As a first year teacher with no student teaching experience (more on that here) I learned to begin each mini-lesson with an aim (learning target) usually in the form of a question. The aim was unpacked from the standards, typically written at the top of an anchor chart and deconstructed with students during the mini-lesson, guided our practice and revisited at the share. I thought everyone taught this way (I have since realized that I was wrong). It made sense, involved the students in the learning process and made it easy to reflect, self-assess and give feedback.
My aims have evolved over the years, some questions have turned into "Readers can" or "Writers can" statements and I don't make as many charts as I used to. But my firm belief in the value of COMMUNICATING the aim, USING the aim and giving the students OWNERSHIP over the aim stays the same. Aims should provide a purpose, direction and the WHY of what students are learning. Involving your students in using aims gives them ownership over directing each part of your lesson. An aim gives the the practice a clear focus which then gives the feedback a clear focus. When feedback is focused on one specific aim and time is given to revisit and revise work (Brookhart and Moss call this the Golden Second Opportunity) then growth, ownership and learning occur.
In addition to loving aims, I also love yoga (I promise there is a connection here). One of the things I love the most about yoga is that we set an intent at the beginning of each session. We all have our own personal reasons for showing up to class that day but a specific intent guides each practice. My yoga instructor refers to the intent throughout the practice during assists and when giving feedback and we have a few quiet moments at the end of our practice to reflect on the intent as we carry it with us for the rest of the day. I realize that I also use aims in my everyday life - setting small goals for cleaning out a closet or planning for a productive afternoon.
It got me thinking - setting aims not only provides purpose and direction for lessons in the classroom but some element of this practice might stick with the students as they leave my classroom. That could be a powerful thing.
To read more about learning targets, I would turn to Brookhart and Moss and this book:
It is a must read, must own book for everyone in education.
How do you use aims or learning targets in your classroom?