Getting your Students to Define the Objectives of the Day

Objectives, in this day and age of education it seems that objectives are a focal point for Administrators.  I have had a long history with objectives, and I finally decided that I won’t ever do them again- but my students will.  Here’s how it goes (this is for you @mr_stadel).


Before I get into how I do Objectives of the Day (or Essential Standard, Big Idea, Key Concept, etc) I do want to talk about administration.  Administration that I have worked with have had the expectation that these should be posted someplace very visible to students at the beginning of the hour.  Students need to have direction on what the class will be about, it will activate prior knowledge on the topic, and give them a focus for learning.  While I agree that this is something students need, I disagree that I have to directly give it to them.  Students need all of this and more, they need to feel ownership of their learning and need to define things in terms that make connections and understanding for them.  I find time to talk to my administration or observers about this before hand, and when I have told them what direction I am going in, what the expectations are, and how long it will take I have not had a problem convincing them that Student Defined Objectives are OK for my classroom.  I also take my parents through this process during open house and conferences, explaining what expectations are for my class and what students will do.  I have never had either an Administrator or Parent not agree.


So, the CCSSM Standard that I typically start the year off with is:

Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear). Sketch a graph that exhibits the qualitative features of a function that has been described verbally.


I find it odd that this standard is one of the last listed in Functions, I feel that this is one that provides students a great foundation for Functions that is more accessible for them throughout the year.


So my Objective of the Day from this Standard:

  • Students will be able to describe (verbally) and record (write a paragraph) of what a graph is displaying.


One of the activities I (and students) enjoy is Making Stories from Graphs or Making Graphs from Stories (I use part of this link, I do not have CBR calculators).  I start out with this handout:

Graphing Stories Handout

It really took me a while to find the right type of format to present students (and I have even modified this one if you look closely, and have another post about cutting out what you don’t need from a differrent part of this packet) but there are a couple of reasons I really like this one.

  1. It gives students essential information about the graph
  2. It does not give students too much information
  3. There are no guided “hints” within the sheet

There are a lot of graphing resources out there and you have to be careful which ones you choose, pick something that asks students to supply the information, not some type of scripted sheet that student thinking becomes a matching game instead of critical thinking about the topic.  The only thing I took out for this sheet is the defining of D=0 and T=0, it is one of the first questions students address and is important for them to think about, not be given.

I give students around 8 minutes to complete this sheet, and after discussing it the total time spent on it is ~15 min.  That is how long it takes for me to get an Objective of the Day done.  Then I write on the board “Objective of the Day” and hand out half sheet of paper.  I ask students to write what they think the objective of the day is based on the activity we just performed.  This is also a great assessment for me- it gives me feedback on what type of activities I choose and how they are interpreted by students.  Choosing the right intro activity is essential to make this whole process work.  Students are given ~3-5 minutes to write down their responses, and we share a few of them (this is where I am allowed to filter) and decide which one best fits the activity and that becomes your Student Objective of the Day.

Here are some examples from one class:

Student Objective of the Day

I shared these with the class and we all agreed upon a slight blend of the upper left and middle right.  The Student Objective of the Day became:

  • We will learn how to read a graph, create one of our own, and write a story about it- giving good details.

compare that to what mine was:

  • Students will be able to describe (verbally) and record (write a paragraph) of what a graph is displaying.

I think they did an outstanding job with it, especially since this is the first time I we have done this for the year.


The thing I love about this is that students really take pride in coming up with the statement outlining the objective of the day, and it is in a format that makes sense to them.  Naturally I do try to support specific essential vocabulary, but I will always have a student written concept to link it to- they give me the language to explain it in that makes connections for them.  At first the process may take a little time, but when you provide a great opening activity it really does support your lesson in a way that I had never experienced.  It opens the gateway for Math Talks, giving students a background for thinking and writing about mathematics that they critically compare and revise to define the activity.  Do I worry about not having it up at the beginning of class, no way.  When you can go around the room and individually ask each student what we the big idea of class is for the day, they can all give you an accurate recount of the objective.  If your administration is still unsure, ask them to come in and observe it in action, they will see engaged students who can describe their mathematical thinking.  I do not think there will be any other questions about the Student Objective of the Day after that.  The last reason I do this is that it really supports reflective thinking at the end of class.  Students have made great connections to the material at the beginning of class and build upon those connections throughout the remainder of class.  Reflection comes easier to students and establishes understanding that is retained longer than the day or week of the lesson.

The other great thing about this is that is it different for each class, I have already heard student in lunch “comparing” what they did in my class and what their objective is.  Students independently talking about Math at lunch?  Priceless.


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