What’s the Deal with Language Objectives?
Language Objectives are, without a doubt, one of the things I am asked most often about. They are often the one aspect of teaching English Learners teachers grapple with the longest and hardest. The fact that the internet is full of somewhat questionable examples, doesn’t add any clarity. The complexity lies in fact that because language objectives are differentiated for different students, in different classrooms, from different language groups, with different educational backgrounds, in different stages of language acquisition, there can be no one master set. Each teacher will have to evaluate the specific and diverse needs of his or her own students before writing language objectives that meet students’ specific needs. There can be no one size fits all when it comes to language objectives. Not that others don’t try.
I’m not suggesting each child in your classroom have their own set of language objectives. Perish the thought! I am saying however, that you as an instructor have a window into your students’ academic needs that no other person has, no matter how many letters or academic credentials come after their names. Therefore, you as the teacher are in the very best position to make decisions about what kind of language instruction your students’ need.
I have my own perspective about language objectives, which may differ from some of the other voices out there. Often the language objectives I see look like they have been tacked onto the end of the lesson in an attempt to fit them in, check the box, or make an administrator happy (take your pick). Instead, from my point of view, language objectives should help students achieve the content objective. They should be imbedded into the lesson such that they are inseparable from the content objective. By achieving the language objective, the content objective will be that much easier to accomplish.
The great thing about language objectives is that many of your native English speakers will find them helpful as well. Children who speak non-standard English at home, children with special needs, children from vocabulary-deficit backgrounds, and others will benefit from the explicitness which language objectives bring to your instruction.
So how do you write a language objective?
- The first step is to be aware of your students’ language needs. Listen to students talk, look at their writing, identify where they are in the langue acquisition process and what stage comes next, use formative assessment data, and study the upcoming standards. All of these can give you insight into your students’ language needs.
- Now that you know what students need, identify the upcoming standard. Keep in mind, the standard is for you, the teacher. It is your job to interpret and break down the broader standard into achievable chunks (content objectives) for your students. The content objective is not a restatement of the standard, as standards are generally written in advanced language.
- Decide what you will teach and when you will teach it, and write a content objective for the lesson. What will students learn during the lesson? Keep focused on the learning- what students will walk away with- and not the task (ie. sorting, cutting etc.).
- Write a language objective to support students acquisition of the content standard. Think about what language students will need to know to accomplish the content objective. Are there opportunities within the lesson to embed other language structures students need to work on? You are going to teach the content regardless, but can make the most of the opportunities the lesson presents to advance students’ language knowledge as well.
Note: I am using the term content objective. This term is often used interchangeably with learning target, lesson objective, and learning objective (and while not exactly the same, sometimes essential question). Add to this confusion, some states use the term “objectives” to describe their standards and you can see why many teachers find this confusing. Some schools have standardized content objectives with “I can…” statements or “Can I…?” questions. Whatever you use, be consistent with the framing of both the content and language objective. If you use an “I can…” for your content objective, you should also use “I can…” for your language objective.
Here is a guiding document for planning language objectives. Use it to help you process through each step of the development process.
Click Here for the PDF Planning Tool for Writing Language Objectives
This document is a checklist for you to use to assess the quality of your language objectives.
Click Here for the PDF Language Objectives Checklist
Language objectives do not have to be difficult. In fact, they can be a tool in your arsenal that help your students develop academic language faster and in greater depth. No need to be perfect at it- just think about the language your students will need as you plan your lessons and you’re on your way to being the responsive, differentiating teacher they need!