It’s Learning Intentions, Jim, but not as we know it…

Learning intentions has been one of the latest catchy ideas in education in the past few years. Now, don’t get me wrong here; I think it’s great to consider what your learning intentions are. However, when I was at a school that mandated it for every lesson I must confess that I didn’t always find it easy. Sometimes there was no specific thing which I intended the whole class should learn. For example, for a VCAL class that was organising a fund raiser I could have written a number of learning intentions, but something like that gives the students many learning experiences that I couldn’t possibly predict. Once it was decided that it could be Learning Intention OR Success Criteria (or both), it became easier. 

Lately I’ve been observing classes where the Learning Intention is just done without thought. The teacher puts it on the board because it’s part of the lesson narrative and the students may have to copy it down, but that’s where it ends.

Then it hit me that maybe we need to mix it up a bit. Instead of the teacher telling the students what the learning intention was, maybe we should be asking teachers to specify what they intend to learn. Even if it’s only for a week or two, maybe every teacher should be encouraged to write down what they want to learn by the end of the class.

Possible Teacher Learning Intentions:

  • I want to learn how many of my students can remember the lesson from a month ago.
  • I want to learn how many of my students can summarise the main points of my lecture on the periodic table.
  • I want to learn how many of my students can write a plan for a text response without using a template.
  • I want to learn if any of my students feel that they are struggling with their understanding of quadratic equations.
  • I want to learn who can hold a conversation in French.

There’s no limit to what the intentions could be and they don’t all have to be academic. The next obvious step after working out the learning intention is how one learns the chosen intention. In some cases, it’ll be as simple as giving a test while others may require a bit of creativity. Whatever, the value of the exercise would be to remind teachers that feedback is a two-way thing and that they’re constantly receiving feedback from the students. 

The important thing is how to harness it into something that actually improves the learning experience for the student. 

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