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Students discuss learning intentions

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Secondary students from Wellington College and Wellington East Girls' College discuss their experiences with learning intentions. They challenge us to think about how to make these learning intentions more effective. 

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Clarity about the learning

For students truly to be able to take responsibility for their learning, both teacher and students need to be very clear about what is being learnt, and how they should go about it. When learning and the path towards it are clear, research shows that there a number of important shifts for students. Their motivation improves, they stay on-task, their behaviour improves, and they are able to take more responsibility for their learning.

Absolum, M. Clarity in the Classroom, 2006

When there is shared clarity in the classroom, both teacher and students are able to describe:

  • what is to be learnt – using learning intentions
  • how the learning intention relates to the “big ideas” or global intentions
  • how the learning is relevant
  • how students will go about the learning
  • how students will know it has been learnt – using success criteria with reference to exemplars, examples, and modelling.

As fundamental to the success of the learning and teaching process, the teacher frequently checks students’ understanding of the intended learning and whether it meets the students’ expectations and needs.

  • In what ways do you checks students’ understanding of the intended learning and whether it meets the students’ expectations and needs?
  • How could you use learning intentions to improve the clarity of learning for students?
  • Collect student voice about learning intentions in your classrooms. What do the students say?

Have you seen?

Clarity about the learning 
This resource from Assessment Online illustrates ways that teachers might explain learning intentions and success criteria to their students so that students understand their purpose.


The encounter that I’ve had with learning intentions have usually been in science so that’s when we’ve been introduced to a certain unit and met the objective so, what I need to know, how I need to know it, and those sorts of things. It’s especially helpful for me during tests because it means I can study for the things I need to know and it means I don’t have to worry about those things, and I can sort of just check it off - I know this, I can do this process, I can do that. So that makes it easier. So I look over all the work I’ve done, I check the learning intentions that we focused on in the beginning of the unit and I say: Can I do this? Am I able to do that? Can I explain this idea?

Well it basically means I’m just sort of driving blind, if you know what I mean, because I don't know what I’m studying for - I’ll have a vague idea because each unit is categorised to a specific area, but the learning intentions help me because I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and how I’m supposed to be doing it.   

An example of when we’re using learning intentions is in health usually. First thing they do is write what we’re learning, why we’re learning it, and how we are learning it, stuff like that. I guess I don’t exactly look back on those and I don’t exactly look at... it doesn’t really help me more. I guess I focus more on the actual lesson, not really looking back. I never usually go back and look at the learning intentions and think ‘have I achieved this?’ - I usually just focus more on the lesson.

I guess, you know, the purpose for learning it’s like, sometimes in health it’s to do with nutrition and we know that it’s to keep us healthy. I guess we sort of know why we’re learning it because it’s talking about what we should eat, how much exercise we should do, so I don’t really... I guess we sort of know how, why we’re learning it.

Yeah I guess sometimes the learning intentions do help you, sort of, relate to the real world - how it’s connected and sort of put the pieces of the puzzle together. I guess they do help sometimes when you’re like relating it to the real world and stuff like that.

I think that learning intentions fulfill somewhat of an important role in terms of establishing an endpoint for the learning, so that you do have some means of understanding... of knowing when you have understood the unit or received knowledge. But I think there are more effective ways of achieving that. That’s why I find that instead of necessarily having a lesson focus or something like that... perhaps setting up the lesson under the framework of a question and being able (with the material) [to] learn the lesson, and finally being able to answer a certain question with that material. I think that that is more effective because... if you simply just establish an endpoint it can be quite limiting to your learning, but with your question it gives far greater scope for students to learn individually and to apply the learning in different manners.

If there’s a question at the start of the lesson and throughout the lesson you’re working with the teacher to find an answer through examples, and you both put in, it’s like a two-way street - that’s the best type I think.      

Published on: 09 May 2013