understand the characteristics of Web sites that demonstrate academic rigor. He establishes two learning goals: (1) Students will understand the characteristics of academically rigorous Web sites, and (2) Students will be able to screen Web sites for their academic rigor. He plans a series of initial activities that will exemplify characteristics of academically rigorous Web sites. He also identifies assignments that teach students how to analyze specific Web sites.
Identify a learning goal you have addressed recently. Describe one assignment and one activity that might accompany that goal.
While activities and assignments are being deployed in class, students should have opportunities to see their progress through formative assessments. We address how to design formative assessments and track students' progress in Module 3. In this section we consider how to translate learning goals into a scale that can be used to design and score formative classroom assessments. We should note that in the remainder of this handbook we will typically use the term scale as opposed to rubric. For a detailed discussion of why the term scale is preferred, see Classroom Assessment and Grading That Work (Marzano, 2006).
The first step in creating a scale for a learning goal is to identify knowledge that is easier than the learning goal and knowledge that is more complex than the learning goal. To illustrate, consider the following learning goal for reading at the middle school level:
Students will describe complex causal relationships in grade-appropriate passages.
Notice that the format for this learning goal is different from those used previously. Recall that we said that once teachers have become familiar with the distinctions between declarative and procedural knowledge, the rules we've established regarding writing goals can be relaxed. This is particularly true for declarative knowledge, which is the subject of the learning goal above regarding causal relationships in grade appropriate passages. In fact, this goal could have been written in the following way: Students will understand complex causal relationships in grade appropriate passages. However, when writing goals for declarative knowledge it is very helpful to use verbs that specify how students will demonstrate understanding. In this case that verb is describe. Other verbs commonly used when designing goals for declarative knowledge include recognize, select, identify, exemplify, name, list, label, and state. For a comprehensive list of such verbs, see Designing and Assessing Educational Objectives (Marzano & Kendall, 2008) and Designing and Teaching Learning Goals and Objectives (Marzano, 2009). For a thorough discussion of the ways in which learning goals can be written once an understanding of declarative and procedural knowledge has been acquired, see The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
(Marzano & Kendall, 2007).
After designing the learning goal, the teacher would identify content that is an aspect of the learning goal but a simpler version of it or a prerequisite for it. In this case the teacher might identify the following content:
Students will identify literary clues that signal a cause-effect relationship.
At this level students can't explain complex cause-effect relationships but can identify terms and phrases within a passage that indicate a cause-effect relationship is present.
Next the teacher would identify content that is a little more complex than the learning goal, such as the following:
Students will explain the relationship between complex causal relationships in one story and those in other stories.
At this level students not only can describe explicit cause-effect relationships in a particular story (i.e., can demonstrate competence in the learning goal), but also can explain how the identified relationship is similar to those in other stories.
Select a learning goal you have used in class. Next, identify easier content that is an aspect of that learning goal or a prerequisite for that learning goal. Finally, identify related content that is more complex than the learning goal.
Easier or prerequisite content:
More complex content:
With a clear learning goal identified along with content that is more complex and more simple, a scale can be readily designed. To illustrate, consider Figure 2.2. To understand the scale in the figure, let's start with the whole-point scores.
In addition to Score 3.0 performance, in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught.
In addition to Score 3.0 performance, in-depth inferences and applications with partial success.
No major errors or omissions regarding any of the information and processes (simple or complex) that were explicitly taught.
No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes (Score 2.0 content) and partial knowledge of the more complex ideas and processes (Score 3.0 content).
No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and processes (Score 3.0 content).
Partial knowledge of the simpler details and processes (Score 2.0 content) but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and processes (Score 3.0 content).
With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler details and processes (Score 2.0 content) and some of the more complex ideas and processes (Score 3.0 content).
With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler details and processes (Score 2.0 content) but not the more complex ideas and processes (Score 3.0 content).
Even with help, no understanding or skill demonstrated.
Copyright © 2007. Marzano & Associates. Reprinted with permission.
This generic scale can be used to translate any learning goal for which simpler and more complex content has been identified and placed into a scale. To illustrate, consider Figure 2.3, which translates the learning goal for identifying complex causal relationships and its simpler and more complex content into a scale. In Figure 2.3 the content for the learning goal regarding comprehension of complex causal relationships has been placed in the Score 3.0 position. The simpler content has been placed in the Score 2.0 position, and the content that is more complex than the learning goal has been placed in the Score 4.0 position. This simple protocol can be used to design a scale for any learning goal in any subject area.
In addition to Score 3.0 performance, in-depth inferences and applications that go beyond what was taught, such as
While engaged in grade-appropriate reading tasks, the student demonstrates an ability to
The student exhibits no major errors or omissions.
No major errors or omissions regarding the Score 2.0 elements and partial knowledge of the Score 3.0 elements.
No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler details and processes, such as
However, the student exhibits major errors or omissions with Score 3.0 elements.
Partial knowledge of the Score 2.0 elements but major errors or omissions regarding the Score 3.0 elements.
With help, a partial understanding of some of the Score 2.0 elements and some of the Score 3.0 elements.
With help, a partial understanding of some of the Score 2.0 elements but not the Score 3.0 elements.
Eighth Grade Science. This 8th grade science teacher is planning a unit on the structure and properties of matter. Her learning goal is for students to understand the characteristics of various elements. She identifies some content that is easier and more difficult than this target information and writes the following scale, which she will present to students.
While engaged in tasks that address the structure and properties of matter, the student demonstrates an understanding of important information, such as
The student makes no major errors or omissions.
Using the form below, design a rubric for a recent goal you have addressed in class by filling in the content for Scores 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0.
Partial knowledge of the simpler details and processes (Score 2.0 content) but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and procedures (Score 3.0 content).
Learning goals and the scales that go with them are typically written for teachers. Another way of saying this is that they are written in "teacher language." It is highly useful to translate them to "student language." To illustrate, consider Figure 2.4. It contains the scale shown in Figure 2.3, but this time the content for Scores 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0 has been stated in student language. This revision was done via a class discussion in which students and teacher jointly decided how best to rewrite the content for Scores 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0. Also note that specific examples are provided. These examples give students clear illustrations of what is expected of them.
Middle School Geography. This 7th grade social studies teacher has designed a scale for a learning goal regarding the difference in human and animal migration. She has students break into small groups and rewrite the Score 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0 elements from the scale. Groups share their responses, and the class as a whole comes up with a student-friendly version of the scale created by the teacher.
Primary Reading. This teacher has presented students with a scale for a learning goal regarding writing a composition with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Using previous compositions students have written, the teacher provides examples of compositions, or "anchor papers," for Scores 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0. These are posted on the board right next to the scale. Students can clearly see what Score 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0 papers look like.
Using the Score 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0 values from the activity box containing the rubric you designed, rewrite the content in a way that would be more student friendly. Remember to provide an example of a response for each Score 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0 value.
Rewritten Score 4.0 content:
Rewritten Score 3.0 content:
Rewritten Score 2.0 content:
It's probably safe to assume that students are more engaged in a unit of instruction when they have personal goals regarding the content that is addressed. Consequently, it is beneficial to ask students to articulate personal learning goals. To illustrate, suppose a social studies teacher has set as a goal for a unit of instruction that students will understand the implications of major compromises considered by the delegates during the Constitutional Convention. After presenting this learning goal, the teacher would ask students to identify related goals of their own. One student might set a goal to learn more about specific people who attended the Constitutional Convention. Another student might set a goal to learn more about the place where the Constitutional Convention was held.
Whereas some students might quickly and easily generate personal goals related to the Constitutional Convention, it is probably true that many students would not. In this case a teacher must be willing to provide some concrete guidance. For example, the teacher might explain that the general theme they will be studying is that when something new is being developed, the rules and regulations that are established commonly have a profound effect on what happens in the future. The teacher would then encourage students to identify a personal goal regarding anything that is related to this general theme:
What are some things you are interested in right now that have rules and regulations? Who created those rules and regulations?
One student who is interested in figure skating might decide that her personal goal is to learn more about the rules established for competitive figure skating to determine why they were established and how these initial rules have affected the sport over the years. Another student who likes basketball might do the same—learn about why specific rules were first established for basketball and how those rules have affected the sport throughout the decades. A student who is interested in computers might wish to determine how the early thinking about computing machines shaped the development of computers.
While students were learning about the Constitutional Convention, the teacher would continually help them make linkages between their personal learning goals and the overall class goal. To help students state their own learning goals in a precise manner, the following format can be used:
When this unit is completed I will better understand _____________.
When this unit is completed I will be able to ___________________.
As is the case with teacher goals, student learning goals should be accompanied by a scale that can be used to track progress. We have found it useful to provide students with a generic scale like that in Figure 2.5.
4 = I did even better than the goal I set.
3 = I accomplished my goal.
2 = I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to, but I learned quite a bit.
1 = I tried, but I didn't really learn much.
0 = I didn't really try to accomplish my goal.
Secondary Physical Education. A high school physical education teacher is addressing personal fitness. After she presents the learning goals for the unit and passes out the scales associated with those goals, she has each student identify a personal learning goal regarding physical fitness.
Elementary Social Studies. An elementary teacher has presented students with a scale for his learning goal regarding understanding the importance and history of the U.S. Constitution. He explains that the general theme they will be studying is how the U.S. Constitution was a document that changed the course of world history. For their personal learning goal, he invites students to learn about other documents or other events that changed the course of history.
Identify a learning goal you have used in a unit of instruction. Describe the directions you might have given students to help them identify personal learning goals that are related to the overall classroom goal.
Use the following rating scale to assess your current understanding and comfort level regarding key strategies and processes presented in this module:
4 = I understand and already fully implement this strategy in my classroom.
3 = I understand this strategy, but I need to practice using it in my classroom.
2 = I can explain this strategy, but I am not fully confident that I can use it.
1 = I do not understand this strategy, and I do not currently use it in my classroom.
___ 1. Clearly articulating learning goals as opposed to activities and assignments
Based on my rating, I may need to revisit the following:
___ 2. Creating scales or rubrics for learning goals
___ 3. Rewriting scales in student-friendly language
___ 4. Having students identify individual learning goals
Copyright © 2009 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication—including the drawings, graphs, illustrations, or chapters, except for brief quotations in
critical reviews or articles—may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from ASCD.
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our twice-monthly e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.