Reflections on ‘Learning Intentions’ of classroom lessons

Over the past 3 months I have been honoured to observe instruction by teachers in classrooms across a number of schools. One of the indicators of effective instruction is that each lesson has a clear learning intention stated up front to the students in the class. In most classrooms I visited the learning intention was also written for students.

I was able to ask some students about why they learning this lesson and was puzzled by what I saw as a gap between students knowing the learning intentions and understanding the purpose of the lesson.

After lots of reflection and some reading it appears to me that lesson intentions that focus simply on the skill/s being taught [note I’m not assuming being learned by students here] miss the connections or concepts students need to learn to apply these skills in new settings.

A learning intention might be written as a skill – today we are learning the “cr” letter blend – or as a concept – today we are contuining to learn that good readers stretch out common letter patterns like “cr” when they come to new words. Please forgive this rather feeble attempt but I think you get the idea.

So why is this important?

Well if you were to read a previous post on a new Internet learning paradigm you would see that we are trying to provide a conceptual framework for students to be be able to understand and then apply new skills or information.

Yet again why is this important?

I referencing Mark Treadwells presentation notes here:

In the new model for how the brain learns the brain has three reasonably autonomous but interoperable learning systems.

•Remembering content via ‘rote’ learning and knowledge creation via epigenetic processes in the 7% of brain cells that are neurons

•Building and automating conceptual frameworks of understanding via the interplay of astrocytes (75% of brain cells) and neurons

•Combining those conceptual frameworks of understanding in different ways in order to be creative via brainwaves

It turns out that the brains processes for knowledge creation and memorising is nowhere near as efficient and effective as its capacity to form and apply concepts. It is this recent realisation and the overwhelming volume of knowledge that could be learnt that has led to the need for and the development of a concept based curriculum.

So what does this mean for teachers when planning lessons? Most teachers have been trained to think about planning lessons that cover the content of the course as a starting point rather than for whom the lesson is intended, why they need to learn this new skill or understanding and how can they apply it in new settings. I think most teachers I know want better value for their hard endeavours and planning leassons that students can access greater proportions of their brain is certainly as they say: “a no brainer”.

Mark Treadwell continues to make this point about a different way of thinking in this new pardigm shift when he talks about personalised learning:

Personalised learning is about moving away from
what we teach, how we teach it, why we are teaching it (vague and undefined) it and finally whom is the recipient of that teaching and is this teaching appropriate


Making sure we know whom is front of us and where their understanding is at for each idea they are required to understand, why they are learning (clear learning intentions), how they can learn the ideas in the most efficient and effective way possible , making sure they are engaged and finally what knowledge to they need to know in order to build that required understanding.

The second process is a complete reversal of the first

In publishing this reflection I hope to support teachers in thinking about new ways  to approach learning and definitely new ways to phrase learning intentions so that students make sense of their work.