“Teacher Intention” and “Learning Intention”


I led the first session on Learning and Teaching with Newly Qualified Teachers in East Lothian this afternoon.  This is the third year that I’ve been asked to run this session and each year I’ve tried to move on from the previous year.

My intention was to influence the teachers to always reflect on the connection between their intention and the learning task that they subsequently devise – as I described it this afternoon – “I want to get inside your heads”. In a sense I wanted to plant a seed which niggled and challenged them to ask questions about their own practice.

I’ll not go into detail about the content but it took this basic form:

  1. Think about one the most intense learning experiences of you life
  2. Share that experience with a partner
  3. Share your experiences wioth the group and seek common elements from group experiences
  4. Think of the most successful lesson you have ever taught.
  5. What made it succesful?
  6. Share that with your group and list the characteristics of these successful lessons.
  7. Develop a list of these characteristics drawn rom the goup and captured on a screen, e.g relavance, engagement, etc
  8. Think back the lesson you were teaching yesterday at 10.00am
  9. List how many of the characteristics that we identified in step 7 that you included in that lesson
  10. Selected one person’s lesson and considered the link between his intention and the learning task that he had selected.
  11. Asked each group to come up with an alternative learning task to meet his intention.
  12. Further explored the relationship between intention and learning task
  13. Each group was then asked to generate a topic for another group to devise a suitable teacher intention and learning task
  14. Other groups then took that topic and generated the intention and fleshed out the learning task
  15. The last task was for each group to present their ideas to another group who played the Dragons (as in the programme) who then challenged and picked holes in the connection between intention and learning task.

Throughout the afternoon I interspersed various thoughts which were intended to challenge their thinking associated to the tasks I set.

One of  the most interesting things to emerge in the course of the afternoon was the difference between a “teacher’s intention” and the “learning intention” which is shared with learners. It’s now standard practice in many classrooms to share the “learning intention” with the learners – usually by writing it on the board and then linking this with success criteria, e.g. Learning Intention – To learn how to use verbs in  short sentences; Success Criteria – write four sentences using different verbs in each of the sentences.

It might help here to look at how LTS define the following terms:

Learning intentions Goals that are set for the outcome of a lesson or series of lessons. They may be related to a process or the final product.
Learning objective Similar to a learning intention – a target or goal that is set for learners to work towards in a lesson or series of lessons.
Learning Outcomes Broad summary statements in the curriculum guidelines, on areas of attainment for pupils as they move through programmes of study.
Success criteria
Statements of standards from which success in an activity, for example a test/examination or a development plan, can be measured. They specify the acceptable evidence that the aim(s) of the enterprise has/have been achieved.

As I read this I think there is a difference between teacher intention and learning intention. For me teacher intention links to “why am I teaching this?” – my knowledge as a teacher helps me to understand why this is important and how it links with other things we will be doing to draw out and extend the learner  (see ZPD), whereas learning intention links more with the learning objective (both are interchangeable above)

It came out today in the form of a simple example derived from task 13 – one group gave another group a topic “to bake a scone” – for children this is a reasonable learning intention to share with them and one can imagine the succcess criteria which might link with this intention. However, the intention of the teacher will  be a lot more sophisticated than simply for the children to bake a scone – it’s this sophisticated or high level inention which I think is different but which ultimately informs the type of learning task/experience we devise/create.

I’ll be investigating the relationship between these two intentions over the next few weeks but it’s getting late. I’d like to thank all the NQTs who so fully engaged themselves in this afternoon’s activities.

6 thoughts on ““Teacher Intention” and “Learning Intention”

  1. Pingback: Learning and Teaching 1. What makes the best lesson? » Blog Archive » Stuart Meldrum

  2. There’s a hint of the difference we were talking about in the T&L group maybe a year ago now, between the perceived ‘authenticity’ and relevance of a learning intention in the teacher’s mind and how that is interpreted as authentic and relevant (or not) by the learners. I wonder how many of our intentions end up Lost in Translation somewhere in that journey? Fascinating stuff – thanks for sharing your own intentions for the day. It makes useful reading.

  3. It’s great for our enthusiastic new teachers to have time to reflect and share and think.
    I wonder though – Do we underestimate children by making their learning intention different from the teacher’s?
    The purpose of sharing the learning intention is so the children will know not just what they are going to learn but also to generate the success criteria so they will know what to do to throughout the task to be successful.
    As teachers we have tended to concentrate more on the activity that the purpose of the learning.
    The learning intention for the children should be the answer to the teacher’s question “what do I want the children to learn?”
    The example of “to bake a scone” as Don illustrated would indeed come from the teacher’s more sophisticated idea of what was to be learned.
    It could be learning to:
    follow instructions, measure accurately using grams and millilitres, understand the key features of a recipe ……
    The success criteria however would be different in each case.
    If we don’t make the learning intention explicit then when you ask the children afterwards “What did you learn?” the answer will be “to bake a scone”. Was that really the teacher’s intention?
    If the learning intention is mixed with the context it makes the success criteria much more difficult and therefore the learning less focused. By separating it from the context the children are able to see the connections and apply the same learning to a variety of other contexts.
    That is what we are aiming for.

  4. Ann

    Thanks for your input. I’d taken a look at Shirley Clarke’s work on separating learning intention from the context before I posted this. I absolutely agree with you that we must try to share as much as possible with the learners but I’m not sure that always separating the learning intention from the context is possible.

    The group that were given the “bake a scone” task actually came up with an interesting learning intention which did separate the two e.g. To enable children to understand the importance of following a linear progression of instructions (or at least something like that). The question I’m left with is what the whether or not this type of learning intention actually includes all of the intentions of the teacher?

    I’m going to try to explore this is a further post. I’d welcome your contribution. It’s interesting that a search on the web does not throw up significant research into this important area.

  5. Pingback: Don’s Learning Log » Blog Archive » Teacher Intentions - can we separate from context?

  6. I read from Black recently and he talks about the context confusing the learner. So “we are learning to write instructions on how to make a sandwich” can become learning to make a sandwich in the minds of the learner. Whereas we are learning to sequence instructions without the context of the sandwich clarifies the learners thinking.

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