Sep 12

Defining aims & objectives (2)

Help students see the difference between specific and measurable goals and objectives and less specific/measurable ones.

Time: 20 min

One student is asked to read his/her problems, goal and objectives. I put them on the board. I ask students to evaluate if goal/objectives are clear and specific enough. When students give their opinions, which is not well-thought as they say ‘yes, everything is clear’ I ask students to check the coherency of their problems/aims/objectives by asking themselves the following questions (taken from 

a) Will you be able to [GOAL] when you are able to do [OBJECTIVES].

b) Will the problems [CANNOT] be resolved when you are able to [GOAL].

Students see that the formulations are not coherent. So I ask them to come back to their own plans and check their own formulations.
I also give an analogy on being specific and coherent:
I want to be able to cook. VS I want to be able to cook lasagne bolognaise as Italians do.
I want to buy something in a shop. VS I want to buy products for cooking lasagna bolognaise.

I ask students which statement sounds more specific and is easier to measure in the end. They agree that the second one.

In addition, I offer them examples of goals/objectives formulation (taken from and ask to work in pairs and decide which goals/objectives are more specific and why.
After they work for few minutes (though I should confess they do not do it willingly and seems do not quite understand why they need it) they are asked to express their opinion. Some students claim that ‘I want to improve my English because I need English in my life’ is still a better aim than, for example, “to improve my listening skills in understanding unstressed words in a fluent speech”. I ask them what does it mean ‘to improve my English’ and how they would be able to judge if English is improved or not. Probably I lack arguments and more good examples here as some students still claim that “I want to improve my English is better”.

In the end I ask students to add to their plans activities they will do to achieve their objectives and time they are planning to spend on it. I tell them that for the next lesson (Sep 13) I will collect their self-study plans.

Students’ reaction

  • Some students argue that ‘improve my English’ is a better aim. Probably, it would have been useful to make a distinction between ‘short-term’ and ‘long-term’ aims. It might have helped to see the difference between small steps that one needs to make if he wants to climb on the top of the mountain. 
  • Many students in both forms 10 and 11 do not write anything and thought I try to explain the reason behind self-study they do not understand why they need it. The phrases ‘why do I need it’ and ‘why do we need a teacher then’ starts being pronounced on my lessons.

My problems

  • This time I was more ready to face students reaction and replies but I still lack good arguments/analogies to turn students on the right track. For instance, one analogy that came to my mind now is connected with planning activities that are not connected with students wishes and aims. I might be able to use this analogy later on so it is good to have it in the pocket:

Your girlfriend/boyfriend is Italian. (S)he will celebrate her/his birthday in 3 month. You wish to make her/him a good present and you know that (s)he adores lasagna. Your wish is to organise for her/him an unforgettable birthday. You know that apart from other things your girlfriend/boyfriend adores lasagna bolognaise. Thus, your aim is to learn how to cook a truly Italian lasagna bolognaise. If during these 3 months that you have till her/his birthday you will be learning to cook in general (for instance, you will learn how to make a good steak with boiled potatoes) then as the result, you will learn something. The question is – will it help you to achieve your aim and will your girlfriend/boyfriend be happy if for her/his birthday instead of her/his favourite lasagna (s)he’ll get a steak?

  • Other possible analogies might be: I want to improve my skills in playing the piano. VS I want to improve my skills in playing waltzes of Chopin on the piano.

General reflection
Though in general it looks like some students understand what you want from them, the majority either absolutely ignore your tasks or do the things very superficially. So I am looking forward to get their self-study plans to see what they have written there.
So far, I start thinking that it is not a good idea to break self-study planning into parts ‘aims/objectives + activities/time + materials’. I am not sure why I started this breaking but if I had to do it now I would ask students to think about everything at once.


# Alexander Sokol 2011-12-03 18:33
Following my previous comment (on self-study 1), I think it may be useful to change 'the board approach' to 'students' individual / pair writing approach'. the problem with the board is that they feel you're writing because you need it. As a result, it creates fake interactivity with learners. I'd rather opt for individual tasks.

As to the lack of arguments. Here I'd advise that instead of choosing 'look for arguments' approach you should follow 'challenge' approach. What I mean is to permanently challenge students' ideas unless they run out of arguments. For example, if they say 'I want to improve my English'. you can come up with 'Fine, a month is over. Now please submit a report on your self-study and give yourself a mark from 1 to 10 according to how well you aim is reached'. They will come up with something and then you challenge it again. You don't need arguments - just ask quesitons.

Another strategy is to get students to evaluate each other.
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