What exactly does “student-friendly language” mean? In my district, teachers are required to post learning objectives in student-friendly language. (Did that come from the Charlotte Danielson Framework? Probably. 🤨) In reality, that mainly meant adding the phrase “I can” in front of a standard and writing it on the board. I have to admit that in the beginning I complied with the policy, but with a pretty bad attitude about it. In education, even if something is a really good idea, just announcing it in a staff meeting and expecting it to be done with fidelity often backfires. Teachers need time to understand the WHY before they can internalize any new initiative.
Over time, these learning targets posters became an integral part of my classroom. They really did create an atmosphere of student empowerment, but getting to that point wasn’t a given.
How I made the learning objectives real in my classroom
First I broke down the convoluted language of the Common Core State Standards into the skills my students could work on in a single lesson. I was posting my students’ learning objectives each day, and they needed to reflect what students actually did in class that day. For example the seventh grade writing standard W.7.8 says:
“Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.”
Whew! No way could I teach all of that in one lesson.
I broke that into separate learning objectives:
- Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively.
- Assess the credibility and accuracy of each source.
- Quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism.
- Follow a standard format for citation.
Then, feeling mildly subversive, I changed the “I can” wording expected by my administrators to “We can.” I taught small (usually 10-13) classes of academically gifted students. We did lots of collaborative work, so the atmosphere of my classroom was based in teamwork. Saying “I can” just didn’t fit. You can read more in this post about how I used these We Can statements to encourage a growth mindset in my classroom.
Choose the wording for your learning objectives
Language matters. The words your students (and you) see over and over again set a tone, even subconsciously.
I can. This indicates capability. If students struggle with feeling confident in their learning, “I can” may inspire courage or pride.
We can. This indicates cooperation. If you want to encourage an environment of unity and emotional support, “We can” helps create that.
I will. This indicates determination. When students lack motivation or have difficulty following through on work, “I will” can serve as an affirmation. If you use a Classroom Contract, the “I will” format fits well with that tone of accountability.
Which message do you want to send? None of these choices is inherently better than the others; it all depends on you and your class. Think about the strengths and needs of your students in your classroom. You might even talk to your students about the options and see what resonates most with them.
Advocate for your choice
If you’re a rebel at heart, you could just make the change and post new learning objectives on your own. However, if you’re by-the-book, you might want to discuss this with your principal first. When you approach your administrators, explain that you are trying to ensure that the routine is meaningful for your students. Be sure you share the why–the message you want to instill in your classroom. I bet he or she will be thrilled that you care enough to get this right.
See my Learning Objective Posters
You can take a closer look at the ELA standards posters I’ve created in my online shop. Each set includes three different files, so teachers can choose I can, We can, or We will.