4 Steps to Student-Friendly Learning Targets

By Britany Kuslis

All teachers should strive to develop daily measurable learning targets that include action verbs, are aligned with assessments and course expectations, and are measurable with the end-goal in mind. After writing the learning target, teachers rarely include success criteria indicating how students will know they have achieved the goal. Teachers should include this performance objective along with the learning target and tell students directly what work they will produce as evidence of their learning. (Moss & Brookhart, 2012).

For us to integrate learning targets into daily lesson planning and classroom procedures, we need to understand that a learning target is not an instructional objective. An instructional objective is written from the teacher’s point of view. Learning targets are written from a student’s perspective and shared throughout the lesson so that students can use them as a guide for their own learning. A new teacher may find the following approaches helpful when writing student-friendly learning targets for the first time.

1. Write a learning target using student-friendly language.
A learning target states what the students will be able to do or will come to know as a result of the lesson. This learning target is specific to one class; it is not a target that should cover more than one lesson. It is a specific, daily, instructional objective written to be student-friendly. The teacher must share the learning target with the students verbally, by using a visual, by sharing student exemplars (strong and weak work), and/or sharing what came before the lesson and what will be coming after.

2. Share the learning target with students.
Sharing the learning target with students is paramount to this process. We shouldn’t be teaching like they did when I was in school, in a game of smoke and mirrors where students couldn’t ask teachers what they were doing during that class. All students in the classroom should know the learning target and how they can show evidence of achievement. Doing this makes the end goal clear to everyone.

3. Develop success criteria for the lesson (a performance objective).
If the learning target tells students what they’re learning in the lesson, the performance of understanding tells students how they’ll know they’ve learned it. The success criteria translates the learning target into action (Moss & Brookhart, 2012). If students are engaged in a strong performance of understanding, they should be able to conclude, “If I can do this, I’ll know I’ve reached my learning target.” Just as important, teachers should be able to conclude, “If my students can do this, I’ll have strong evidence that they’ve reached the learning target” (Moss & Brookhart, 2012, p. 44).

Aside from the physical “I can” or “we will” statement that will be shared with students, students should engage in an activity that deepens their understanding of the content and skills of the learning target. Students need to be able to apply the success criteria to their own work and produce evidence of where they are in relation to the learning target (Moss & Brookhart, 2012). Sharing and providing students with “look-fors” (criteria for success) in the form of a checklist or exemplar/model helps them determine how close they are to accomplishing the performance objective.

4. Feed students learning forward.
By providing timely feedback that is descriptive and related to the learning target, teachers can help to move students’ learning forward. The feedback also must fill the gap between what they’ve understood and what they’re supposed to understand (Svanes & Skagen, 2017). In this way, students can see where they are in relation to the criteria for success, and teachers can suggest strategies or ways students can be more successful to promote growth. Simply providing students with the opportunity to immediately use the feedback or work one-on-one or with a group of students are all ways to feed students’ learning forward.

Through implementing learning targets in my classroom, I have been able to make my daily lessons more meaningful. By writing learning targets from a student’s point of view, I have learned that students are more successful when information is chunked. I also have found that providing students with timely feedback and giving them the opportunity to use the feedback to improve their performance is a skill that has improved my day-to-day teaching practice.

Mrs. Kuslis is an English teacher W.F. Kaynor Technical High School, teaching courses in Creative and Nonfiction Writing, Journalism and Media Awareness, and English III. She has been teaching for 11 years and is a doctoral candidate in Western Connecticut State University’s Doctor of Education in Instructional Leadership program.


Moss, C. M., & Brookhart, S. M. (2012). Learning targets: Helping students aim for understanding in today’s lesson. ASCD.

Svanes, I. K., & Skagen, K. (2017). Connecting feedback, classroom research and Didaktik perspectives. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49(3), 334–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2016.1140810

Top Websites for Inclusive Classrooms

The demands upon teachers continue to grow, especially as they seek to accommodate all of their students’ learning needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act provides that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment, or that of their same-grade peers. According to the The U.S. Department of Education, 95 percent of 6- to 21-year-old students with disabilities were served in regular schools.

It is incumbent upon teachers, in an era of accountability and mandates set by the Every Student Succeeds Act, to prepare themselves to face the challenges in meeting the needs of students with exceptional learning needs. At the same time, student engagement is at an all-time low and decreases every year starting in the fifth grade; reaching its lowest point by eleventh grade.

Continuing to build classroom supports is essential to keep students encouraged to learn and hopeful for their future. The following websites offer teachers the opportunity, at no cost, to reinforce classroom knowledge and skills while giving students the opportunity to use technology to reinforce their learning.


Flocabulary offers an engaging approach to K-12 vocabulary instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards. It offers a free trial and discounts for school-wide subscriptions. Through the use of rap music, Flocabulary helps activate auditory processing and memory and reinforces concepts in all academic subjects including Life Skills and Current Events, necessary for students with exceptional learning needs. All videos have captions, include transcripts, and have variable speed controls to accommodate all learners.

Reading Educator

Students with disabilities must be explicitly taught how to use reading strategies because they do not automatically know how to use these strategies. Reading Educator assumes that every teacher is a reading teacher, and support in the general education classroom comes through the teaching of research-based strategies, which help students become more active in their learning. The website provides sample lesson plans and models of effective strategies such as active reading, vocabulary development, classroom discussion, and higher-order questioning. Additional resources include fun supplemental activities for parents to encourage reading at home.


Designed primarily for grades Pre–K through grade 8, funbrain includes a variety of educational games and videos including all traditional academic areas as well as memory challenges, strategy skills, patterns, logic, and sign language. These animated and interactive games disguise learning through video gaming modules.

Free Rice

Students with exceptional learning needs require review and practice of basic concepts and reinforcement of material previously learned. Based at the United Nations World Food Programme to end world hunger, Free Rice is a win-win website. Teachers are able to register their students to play as a group. As the students answer the questions correctly, a visual representation is shown of the grains of rice that will be donated. This website is appropriate for students at all grade levels. Subjects include: basic math operations, grammar, science, and geography, anatomy, chemistry, pre-algebra, and SAT preparation.


Accommodating the diverse learning needs in the classroom can be challenging and costly. Bookshare.org is an accessible online library for persons with a documented print disability. This website has over a half a million titles and many different options to read books. Students are able to listen to books using text-to-speech voices. Books are available in enlarged font, digital braille, and image description.


Quizlet is an interactive website which allows students the opportunity to practice material learned through digital flashcards that are created by both teachers and students. Study sets can be transformed into games and practice tests to promote application of the vocabulary terms. Students can search for previously created study sets that align with specific course content. Quizlet Live is another version of quizlet. In this feature, teachers can create teams throughout their classroom to play collaborative games to further reinforce vocabulary.


Students with learning disabilities are reluctant readers and have motivational problems due to repeated reading failure and negative reading experiences (Melekoglu & Wilkerson, 2013). It’s based on the premise that when children and youth are given interesting material to read, they become more proficient and life-long readers. Guysread is a web-based literacy program for boys, who are more likely than girls to receive special education services and have markedly lower achievement in language arts from elementary through high school (2009). The website includes book recommendations by genre and age range. Interesting reading material on superheroes and supervillains, graphic novels, cars, mystery, fantasy, and sports can also be found.

With these resources, you will provide opportunities for students with disabilities to review and practice educational concepts with technology, all the while facilitating your engagement and motivation to learn.


Rachel is a senior undergraduate student at Flagler College and plans to attend graduate school in the fall. Her current interests include students with exceptional needs with focus on best practices in working with children with autism, and behavioral issues.

Cheryl has a Ph.D. in Special Education with expertise in Learning and Behavioral Disorders. She currently teaches in the Education Department at Flagler College.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Deeper Learning, Personalized Learning

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

This is the time of year when building principals begin determining their master schedules for the upcoming school year.

Jobs are posted, interviews are conducted, new teachers are hired, and teachers start to put plans in place for the next school year.

Teachers begin reflecting about what adjustments they want to make to set up for a new group of students.

Several days and hours will be spent rearranging classrooms, planning upcoming units, hanging posters and other inspirational items, and putting the final touches on beginning-of-the-school-year activities meant to build relationships and class culture.

Teachers are faced with the challenges of building relationships, teaching standards, and ensuring that the learning needs of each student are met.

Truly understanding the needs of each student is time consuming and requires sufficient and effective professional development opportunities for teachers to build their knowledge and skill set to address these needs.

ESSA and State Standards

ESSA requires states to have academic standards in reading, language arts, mathematics and science that “align with the entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the state’s system of public higher education and with applicable state career and technical education standards.” In addition to these standards, states are required to continue standardized testing.

Teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching the higher-order thinking skills students need to meet the standards. Because each classroom and each school is different, getting to know students and their individual learning needs allows teachers to differentiate their content and lesson activities to help all student receive the education they need to meet or exceed standards. Ensuring each student has the tools needed to be college and career ready requires adequate assistance by teachers, school leaders, districts, and states.

ESSA and Deeper Learning

The energy at the beginning of the school year transforms as teachers start to know and understand their students. The excitement changes from initial anticipation activities to problem-solving tactics enlisting the collective power of teachers to predict, reform, and adjust their teaching practices to address the needs of students in their individual classrooms. The mindset of students also changes as they determine how the content is relevant to them and how they are going to meet the expectations their teachers have of them to be creative and think critically.

ESSA provides support for states and districts to promote deeper learning through several means, including personalized learning opportunities. Deeper learning consists of “the delivery of challenging academic standards to students in innovative ways that allow them to learn, and then apply what they have learned.”

One way to support deeper learning is through personalized learning, which “emphasizes (1) developing trusted and caring relationships between teachers and students; (2) connecting learning to the real world; (3) linking curriculum to students’ interests, strengths, and aspirations; (4) providing students individually targeted instruction, practice, and support where they are struggling; and (5) creating more flexible learning environments.”

The outcome of providing personalized learning to elevate deeper learning is building equity by preparing all students regardless of their race, gender, background, and socioeconomic status with the skills they need to be college and career ready by the time they graduate high school.

The support ESSA provides is through Title I and Title II funds. States can use up to 3% of their Title II funds to support building leaders and principals by “developing high quality professional development programs.” States can use up to 3% of their Title I funds for “direct student services” helping students receive personalized learning services advancing their coursework through a variety of means to prepare them to be college and career ready.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  1. How are your schools and districts promoting deeper learning through innovative practices?
  2. In what ways can personalized learning opportunities help students grow as learners?

dr-john-helgesonDr. John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Washington State. He is a member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee.