FDN 5560
Classroom Assessment

Identifying Learning Targets

Learning targets (instructional objectives) for whole units of instruction (6-12 week units) should be broad in scope. For all subjects these should identify what you expect your students to know AND be able to do at the conclusion of the instructional sequence.

A variety of ways of classifying learning outcomes exist. Popham gives a brief description of Bloom's hierarchy of cognitive skills (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation). Gagné, also, proposed separate categories, which he called "domains of learning: "verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills, and attitudes. Using a different nomenclature, Stiggens, has classified learning into the following categories: knowledge, reasoning, skills, products, and dispositions. The Dimensions of Learning Model, developed by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), and which has been adapted by several states and school districts, includes the following classifications: Attitudes and Perceptions about Learning, Acquisition and Integration of Knowledge, Extension and Refinement of Knowledge, Meaningful Use of Knowledge, and Productive Habits of the Mind . Quellmalz' taxonomy of learning outcomes contains 5 classifications: recall, analysis, comparison, inference, and evaluation. Several other schemes for classifying learning targets have been proposed by a variety of authors. What all the schemes for classifying learning outcomes have in common is that they all include a low-level, albeit important, category of learning equivalent to what the cognitive psychologists refer to as knowledge.; and they all identify high-level categories of learning roughly equivalent to what modern cognitive psychologists refer to as problem solving. These higher levels of learning outcomes build upon lower levels of learning. Hence, the lower-levels of learning targets can be thought of as the building blocks upon which higher-order cognitive (and skill) outcomes are built.

Before beginning this exercise you should investigate several of these sources for classifying learning targets. Much information exists on the World Wide Web.

By the end of a six- to twelve-week sequence of instruction, it is these higher-order learning targets that are important. These are the targets that specify what it is, in terms of learning, that your students should attained by the end of the instructional sequence. These, then, are the learning targets you are to identify for this assignment.


Identify six to twelve important (read, critical) learning targets for a particular six- to twelve-week sequence of instruction.

These should include two to four, high-order, complex, cognitive (or skill) learning targets.

Within each of these high-order learning targets, there may be any number of intermediate-level or lower-level, skill-development (or capacity-building) learning targets. These lower-level learning targets are generally the targets for formative assessment (read, assessment for learning).

Within ONE of the higher-order learning targets identify a set of intermediate- or lower-level learning targets for which a brief assessment that is sensitive to the instruction aimed at those targets cam be developed (this is Component Two).

Be careful about the articulation of the learning targets. The intermediate- and lower-level targets should clearly support the higher-level target under which it falls.

High-order learning targets are those found at the higher end of taxonomies of learning targets or instructional objectives. For instance, in Bloom's Taxonomy these are found among the categories of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. In Gagné's domains of learning, these, higher-order learning targets, are generally found in the domains of intellectual skills and and cognitive strategies. In Stiggens' classification system, skills, products, and sometimes, reasoning are where you would find the higher-order learning targets.

Lower-level, skill-development and capacity-building learning targets are those classified as comprehension and analysis by Bloom, comprehension and application by Gagné, and, probably, reasoning by Stiggens. Still lower-level learning targets can be identified as  knowledge-type learning targets that call for acquisition of facts and information that can be recalled or restated.

You might want to use the following table as guide for classifying your learning targets. Under the Content column list the components in the content domain for which learning targets are being identified (for instance in a sequence of instruction on the Civil War, these might be "causes leading up to the war," "battles that helped bring an end to the war," and "lessons from the war that can be applied to the current civil war in Sudan.

Learning targets--especially the higher-order learning targets--should focus on generalized learning, not on specifics. For instance, if the purpose of a particular unit in a history class is concerned with exploring how people lived and prospered on the western frontier, and one of Laura Ingles books is used to illustrate life in that era, then the higher-order learning targets should not be aimed at the particular book used.