Intentions Matter

In team sport every position has a purpose. A player must understand the purpose of their position so that they are able to understand why they need to do what they are being asked to do by their coach. An example:

A goal keeper in netball is taught by a coach how to zone a player. However, unless the keeper truly understands that the purpose of the position is to distance the attackers from the ring, the skill by itself is likely to be ineffective.

As a teacher I am passionate about building capacity within students to take charge of their own learning. The casual observer may perceive my classroom as chaotic, but I would argue that it is structured chaos where every student is learning purposefully.

However, I have found that there are some prerequisites that must be in place before they can do this effectively. The most critical prerequisite is that, like the goalkeeper, they fully understand the purpose of what they are doing – why they are undertaking a particular line of learning.

This is not a new and stunning finding. Teachers are experts at creating learning objectives. Sometimes these are even written on the board in advance of the lesson delivery. However, unless students connect with them, they are likely to be what Dylan William describes as ‘wallpaper objectives’ (Embedded Formative Assessment: 2011).

There can be a reciprocal relationship between purpose and attention. If a lesson begins with something that grabs a student’s interest, the learning intention does not have to be stated in advance but it must become very clear early in the lesson. This can be an effective way to introduce a learning intention that covers a number of lessons. I have noticed that a teenager who is interested in something, and has permission to pursue that interest, is a very motivated learner.

Students in a self-directed learning environment who do not fully grasp the learning intention are at significant risk of proceeding aimlessly or even purposefully setting off in the wrong direction. However, when learning intentions are shared and discussed, students are more likely to be motivated, focused for longer periods of time, and involved in and responsible for their learning.