A few thought on targets

I’m not sure when I became aware of targets in education. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t at school, or during undergraduate studies. When I started my PGCE, I had two young children, and I was dimly aware that there were certain expectations for my son’s progress through Reception. By the time he had reached Year 2, he and the rest of his class had personal termly targets for numeracy and literacy. These were recorded in end of term reports and kept in individual A6 files held together with treasury tags.

From the very start of training in the UK, teachers must strive to adhere to targets set out in England’s Teachers’ standards, Northern Ireland’s professional competences, Scotland’s standards and Wales’s professional standards . The nations each provide their own guidance, with Scotland’s curriculum for excellence providing what might be described as flexible supervision, compared with England’s more prescriptive national curriculum, which e.g. dictates which spelling patterns must be taught over the course of each school year. These are targets that we as teachers must meet and/or support our pupils to meet.

There is an on-going debate around daily targets – the learning outcome (or objective or intention, so LO or LI, depending on your school’s preference). Should these be displayed and discussed, so that students can see what they are going to be working towards? Should the students have to write these in their books? Many agree that writing the LO is an unnecessary waste of time and energy, but of course, you must be guided by your setting’s policies. If you submit planning, then anyone inspecting exercise books should be able to relate the planned outcome to the exercise recorded that day. One would hope that a suitably experienced practitioner might even work it out without written LO or a copy of your plan.

Beyond the target of each lesson, you will have a series of intended outcomes and an overall goal for each scheme of work, medium or long-term plan, syllabus and curriculum area. Targets aplenty.

Recently there was a mini Twitter debate regarding whether the students should know the LO at the start of the lesson. Should they be aware of success criteria? (The first time I was required to introduce this concept to my Year 4 class, most of them had never consciously heard the word ‘criteria’.) Several EduTweeters felt the idea of students’ delight at discovery learning would be lost if the LO were broadcast in advance. Others argued that developing students’ metacognitive awareness, giving them knowledge to understand what and how they learn, is a key aspect of positive, successful and empowering education. There may be some room to explore both modalities within the confines of your setting’s policies.

In primary schools, I have been expected to provide an objective and a way for students to know it had been met, in the guise of WALT (We are learning to…) and WILF (What I’m looking for…). I have, since completing my NQT year, resisted any requirement for pupils to write this into their exercise books, though I have included it in worksheets I have made. My students always seemed fond of WALT the whale and WILF the wolf, to the point where I invested in stuffed toys to sit atop the classroom interactive board, as well as including them in clipart form on the flip-chart.

More recently, in higher education, I find there is a clear expectation to announce what will be taught and what students should know/understand/be able to do at the end of a session. It does not seem to mean that either the willingness to participate in or the ability to be surprised is negatively impacted.

A quick Google search of downloadable target sheets for students reveals that, other than being widely available on the Internet, little has changed since the early 2000s (when we still had to photocopy increasingly tatty and wonky versions, or make our own in Word 98). There is something to be said for empowering students to record their own achievement in this way, and I have witnessed many glow with pride as they coloured in the next box, or affixed the prized Target achieved sticker. However, in a mixed ability setting, the homogenous, downloadable target sheet is unlikely to suit every member of the class, so if target sheets must be used, consider creating your own, more editable version from scratch. It is extra work to set up, but you are in control, you can tweak and adapt to properly reflect your students, and, once created, your template can be reused over and over, saving time.

Some students may have additional individual targets. These may be part of an individual education plan (IEP or ILP, learning) agreed between parents, school, any external professionals, and wherever possible, in consultation with the student. Some schools have moved away from IEPs following the implementation of the SEND Code of Practice, often opting instead for individual learning support profile (ILSP, or LSP or ILP – delete as appropriate). The Code of Practice does not specify how schools document individualised support, but expects schools to plan for and target identified needs, monitor, record and adapt appropriately. Where a student has an education and healthcare plan (EHC plan or EHCP), support targets should be informed by, but not limited to the plan.

I’m not usually a fan of acronyms, unless they somehow support memorising to learn, but I believe that SMART targets are best when it comes to learning support provision. Here’s a little infographic I made earlier:

SMART targets
Download a copy

What’s absolutely crucial here though is the way the targets are perceived. As with all the targets already discussed, it’s the educator’s role to help students meet targets, not the student’s responsibility to attain them independently. Targets designed to help students meet their potential should be very carefully considered – parents, teachers, external professionals and the student have a part to play in their design. There may be many small adaptations that a classroom practitioner can make to facilitate that student’s learning, which may be noted in assessment reports or the EHC plan, but these do not constitute goals or outcomes.

I have seen excellent one-page profiles created by school SENDCos (England: special educational needs and disabilities) and ALNCos (Wales: additional learning needs) so that every teacher can ensure adjustments are made and relevant support and accommodations are consistently provided. Where IEPs or their equivalent are in place, targets (or goals/outcomes) should be limited to an age appropriate number, e.g. one or two in early years, up to four in KS2, etc.

There are many examples of profiles and IEPs on the Internet, or you can design your own. Here’s an example. Just make sure that the wording is clear, and that the goals and support are appropriate, manageable, monitored, reviewed and adjusted. This will make teaching and learning better for everyone. And that’s the point.

More infographics here
Posts on harnessing strengths and supporting needs can be found here
Downloadable resources are here

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