I LOVE clear aims and objectives in a lesson. When I see a group of students and a teacher who know what they’re learning and why they’re learning it, I go all warm and fuzzy inside. But I hate useless admin, admin for the sake of it. I can’t stand the statement “we’ve always done it this way” it makes me the opposite of warm and fuzzy inside…chilly and smooth?
Recently I had a conversation with a teacher that made me go a bit chilly and smooth but I do not think this is an isolated occurrence. In fact I remember feeling this very way in my early years as a teacher. We were discussing aims and objectives and he said:
“I don’t know if anyone else feels this way but I always write my aims and objectives because I know I have to but I don’t know who they are for? Are they for me, are they for my students or are they for the British Council?”
And there it is…I’m chilly and smooth. The one statement worse than “we’ve always done it this way” is “we do it for accreditation” or in the UK, “we do it for the British Council” [shudders]. Because yes of course there are things that we do in a school that when our accreditation bodies arrive, we will display proudly. And there are things that accreditation bodies will look for in a school. And one of those things will be aims and objectives…but not so they can tick a box, not so we can tick a box, but because behind every accreditation criterium lies a very good reason, a justification for its existence.
Aims and objectives for aims and objectives sake are not a good thing…but a learner who knows what they are learning and how it will help them in their real life is most definitely a good thing. Aims and objectives are one way of achieving this.
So to answer this teacher’s question (and I should add here that this was an incredible teacher who was just trying to figure out how best to use aims&objectives in their lesson) I said:
“Aims and objectives are for your students first and foremost and should never be a tick box. They should be a talking point.”
From Tick Box to Talking Point
First of all a few tips on writing effective aims and objectives:
- Write them in student friendly language. Remember who they are for.
- Begin with your objective (what you want them to be better at by the end of the lesson)
- Work backwards to write your aims (what do they need to learn to be better at this objective by the end of the lesson)
- Make your objective real-life and relevant for your learners (“be able to use the present perfect & past simple” is not real life but “be able to describe your career” is)
- Focus on function over form: Consider the difference between “learn to use the present perfect” and “learn to describe ongoing situations in my career using the present perfect”
- Follow a pattern: Don’t change up how you write your aims & objectives every lesson. Follow a recognisable pattern and display them in the same place each lesson. This reduces the amount that learners need to process. They can focus on the key message.
If you follow the above, you should find yourself with effective aims and objectives but if you don’t do anything with them, then they are little more than a tick box. We need to move them to a talking point. They should be the basis of a discussion with your students. Consider the following:
At the beginning of your lesson:
Use the some or all of the questions below to open up a discussion:
- How will this objective help you in your real life?
- Which of these aims will be most challenging for you?
- Which of these aims are you already confident in?
- How confident are you?
- Is there anything else you think you’ll need to achieve this objective?
During your lesson:
Keep the conversation going. Learners will always focus on what’s in front of them. Just because you know why something is relevant, doesn’t mean it is immediately apparent for the students.
- Why do you think we learnt this?
- How will this help you achieve the objective?
At the end of the lesson:
The ideal situation is a learner who can take what they’ve learnt in the lesson and bring it into their real lives but too often the lesson ends at the door. Keep it going:
- How well do you feel you achieved the objective?
- How will you practise this in your real life?
- How will you apply what you learnt to your real life?
- Is there anything you need more practice on?
- How will you practise it?
Using the word “will” can be more powerful than “can” or “could”. It’s not about what is possible, it’s about them making a promise, a commitment to try this outside the classroom…and then it’s on you to follow up with them.
So if you’ve ever felt like you were writing aims and objectives for the British Council, try out some of the ideas above and remember who we should be writing them for.