Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting Objectives

One of the challenges with professional development and improved instruction is there is an ever-present environment of new ideas.  While most teaching accept the fact that education is ever-changing, and it should for the most part, it does make it hard to focus in on high-yield instructional strategies when there is always the “latest and greatest” strategy. So, what’s the answer to this challenge; it is simple, work smarter, not harder.

A few years ago I took part in a consortium with Debra Pickering, who is a part of the Marzano Research Laboratory.  As a  part of this consortium, we had to conduct an action research on one of Robert Marzano’s nine high-leverage instructional strategies. I chose the strategy of setting objectives, because this one caused the most doubt in my mind about how much it could really improve student achievement. Prior to this action research, I obviously set objectives for my class—while writing my lesson plans, but I do not think I effectively shared those objectives with the class.  They were shared, just not in a clear and focused manner.  After conducting the action research with a fifth-grade unit on early American settlements, my doubt of the effectiveness of this strategy was diminished.  I was pleasantly surprised about how much more focused the students were.  There are so many tangents one can go off on when teaching American history (especially when you have a passion for it as I do), but setting objectives at the beginning of each lesson and re-visiting them at the end of each lesson not only made learning intentions clear to students, it helped me keep my instruction focused where it needed to be.  There was a clear difference in test scores with my experimental group as compared to my control group.

It is now a few years later and I am reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning.  First of all, I highly recommend this book for any teacher who is wanting to step up their game.  Hattie’s book is a meta-analyses of meta-analyses, which basically means he compared results of thousands of studies.  He expands on the importance of learning intentions (ie setting objectives).  Teacher clarity is tenth on his list of top strategies/approach to education that has the highest affect on student achievement. While reading this book, I realized that I had lost sight of this since doing my action research. So, I have refocused my efforts on making learning intentions clear to my students (and myself!) and, it is no surprise, that our learning is once again more focused and students seem more appreciative that they are not overwhelmed with trying to master every bit of information I throw at them.

The bigger lesson learned for me and the lesson I hope you take away from this: the key to professional development is not always learning more (aka doing more), it is working smarter.  Education is, and should be constantly changing, but there are research-based strategies that have been proven time and again to be effective.  Focus on those strategies as opposed to the newest latest and greatest strategies that promise to transform your teaching.

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5 thoughts on “Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting Objectives

  1. “it is simple, work smarter, not harder.” This quote sums up your whole post and it’s perfect and motivational. As a student who struggled grasping the material growing up. I completely believe setting objectives at the beginning of the class and restating them at the end of each class makes things a lot easier to understand. Otherwise all that material can become a little too much at one time. If you give a student something to focus on it not only keeps them focused, but gives them a better chance to truly understand what is being taught. I love reading your post because you seem so passionate about your job. I hope one day to affect many of student’s life in a positive way. By setting objectives and reminding the students of these objectives I truly believe I can help better my student.

  2. I’ve also read Morzano’s instructional strategies and agree with the majority of his ideas throughout the book. Thank you for putting one of the strategies to the test and communicating the results. I wonder how/if the results would differ when utilized in a primary (K-2) classroom?

  3. Pingback: Work Smarter, Not Harder: Setting Objectives | Conservative Teachers of America

  4. Thank you for your post. As an aspiring teacher, I will definitely remember to focus on “research-based strategies that have been proven time and again to be effective… as opposed to the newest latest and greatest.” This will help me immensely, because lately it seems like there are so many new teaching strategies out there, and at times I feel like I am at a cross road, or even bogged down.

    1. Daniel,

      Your approach is a good one. Teaching is tough, effective teaching is even tougher. 🙂 I imagine you have an advantage. I had a student teacher a few years ago, and they did an excellent job preparing her for the teaching field with a focus on research-based strategies. This seems like this is becoming more common place in undergraduate and graduate teaching programs (unlike when I when to school!) My advice is read, read, read as much as you can on research-based practices, listen to podcasts (check out Choice Literacy podcast on i Tunes). And always design your lesson and units on strategies that have been proven to work. Best of luck to you, Daniel.

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