The Question of Knowledge


PTE has produced this pamphlet in conjunction with The Association of School and College Leaders. In it, several headteachers from across the country detail their experiences and the challenges they faced when attempting to provide a knowledge-rich curriculum to their students, often with no resources or base to begin from. The pamphlet is free to download from this page.

Parents and Teachers for Excellence.


Mini whiteboards

Show Me: Maximising the Use of Mini Whiteboards in Lessons

Mini whiteboards can be an excellent way to gather information about class ‘understanding’ quickly and efficiently. When used badly, however, they cease to be an effective responsive teaching tool, and they can get in the way of learning and become a distraction. This post draws upon some of Doug Lemov’s ideas in Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (Show Me – technique no. 5), along with my own experiences, to offer some tips on on how to maximise your use of mini whiteboards.

Before the Lesson:

Plan questions in advance

As with most things in life, the better something is planned in advance the more likely it is of being executed successfully later on. In this case, the chances are you will have more success if you map out the questions you are going to ask your students to check understanding in advance. Too often we make the mistake of trying to come up with good questions whilst we teach. Often they are not precise enough to capture the data we need to guide our next steps, or we ask for lengthy responses we cannot possibly see from the front of the class. Well-considered questions avoid this problem and increase our chances of getting the valuable information we need in the moment.

Standardise response format

Format matters. Of all the ideas in Teach Like a Champion, I would say Standardise the Format is one of the most powerful and easiest to implement. I insist that all my students ‘Fill the board’ with their answers so that I can see them clearly when I am scanning the room. It also makes a difference what colour students write in. Blue or black pens have the most chance of being seen and not getting distorted by the play of light from the windows or from the flickering overhead artificial strips.

Standardise show me format

It is not just responses that benefit from being standardised; the format of the reveal does too. I use a simple 3-2-1 ‘show me’, but other instructions can work just as well, as long as they are understood by all and insisted upon in practice. All students should cover their answers once they have written them and raise their boards on the agreed command simultaneously. This approach reduces the likelihood of students being influenced by other people’s responses, which undermines the validity of the check. Wobbling boards the in the air is also unhelpful. And very annoying.

Screenshot 2017-10-21 10.57.14During the Lesson:

Insist on agreed formats

There is no point spending time establishing protocols for recording responses and showing them at the same time, if you don’t enforce them in practice. It is far better to sacrifice a bit of time in the short term getting these basics right, so that in the long term the process becomes so slick you can effortlessly question the whole class and gain immediate feedback on their current understanding.

Scan boards from front of the class

This probably seems so trivial and self-evident it is not even worth mentioning, but you would be surprised how many times I have seen teachers standing to the side or positioned in front of the first row of desks, where they cannot possibly see all the answers. The whole point is that you scan all the boards as quickly as you can and make a decision about whether to move on or to respond.

Approximate class understanding

As far as I’m aware, there is no hard and fast rule as to what percentage of students need to get the right answer for you to feel secure enough to move on. The obvious answer is 100%, but in reality it doesn’t always work out like that. Depending on the teaching point, you can sometimes correct one or two students’ understanding quickly there and then, but at other times you can spend several minutes trying to clarify something only for one individual to still miss the point. I aim for between 80-90%, and then make a beeline for students who got the wrong answer later on in the lesson.

Screenshot 2017-10-21 10.57.33

Mini whiteboards are just one of many tools that can help us respond better to students’ need, but they are largely useless if you don’ think through how to use them and plan accordingly.

Thanks for reading

The same homework for 3 years – how and why…

an interesting piece by @missdcox

We have a 3 year key stage 4. Students that opt for GCSE Religious Studies have 3 different homeworks that carry through every year. I have blogged previously about some of these (see links in headers) but not as our key stage 4 homework programme as a whole.

  1. Learning keywords

Students are given mini booklets of keywords that they need to know to understand the key beliefs and teachings of the religions studied. They are given these before they have studied their context. The idea is that they learn these ‘off by heart’ and then when we cover them in lesson their meaning and application to the religion becomes clear.

All keyword sheets are available in our classrooms and are always attached on ShowMyHomework when set.

We also have made Quizlet quizzes on all the words here. We also give students index cards to create their own testing set.


The students then have weekly keyword tests. One week they are the ‘current’ keywords that they are learning (one of the pages of words) and the other week are ‘random’ from all previous pages learnt. They complete the test in class and then they peer mark using the correct answers. They get very good at this. In fact from when I give out the sheets for them to write on, they run this part of the lesson themselves.

The basis for these are that retrieval practice is good for long term memory. The second random test allows for spacing of retrieval as they don’t know which words will come up and how often. I am currently editing Dave Paterson’s random generator so I can automatically generate and monitor the frequency of these repetitions.

Scores are recorded out of 20 marks each time. On the current keywords they have to make progress every fortnight. They chose a focus word that they will focus on getting correct next time to slowly increase their score.

2. Writing multiple choice questions


Student feedback on this system is overall positive with the caveat that they’re boring. I don’t care as long as they remember them.

After a few lessons of a new topic I set this homework. Students have to write a minimum of 6 multiple choice questions on the topic.


The rules are clear (see above).

The rationale for this homework is two-fold. Firstly it is really easy to see their misconceptions. If they indicate a correct answer that is in fact incorrect then I can see what they’ve misunderstood. Depending on the frequency and seriousness of the error I will give whole class feedback or individual feedback on that issue. Students then need to rectify their error.

I use their questions for the next homework.

MC template

3. Quizzes

The third type of homework uses the questions they previously wrote. I type them up onto a google form and then set them as a multiple choice quiz. There may be one or many correct answers. They must achieve full marks. Google forms records their scores.


They can actually cheat by doing the quiz once and then keeping the answer tab open. I’ve told them how they can do this! However I don’t care. The point is that the answers are shuffled so they still have to fully engage with the correct/incorrect answers. This exposure is important.


My screencasts on how to create these quizzes is here.

Once we have covered several topics, I can then start to repeat, space and interleave the quizzes. So year 10 currently have  quiz from a couple of weeks ago and one from January or year 9. This repetition supports the idea of retrieving information at spaced gaps of time during the time needed to learn them long term.

We have a class website and I also put a copy of these quizzes on there so any motivated student can go and complete these independently at any time. I’ve put a notification onto those sheets that email me when they’re completed so I can see straight away who has been doing some independent study.

The benefits of only 3 homeworks

  • Students always know what they need to do; it doesn’t change
  • All of these support research from cognitive science on long term memory
  • Parents know what to expect
  • Students can’t ‘get stuck’. There’s no new concepts (the keywords are initially just a memory task)
  • They need few resources: keyword list and a piece of paper to write the MC questions
  • It’s very little work for the teacher. I just check their MC questions which takes max. 15 minutes for a class. The online quizzes mark themselves. I just put the results on the screen. They mark their own keyword tests.
  • All homework set is of the same quality; no last minute rubbish made up by the teacher just because they have to set homework
  • All 3 homeworks feed into important knowledge and skills they need for their exam

The only issues have been if a student cannot access the internet for the online quizzes however, with plenty of time to complete these I always offer break/lunch access using our devices at school. In an extreme case you can print the quizzes but of course they won’t self mark.

I have been doing this for a couple of years now. I think our results show that this is significant in long term memory and consequently performance in their exam. To me, these are so important, I can’t imagine setting any other form of homework at key stage 4 that would make a bigger impact on learning

Teachings to the Top: attitudes and strategies for delivering real challenge

A really good blog about how to challenge students.


Teaching to top has been a long-standing principle of effective teaching from my perspective.  One of my early blogs was ‘Gifted and Talented Provision: A Total Philosophy‘ and it remains one of the topics I am asked to talk about most often in CPD sessions.  I no longer think that Gifted and Talented is a helpful label – it never was – but the principles are the same.  I’ve also covered this topic The Anatomy of High Expectations.

As I’ve said previously, I firmly believe that too many students are systematically underchallenged at school, especially in the years furthest away from high-stakes tests.  I also think that, if you crack this, you crack most other things too; the bar is raised for everyone.  This blog is based on the CPD I usually deliver on this topic.

The secret to doing this well is to think about it in three areas of teaching practice:

  • Attitudes:  The belief and mindsets teachers need to have themselves and inculcate in their students. This influences everything else.
  • Routines/Habits:  The things you do all the time, in every lesson.
  • Extra Challenges: Things you build into an overall scheme of work and use occasionally.


  Teach to the top; make the high attainers drive you. 

This requires a deliberate shift in attitude. Too often teachers’ concerns about the struggles of weaker learners lead to content being softened; this is no good for top-end challenge.  I think teachers should consider the curriculum and plan activities based on the capabilities of the highest attainers as a total priority – lifting the lid as the image suggests.  Providing appropriate scaffolds for other students flows from this but teachers need to have the courage and confidence to challenge at the top end, relentlessly.

Pygmalion effect and Growth Mindset:


These two sets of research findings are powerful.  Too often high attainers are regarded as having special gifts – which negates the need for them to also work hard.   It’s really important to challenge fixed mindsets in higher attainers. It is also a challenge for teachers who may not be 100% confident with the most challenging material.  Modelling earned fluency through hard-work and self-belief is powerful. The Rosenthal Pygmalion effect – as featured here – is powerful:  expect more, you get more and vice versa.  Don’t aim to pass; aim to excel.

Rigour; depth before speed

Screen shot 2013-01-27 at 01.17.07

Read this post on rigour.  It’s a set of teacher attitudes that means you are driving standards in all areas. You don’t accept mediocrity; you insist on excellent behaviour; you pay attention to details of the subject content, delivering and expecting clarity and precision; pushing students to find ever deeper levels of meaning.

Acceleration through depth before speed is a good mantra.   This means it is not inherently better to cover a set curriculum  faster, or enter exams early. It can be better to explore a subject more widely or deeply.  However, working at a faster pace is also something higher attainers value and benefit from, eg in Maths.  Depth before speed, not instead.  (With thanks to Tim Dracup.)

Awe and wonder

As well as rigour, it pays to continually project a sense of awe and wonder about the material. Whether it is a mathematical solution, a beautiful poem or piece of physics, a clever and interesting structure in French, or an awe-inspiring event in history or feature of the natural world – there is always something to light up your students’ minds.  In my experience, high attaining students always value their teachers’ command of their subjects and their capacity to bring it alive.


Pitch it up: high challenge concepts early on – be brave.

This is partly a mindset but is also a routine.  If you are successfully challenging the highest attainers, they will feel this all the time; it will loop back to parents that students enjoy your lessons.  A few one-off challenge events won’t be enough.  The challenge is to gauge this for yourself: you must routinely set work that is pitched to challenge your highest attaining learners.

How do you know if you are challenging your students enough?  I’ve met too many teachers who were rather deluded in this regard, taking compliant busy engagement as a false proxy or being happy just not to get any complaints.  The only way to find the limits is to push students beyond them…. try a bit of deep-end challenge and see where they get stuck.  Set some pre-tests to establish what your students already know and can do.  It’s pretty frustrating to be ‘taught stuff I already know’ as one student once put it to me.

Here are a couple of superb examples of high challenge. From KEGS – a sample of the Year 7 ‘Fun with Faust’ unit.  And from my son’s school – his first ever homework.  The first question he had for homework at secondary school was ‘What is the difference between science and philosophy’.  As a parent, this fills your heart with joy.

Explicit knowledge; knowledge organisers

High attaining students like to know the big picture; they like to run ahead and see where everything is going; to work out where everything fits in.  Give your students good course outlines, spelling out required knowledge, reading, resources they can learn from independently and so on.  Alternatively, involve them in creating their own, as a class or individually.

Try the FACE It approach: 

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 17.56.38

Once again, giving credit to my wife who devised this neat acronym, this works well as a scaffold for a unit of work.  Even very sophisticated learners benefit from some routine knowledge drills.  However, try to make sure they have the opportunity to connect the learning across topics to make connections, asking them to explain them in as much depth as possible.

Synoptic questions like these are good examples.   Make sure you also build up their problem solving capacity by showing that they need to ‘own the problem’ – add labels, make choices, plan a strategy.

eg Find the fraction shaded.  Show them lots of examples first but then give them the challenge of doing this themselves.

Probing questions; teacher knowledge. 

You need to use high challenge questioning strategies that get students to think hard and  to develop good, in-depth answers.  As I say in the Great Lessons: Probing post,  good probing questioning that can develop into dialogic questioning, is probably the defining feature of strong teaching to the top.  It’s not a one-off party piece; it’s a routine feature of great teaching.  Once you’ve taught a topic in depth and/or provided some high challenge source material, there is always another level of understanding to reach if you keep probing.

Of course, this only really works if the teacher can explain and question at the level of depth required.  Very often, an important CPD priority for teachers is going to be to  make sure they have a really good command of the material.  Could  you get an A* or Level 9 in your subject? An A* at A level?  Developing confidence in your own subject knowledge is never going to be time wasted if it related closely to the material your students need to know in order to excel.

Exemplars of excellence to emulate

One of the key messages from the Austin’s Butterfly story from Ron Berger, is that, too often, we settle for less than students are capable of.  Another is that students themselves don’t know what might be possible and so they pitch too low.  As a routine practice, it pays to show students what the highest standards look like:  the expected length and quality of piece of writing, the quality of finish on any creative product, the language features or use of technical terminology; the precision of measurements or accuracy of plotting a graph.  Don’t hit and hope…. show them first.

Tiered levels of Problem-solving

Inevitably, you will have mixed ability classes;  students will always work at a different rate or need different levels of challenge on some topics.  If you routinely provide tiered questions that balance repetitive practice with a scale of challenge, you can’t go too far wrong.  This is not the same as expecting less of some students.  You should still pitch a lesson to the top.  However, the practice questions need some tiering if you are going to have a chance of optimising the challenge level for each student.  See this post on differentiation  for more thoughts on this.

Extra Challenges:

High challenge independent learning.

Every so often it really pays off to get students to flip the learning, asking them to read ahead, self-teach via youtube clips or text books and then to bring their learning into a classroom.  This adds to a healthy diet of learning experiences.  I got great mileage out of asking Y10s in Physics to teach themselves vlookups on Excel so they could make their own stopping distance calculator.  It’s amazing what students can to if you give them the green light to try.  Of course, some struggle more than others but you can create a culture where this is ok rather than simply play it safe.

I also find that, if you train A level students to take rigorous notes from a text book or online video tutorials in advance of a lesson, it frees up a lot of time for discussing questions and probing into their understanding.

Open-ended projects: ‘Dazzle me’

Sometimes it is really great to ask students to respond to a piece of learning in any form they like. A history teacher at KEGS did this with superb results.  She asked her students to respond any way they liked, ‘but you have to dazzle me’.  And they did. They produced exceptional pieces of researched material on individual figures from the Renaissance, creating artefacts and illustrations that they had taken great joy in making.  This was all done over a half-term holiday without taking any lesson time at all. The expectation was there.. and they rose to meet it willingly.   Of course, you might get a lot of lame rubbish- but then you wouldn’t accept that. Models from previous years also help to set the standards.

Oracy; pedagogical inputs

Oracy activities are superb for stretching high attaining students, alongside the routine practice of expecting high quality verbal responses in class. Here you can see a special event Soapbox Day where students are all giving their own personal five minute speech. The other image shows Trevor explaining a physics demo to his class.  These pedagogical inputs from students are usually much better than presentations with a powerpoint for getting students to pull their ideas together whilst also involving the class fully.

Co-construction; side-kicks; Edmodo/google apps

This, to me, remains the ultimate in full-blown teaching to the top.  I wrote about this a lot from my time at KEGS. There were so many fabulous elements as I’ve tried to capture in these posts:

Sidekicks.  Just check out Taran’s plan or the email exchange with Arjun.  These students were being stretched fully in the content of the subject were also exploring a wider set of skills in shaping their learning. This could be achieved with a sub-group in a more mixed class.  It’s exciting to give students the responsibility to plan, organise and deliver a set of science demonstrations and to do it really well.  Obviously you, the teacher, is always there alongside them, giving it depth and keeping it all on track but their experience is hugely enriched from this process as part of a more traditional diet.

Online class forum. Using an online platform like Edmodo to communicate between lessons provided a rich seam of challenge for students in a Year 9 science class.  I had teams for every unit and an overall tech team that kept it all running.  They found this hugely rewarding.

Excellence Exhibition

Finally -show it all off.  We all give value to the art exhibition and music concert  as a means of showcasing student work – but what about the rest.  At my recent schools, showcasing excellent work at an exhibition has been part of the thinking with some superb results.  The exhibition at KEGS contains short films from history and languages, extended essays, student magazines, sculptures and art work – and so on.


If you get this right, everyone wins.  Your highest attainers are stretched, they love school all the more, you get great support from parents, your students are more motivated and the rising tide effect brings everyone with you.  Is it possible for a student to be under-challenged and held back in your lessons because you’re not expecting enough?  Give it some thought, test it out and then, if necessary, make the change.  All to gain; nothing to lose

Whole Class Feedback thoughts

Making a fuss of feedback

At the weekend I attended the Teaching and Learning Takeback conference at Southampton Uni – #TLT17. It was wonderful to meet so many engaged and enthusiastic teachers who had given up their time to share their ideas freely with others. One stand-out session was Rebecca Foster’s who discussed the problems with the need to provide endless streams of summative data and the implications of this for curriculum design. She also shared her method of giving whole class feedback (WCF). These ideas were tweeted out by me and many others – like the one below.


Once something in education, that has always been done, is given a name you can expect a debate to kick off. Knowledge organisers, direct instruction, whole class feedback, none of these are anything new. Teachers have always shared with pupils lists of what they need to know (knowledge organisers), always told them things (direct instruction) and have always given feedback to the whole class about pieces of work. People who say, as they have said on twitter, “I would never explore whole class feedback” have clearly missed the point. Feedback is a constant process in class and inevitably some of it will be delivered to the class as a whole.

The debate around whole class feedback is an interesting one. As with just about everything else people end up dividing down roughly “traditional-leaning” (Pro-WCF) and “progressive-leaning” (more anti-WCF). This is an odd division. It is hard to image something more didactic than the traditional way of marking books where each pupil is told exactly what they have done wrong and what they have got right, whereas WCF encourages pupils to “discover” their errors for themselves; more with a guide on the side to help them. The education world is a strange beast.

When people say they are “against WCF” they tend to mean either.

  1. They don’t like the templates used (efficiency) or
  2. They don’t want it to replace individual comments written in books (effectiveness).

The template

WCF doesn’t have to mean filling in a template like those shared by Rebecca Foster. I was first aware of this type of template after it was created and shared by Greg Thornton here.


The idea of using the template is that you have this next to you as you are looking through a class set of books and you are making notes on this to share with the class; either by showing it on a screen or as a prompt for what you want to tell them. The reason it is used is that many comments you write in one book you also end up writing in another. By using this template (or one like it) you write the comment once on the sheet, number it, and then write that number in any book where the target applies. The pupil then knows what they need to do to improve. the targets are specific to the piece of work. One example shared by Rebecca, from the Geography department in her school, also had the space to include a screen shot of excellent work. Once the class have been given feedback they then work on redrafting or (and I’d suggest more effectively) complete another task where these targets can be worked on. The first time I used this template it took a little less time than writing individual written comments but the more I used it the faster I got.

What gets lost in this is the fact that WCF doesn’t mean this template. As so often happens we risk losing the pedagogy and focusing on the structure. While I sometimes use a template like this, on other occasions I just put a few notes on a slide showing the features of good answers and the features of less good answers. Pupils then look for examples of these things in their own work and make corrections. This example is feedback following a Year 12 test on coastal processes.


This is far less time consuming than either writing the annotation on their papers or using a more formal template. It is certainly efficient but is it effective?

Replacing individual comments

There are a few problems with using individual written comments that WCF addresses.

The first is that of time. It is far quicker to give WCF than it is to write annotation on to pupils work. Is this a benefit for the teacher or for the pupil? I have yet to meet a teacher who uses WCF so that they can spend more time with their feet-up. Any time gained from using this method is spent on creating better lessons, creating resources, collaborating with others or working with pupils 1-2-1. There is a finite amount of time and we need to find ways to use it well.

The second issue that WCF addresses is that individual written comments do little to develop self-regulation (or independence if you prefer). When I give feedback to the class the pupil needs to look through their work and check if they have made the errors discussed or where they have made them. They need to look for the common spelling errors and make the corrections. This is developing important study skills for when they don’t have the constant support of a teacher, not just in the exam but throughout their life. There is no evidence anyone has been able to point me to that individual written comments lead to students making better progress and Hattie and Timperley’s meta-analysis shows that this feedback could be harmful if used at the wrong time for the wrong task.

One problem with writing individual comments is that they end up being very generic. You end up with comments like “add more detail here” or “explain this” but without being able to give the detail on how to do those things. When giving feedback to the class you have ample opportunity to demonstrate and model the difference between excellent answers and less good work. The feedback can be far more meaningful.

A criticism that seems to be leveled at the use of WCF is that pupils will miss the personal touch of these written comments. I have never heard this from anyone who has experimented with increasing their use of WCF however, or from a pupil. Again, we need to challenge the image of a lazy teacher using these templates and nothing more.

Pupils in my class get a huge amount of personalised feedback but this feedback comes verbally. After we have looked through the work as a class, and shared excellent examples we have seen, they improve their work or complete a different task to develop areas of weakness. During this time I give individual feedback to pupils about their work. I often sit with a pupil and look through their book with them 1-2-1 and give detailed and meaningful feedback on the progress they seem to be making. This dialogue is far more effective, and far more personal, than a hastily scribbled note asking for “more detail” or to “use examples”.


Whole class feedback is something that almost all teachers do much of the time. We frequently discuss excellent work with a class or call their attention to common errors. If you are doing this, you are using WCF.

Increasing the amount of WCF you do, and decreasing the amount of individual written comments you write, saves time that you can then use to improve other aspects of teaching and should have no negative impact on pupil progress. Nor should it have a negative impact on relationships with pupils as you open a dialogue about their work.

WCF is an important tool and I am incredibly grateful to the likes of Greg Thornton and Rebecca Foster for giving up their time to explore it more fully with us.

Should we share Learning Outcomes / Objectives with students at the start of a lesson?


Oct 4 GUEST POST: Should I share my learning outcomes with students?

Learning Scientists

For Teachers, For Researchers, Guest Posts

Dr. Sara M. Fulmer is an Educational Developer at the University of Guelph. She supports faculty, graduate students, and academic programs with implementing evidence-based approaches to enhance pedagogical practices and students’ learning. Her areas of research include student motivation in challenging contexts and teacher professional development. She received her B.A., B.Ed., and M.A. from Brock University in Ontario, Canada, and Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of Notre Dame. You can find her on Twitter @sara_fulmer. Sara previously contributed guest posts on learner-centered syllabi and how manipulatives can hinder learning.


How do you know which path to choose, or whether you have arrived, if you do not have a destination? In the context of teaching and learning, learning outcomes are the destination.


This post responds to a reader’s question, “Is there any evidence to support sharing written learning outcomes prior to teaching a topic?”

By the end of reading this blog post, readers should be able to:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of a learning outcome using a checklist
  • Describe the benefits of learning outcomes for students and teachers
  • Identify strategies to share learning outcomes with students

What are learning outcomes?

“Learning outcomes are measurable statements that articulate what students should know, be able to do, or value as a result of taking a course or completing a program” (1). In addition to a course or program, we can also write learning outcomes for smaller elements of the learning process, such as an assignment, single class session, or unit. Effective learning outcomes are student-centered, specific, and measurable, and provide a road map for determining the content, organization, and assessment of the course.


To learn more about writing effective learning outcomes, see this post on setting learning outcomes and this resource on the differences between learning goals, learning objectives, and learning outcomes.

Why share learning outcomes with students?

Learning outcomes can increase student learning in foundational knowledge or short-term retention (2), (3) and higher-order cognitive processes, such as application or transfer (3), (4), (5). For example, student exam performance increased after a faculty member redesigned an introductory biology course by creating learning goals for each class session, making these goals explicit to students in each lecture, and labeling exam questions with the corresponding learning goal (4). These students also rated learning goals as the most helpful component of lecture, beating out clicker questions, quizzes, vocabulary lists, and group work (4).

But why do learning outcomes improve learning? Learning outcomes shape what students learn. When students know what they are expected to learn, they can direct their attention towards those particular areas (6) and use deliberate practice to strategically work towards learning those concepts and skills. Students in courses with clear learning outcomes aligned with the assessments, compared to students in courses without these components, are more likely to spend extra time studying and extend their knowledge by seeking additional information (7). Stating learning outcomes at the start of a lesson, unit, or course is also an important element of guided instruction, which is more beneficial than less-structured approaches for learning, particularly for novice learners.


Knowing the learning outcomes in advance also helps students practice metacognition and become self-regulated learners (3), (8), (9). For example, undergraduate students report that having clear learning outcomes helps them to narrow their focus on important concepts and skills, organize their notes, track their learning towards those outcomes, and improve their study practices (10). Because learning outcomes help students to make strategic decisions, students also feel an increased sense of control or ownership over their learning (1), (9).

Sharing learning outcomes prior to learning can also increase students’ motivation and engagement (2), (4), (11). Learning outcomes give learners a sense of purpose for their learning, answering the frequently asked question, “Why am I learning this?” Learning outcomes help students feel more connected to the course material and perceive the content as useful (8), (10). When students understand what is expected of their learning, they are more likely to feel that they can be successful in meeting those expectations. For example, students who receive assignments with a clear purpose and explicit connection to course learning outcomes report greater academic confidence and a feeling of mastery of important skills (2). This is particularly true for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students (2). One reason why students feel more confident is because learning outcomes reduce ambiguity in a course. This is exemplified in a quote from an undergraduate student in Wang et al.’s (7) study:

“They (The instructors) are supposed to spell out what I shall achieve so that I do not have to guess. I know what they intend to teach, but I am not very clear what kind of outcomes they want us to achieve. For example, to what level are we going to apply the knowledge we have learnt.”

Worried about learning outcomes limiting students’ creativity? Check out this post on ways to use learning outcomes to set high standards and foster creativity and innovation.

Having clear learning outcomes also benefits teachers. The following table summarizes the literature on these benefits.


How can I share learning outcomes with students?

Learning outcomes can appear anywhere, such as a slide, whiteboard, handout, classroom poster, or in your learner-centered course syllabus. For creative ideas, check out these strategies for higher education, and for K-12, 40 ways to introduce learning objectives and this teacher’s decision-making process regarding how to share learning outcomes in his class.

The most important step of sharing learning outcomes is to ensure that students understand the learning outcomes. Engage students in a discussion about the learning outcomes with questions like:

  • Using your own words, what does this outcome mean?
  • How will I know if I’ve achieved this outcome?
  • Why do you think it’s important that we learn this?
  • How does this learning outcome relate to something we’ve already learned?

Bonus: these questions also help to stimulate students’ interest and curiosity!

At the end of the topic or unit, ask students to write on an index card or sticky note an answer to: “What do you think you were supposed to learn from this lesson/class/unit?” (9).

You can also introduce students to learning outcomes through a pre-assessment, asking students to rate their level of confidence or level of current knowledge/skill for each of the learning outcomes. The image below offers some examples of how learning outcomes were transformed into survey items.


This strategy offers several added bonuses:

  • Gathering information about students’ current level of knowledge before you begin teaching a unit will help you adjust your instruction to meet students where they are.
  • Students have an opportunity to think about their current knowledge with respect to each of the learning outcomes, while gaining insight into what they will be expected to know and be able to do.
  • You can track changes in students’ perceptions of their knowledge over time. Give students the same survey before and after the unit/course and compare their “pre” and “post” responses. Share the aggregated data with students to help them recognize how much they have learned.

How will you share learning outcomes with your students? Comment below!


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(8) Reed, D. (2012). Clearly communicating the learning objective matters! Middle School Journal, 43, 16-24.

(9) Fletcher-Wood, H. (2013, October 6). How I’ve tried to share learning intentions better. A Guide to Improving Teaching Blog.

(10) Simon, B., & Taylor, J. (2009). What is the value of course-specific learning goals? Journal of College Science Teaching, 39, 52-57.

(11) Reynolds, H. L., & Kearns, K. D. (2017). A planning tool for incorporating backward design, active learning, and authentic assessment in the college classroom. College Teaching, 65, 17-27.