I recently met with some teachers from a nearby language centre for an informal chat and to give them some guidance and ideas to develop themselves and their institution.
The primary reason we met was because a colleague of mine mentioned that the language centre was without a senior teacher / academic director, and the teachers were feeling a little aimless and disordered.
I went along to see what challenges they were experiencing and what I might be able to share with them that could help.
I started by just asking for their take on the situation, and I sat back and listened for most of the first hour as they told me some of the problems they faced both in their own classrooms and within the institution in general.
Then we brainstormed some solutions, and I shared some ideas. The main theme that seemed to underline many of the solutions that we ended up with was the importance of planning. We looked at planning on several different levels with different time frames and different focuses in mind.
The Importance of Objectives
One thing that I find myself talking a lot about when I meet with teachers is learning objectives for their lessons. Often, I meet teachers who either don’t really bother with clear and systematic learning objectives or else I meet teachers who have a list of three or four learning objectives per lesson.
My main point then is the every lesson should have one clear learning objective that follows a particular structure and is consistent throughout the lesson. I’ve written about this before, as well.
However, that is for learning objectives, which I also call *primary learning objectives*. This is something else I’ve written about before, but in short, *primary learning objectives* are those learning objectives that relate to the subject you teach. If you’re a maths teacher, your PLOs will be related to mathematics—numbers, adding, fractions, etc.—and if you’re a science teacher, your PLOs will relate to science—chemicals, molecules, systems in the body, etc.—and so on.
While every lesson should have one and only one primary learning objective, there are in fact a number of other objectives that we should be considering as teachers across various timeframes.
Multiple Objectives on Different Levels
I’ll start by outlining the different levels that I’m referring to, and then I’ll discuss each one in turn.
- Long Term – course/semester
- Medium Term – unit/module
- Short Term – multiple lessons
- Lesson – Primary Learning Objective
- Lesson Stage – learning indicators
and one more which can occupy any timeframe:
- Personal Development Objectives
Setting Your Objectives
Let’s take a look at some examples for these different objectives.
Long Term Objectives
Your Long Term objectives are goals that you set for the entire course or semester. This can be anywhere from a few months to a semester depending on how your courses are laid out. I’d recommend not going longer than that though—unless very loosely. Even if you’re teaching a group of students for several semesters in a row, you’d do better to set new objectives each semester.
There are two reasons for this: first, our students change so much over time that what we set now might no longer be relevant a year from now; secondly, the feeling of achieving an objective is a powerful one, so there should be a reasonable timeframe to an objective so that you can actually achieve and mark some progress rather than chasing a single objective for years and never completing it.
These Long Term Objectives will likely be a combination of primary and secondary learning objectives. Secondary leaning objectives are those that do not relate directly to the subject matter—Maths, Science, English, etc.—but instead refer to the broader development of skills and character that we hope to see in our students.
As an English teacher, I have Long Term Goals that refer to fluency and proficiency in English, such as referring to levels on the CEFR for Languages, band scores in IELTS, perhaps, or even just broad communicative goals like the ability to engage in basic daily conversation in familiar contexts. I also have long term secondary learning objectives, such as developing cultural awareness, developing confidence, developing interest in reading, etc.
These are the things that will develop slowly over a long period of time, and to some extent, every lesson and every unit should be contributing to these objectives on some level.
Medium Term Objectives
These objectives are more specific than the Long Term objectives, and they will be related to the unit or module you are covering. They will also be more focused on Primary Learning Objectives.
As an English teacher, I might have a unit in my textbook on the environment or a module on my syllabus on travel. In these cases, primary learning objectives will be things that I pick out of the unit that I want to cover over the coming lessons; they will help me plan my individual lessons when I get to them. For *The Environment* it might be vocabulary related to different environments, language for cause and effect, modals for giving suggestions/recommendations.
It is a good idea to pick out your learning objectives in advance even though you don’t actually plan the lessons until closer to the time. Often teachers complain that there is too much to cover in a textbook or on a syllabus in the time that they have, and planning ahead like this allows us to pick the highlights or essentials that we should prioritise if time is short. Otherwise, if we start at the beginning and simply work through the unit, we run the risk of running out of time before we have chance to cover the most important parts.
Short Term Objectives
These are more focused on Secondary Learning Objectives, skills and character traits that you want to see your students develop over the next few lessons.
You might decide that you want to spend the next few lessons improving your students’ cooperative skills. If that is the case, then when you plan those next few lessons, you’ll make sure to maximise opportunities to develop this skill, perhaps by planning more group work and projects and so on.
By having your Medium Term objectives set out in advance, you can plan your lessons to maximise opportunities for achieving your Short Term objectives without interfering with your progress through the syllabus or achievement of the Long Term objectives.
There is no fixed term for these Short Term objectives. Some things you might want to spend longer on than others; but they should cover around two to four lessons.
These are the things you want your students to learn by the end of each lesson. There should be a clear learning objective every lesson related to the topics in your textbook or on your syllabus, if you have one, or else related directly to your students learning needs.
A good learning objective begins with the phrase “By the end of the lesson, students will be able to…” And incorporates Skill, Knowledge and Application.
As a language teacher, a learning objective for my lesson might look like this:
By the end of the lesson, students will be able to apologise in person in a professional situation.
Here, my skill component is Speaking, my knowledge component is phrases for giving apologies, and my application component is professional settings.
For each lesson, there should be only one Primary Learning Objective so that a) students know when they have achieved the objective and b) students don’t get confused as to what they’re supposed to be learning.
I discussed these in a recent video. Stage objectives are fixed micro objectives that you should aim to achieve at different stages of each lesson.
An example of a stage objective is getting students engaged with the topic at the beginning of the lesson so that they are keen to learn and to participate in the lesson.
Every lesson will have the same stages, and we use stage objectives so that we know when our students are ready to move from one stage to the next or from one activity to the next.
By paying attention to our stage objectives, we can make sure that our lesson stays on track, that every activity we do contributes to the Primary Learning objective and that our students are following the lesson well and that we are not confusing them or leaving them behind
Personal Development Objectives
These are quite similar to the Short Term objectives I described above, except they focus on your development as a teacher rather than your students’ development.
As with your Short Term Objectives, there is no fixed period for these, but they should probably not cover more than perhaps five lessons or so. The main reason for this is that if you have not achieved a PDO after four lessons, then perhaps you’re not making enough progress, and it might be a good idea to focus on something else in the meantime before coming back and having another attempt at a previous objective.
For PDOs, you might also want to collaborate with other teachers, observing one another for models, asking for and giving ideas, and maybe even sharing objectives so that you can progress and develop together.
The table below shows what a course/semester plan might look like taking into consideration all of these objectives. The example given here is only a snippet; in a real plan, there will likely be five or six units and perhaps up to 20–24 lessons. In this time, you might cover somewhere between six and ten Short Term objectives as well as maybe four or five Personal Development objectives.
Let me know how you plan ahead in the comments section. Perhaps you might want to share some of your Short Term and Professional Development objectives as a suggestion for other teachers who are looking for ideas…