“You need to have your aim posted”

What impact does posting the aim, or central question of a lesson, have on teaching and learning? What purpose does it serve?

I’ve heard throughout my career that “you need to have your aim posted” at the start of every lesson. @stoodle got at this idea recently and made me realize that I myself have been pondering this for quite some time.

A year ago someone at a PD mentioned that they never post the day’s aim. Nor do they “announce” it at the beginning of class. Instead, the aim is elicited from students during the learning process. The essential question is built upon their prerequisite knowledge and pulled from their comprehension of what they learn from the lesson. It is never given, but rather discovered by the students.

When I heard this, I had an ah-ha moment. It made complete sense. Other than in the classroom, how often are we informed of what we’re going to learn before we actually learn it? Sure, you may have a goal you want to accomplish (e.g. complete yard work before 1 pm), but what you actually learn in the process (e.g. how to mow my lawn as efficiently as possible) is often unknown at the onset. We notice, strategize, experiment, learn, and then realize what we’ve learned.

Recently, I didn’t post the aim of a lesson on arithmetic sequences. I required my students, as part of their exit slip, to write what they thought the aim was for the lesson. Not only did 90% of the kids nail it, but one was even better, and more creative, than what I originally intended for the lesson.


(This is directly related to the overarching problem from the lesson)

This made me think. Whatever a student feels the aim is (during or at the end of a lesson), provides remarkable feedback as to the effectiveness of the lesson.

Another thing. I’m a firm believer that lessons should be based purely on questions. One question should lead to another, and then another, and then another. Ultimately, the central question – the heart of any lesson – should eventually be provoked. Because of this, I want my students to need the central question of a lesson to accomplish a task or goal. They can’t need it if I openly post it.

I’m left with many questions about this widely-adopted practice of aim-posting. What are the consequences of openly telling students the aim of a lesson? Conversely, what are the consequences of structured learning that promotes the discovery of the aim? If I don’t tell my students the aim, how do I frame a lesson from the onset? Does explicitly stating the aim perpetuate a top-down approach to learning? How can we use student-generated aims to inform our teaching?



2 thoughts on ““You need to have your aim posted””

  1. Hi bp,

    I like your style of reviewing learning intentions by getting students to tell you what they think the journey of the lesson was geared towards. I agree that the standardised sharing of learning intentions at the start of the lesson may not always be the best method of getting students to become aware of the point for the lesson. I do think, however, that it is that discussion which should be present in all lessons, rather than any prescribed monotonous drilling through the learning outcomes at the start of the lesson.

    There have been many fantastic proposed methods for sharing learning intentions such as, guess the missing outcome, or unscramble a jumbled up learning intention written on the board. Whilst any change from just reading them out has to be better, what really matters is that it is discussed surely?

    I think that by actually discussing what the point of the lesson or a task is, learners can then begin to have ownership, rather than the lesson being steered in a mysterious direction by the teacher. I prefer to use the term intention for these, as it conveys the fact that unintended outcomes are absolutely fine, and that those proposed by me are not set in stone. Once these are outlaid for the lesson, we then discuss how they translate in to the tasks being given and what students should be able to achieve in the tasks if they are meeting the lesson’s intentions. In the past, with particularly reflective students, I have asked them what they think they should do in terms of an activity to learn or practise a learning intention.

    I really hadn’t meant for this post to be this long I’m sorry. In summary though, I would say that learning intentions do not take ownership away from learners as such. It is more how they are used and delivered that can help students to construct their own learning journey, or assess their own learning; which can really help to make the learning meaningful for them.


  2. Mike-

    Thanks for the well-thought out response! I’m sort of surprised that this idea is not discussed more.

    I agree the outcome of a lesson should be discussed with students, and my proposal is that this discussion happen after students have discovered it on their own during a task, which is sometimes brief in nature. Ideally, given proper questioning, they shouldn’t need me to identify it whatsoever, certainly creating ownership over the lesson. This may happen 10 minutes into class after some initial investigation, but may vary greatly depending on the lesson. Indeed, this discussion must happen with students…I just think it should stem from student exploration.

    You have left me thinking. How to initially frame a lesson without “giving away” the desired outcome? Students will know the topic for the day in my class, just not what they’re going to actually learn. Your phrase, “the lesson being steered in a mysterious direction by the teacher,” got my attention and you’re totally right about it. This can be an untended consequence of what I’m proposing, for sure, and not something I thought about before you mentioned it. Thanks for that.

    I enjoyed reading your take on this issue, Mike! Oh, and I really like the idea of using an “Intention” for a lesson. I may actually play around with using it in my class as an alternative.

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