Objective Objections

March 2, 2018


Today we’re going to be learning about… 

Too often, these are the first words students hear when beginning math class.  Starting lessons with an objective often makes vibrant topics seem dull.  Therefore, this widely accepted teaching method should be reexamined.  The standard practice of beginning math class by stating its purpose bores children, fails to recognize youth mindsets, and serves political rather than educational purposes

Opening lessons with an objective is meant to engage students by describing what they should know or be able to do by the end of class.  The intentions are logical, but this philosophy assumes that children’s goals and interests align with their teacher’s.

- Do kindergarteners really care if they’re learning place value by working with numbers 11-19?

- Are fourth graders motivated to find all factor pairs for two-digit whole numbers?

 - Will middle school students be more excited to learn pre-Algebra by being informed that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output?

Each of these topics can be exciting to learn, but hearing the objective narrated is monotonous.  Words are abstract and math language magnifies this reality.  When teachers lead with an objective, students begin the learning process passively.  Starting class with simple questions and/or familiar manipulatives are better motivators, because active learning experiences incubate student focus and interest.

The notion that students need proof that the mathematics they’re learning is relevant to their immediate or future lives is a false belief.  Children experience joy by simply answering questions correctly and then being presented with appropriate incremental challenges.*  When teachers begin math lessons with objectives such as those stated in the previous paragraph, very few students set themselves on a course to reach the goal(s) imposed on them.  More often, they hear Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah, and become inattentive, failing to meet the lesson objective in the process.  This invariably leads to disciplinary problems and precious loss of instructional time.

Administrators who require their staff to start math lessons with an objective are often politically, rather than educationally motivated.  If a goal is stated at the lesson’s inception, then schools can never be censured for Not teaching to the standards.  Great administrators and teachers understand that acknowledging mathematical objectives at the end of class is better practice.  Analyzing a problem set or directing students to make up a title for that day’s lesson goes further to helping children reach learning goals than previewing them at the start of class.  Learning math can be like climbing a mountain - only from the summit does one appreciate and fully understand the journey.

Reversal:  Depending on the goal or challenge presented, a concise, well-worded objective can captivate student attention, making children more motivated to engage with the lesson.  Doing this daily for an entire school year, however, is unrealistic.  Therefore, it should be an exception rather than norm.  Teachers and administrators who insist otherwise should consider this simple truth:  Most children start daydreaming after hearing someone talk longer than 15 seconds.

When students begin math class by hearing their teacher declare an objective, they often disengage with the lesson.  Maintaining rapt attention while their teacher speaks is tedious and challenging for young minds.

Today we’re going to be learning about… 

Regardless of what follows, lessons that begin with this dead seven-word phrase frequently prove the instructor wrong.


*This is one reason many children love of playing video games.