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Hidden Objectives

By Craig McKinney, AVID Staff Developer

What are you teaching tomorrow? If I asked you that, you might respond in several ways:

“Cellular respiration.”

“Pythagorean Theorem.”  

“Act II of Romeo and Juliet.”

“The French Revolution and the American Revolution.”

“I don’t know yet. I have to make it through today first.”

Maybe answering a question like that makes you uncomfortable. In many cases—perhaps most—we gauge our classroom experiences not by what we are teaching but by what our students are learning or doing. Teachers who want to make the learning clear to students do so by informing them of the learning objectives for a particular lesson or for a unit as a whole. Students like to be told what they’re supposed to be learning or doing so they can figure out whether it’s happening.

When we shift our thinking to what our students are doing, we come up with more thoughtful objectives, and sometimes we see where the weaknesses in our instructional plans lie. Your students might be explaining how their cells extract energy from the foods they consume, determining the length of the third side of a right triangle when they know the lengths of the other two, or comparing and contrasting the French and American Revolutions and using their discoveries to determine features common to all revolutions.

If you discover that all you can say is that tomorrow your students are learning what happens in Act II of Romeo and Juliet, you might consider how you’re teaching it and what you might change to make that learning more meaningful. Perhaps your students could debate whether Shakespeare’s portrayal of the blossoming love between the teens is convincing or ridiculous. Or your students could analyze how Shakespeare uses figurative language to communicate the feelings of the young lovers to the audience and discuss how figurative language might strengthen their own writing.   

Whatever your stated objective is, I also invite you to consider something bigger, something I like to call the Hidden Objective.

The Hidden Objective is the overarching transformation you hope will occur in your students because they took your class. It’s the life-altering difference you hope to make in them that will benefit them even if they never take another course in your subject area. It’s something you would probably never overtly tell your students, but it’s something that you would be completely delighted sometime in the future to discover has taken place and that you played a part in it.

Here are some of my own Hidden Objectives from my teaching of English, humanities, and the AVID Elective:   

  • My students will read for pleasure and will share their love of reading with others.
  • My students will feel confident as communicators who can speak and write powerfully for a variety of audiences and in any situation.
  • My students will be able to form an opinion of their own, back it up, and share it with others in a way that makes others consider it.
  • My students appreciate the arts as a means for understanding others, understanding the world around them, and understanding themselves.
  • My students seek out arts experiences of their own to add value to their lives.    
  • My students use their talents and abilities to make the world a better place for someone other than just themselves.
  • My students will realize that learning doesn’t always have a quantifiable outcome and that the best learning is learning for its own sake.
  • My students will take charge of their lives, advocate for themselves, and not just let life happen to them.

Considering your Hidden Objectives gives you life and direction as an educator. The objectives become a part of your mission, the driving force that propels all your other efforts. Reminding yourself of these objectives and checking in on your progress not only keeps you on track but also gives meaning to the work you do.

If you’re lucky, you’ll run into one of your former students years later, and, in thanking you, that student will let you know what impact you’ve made on his or her life.

It’s not likely that the former student will say, “Thank you so much for being my teacher. Because of you, I know what happened in Act II of Romeo and Juliet.” The former student probably won’t say, “Because of your class, I can analyze the effect of figurative language on a reader. That has taken me far in life.” Perhaps—and this will warm your heart when it happens—you’ll hear your former student say, “I write all the time for my job, and I think that I’m good at it because you taught me the importance of always considering how the audience will respond to what you write. I choose words carefully, reread my writing for clarity, and anticipate my readers’ reactions in advance. Thank you for teaching me that.”

Unfortunately, we don’t always get to know about the impact our work has on students. Rest assured, though, that because of our collective efforts and the many Hidden Objectives that drive our interactions with students, we have made and will continue to make differences in the ways they view themselves as thinkers, citizens, community members, readers, writers, problem solvers, mathematicians, historians, scientists, leaders, athletes, performers, scholars, family members, students, employees, team members, listeners, speakers, partners, innovators, caretakers, creators, planners, hosts, guests, producers, and people.

I’m interested in hearing about your Hidden Objectives. If you’d care to share yours, add them to my Google Form here. If I get enough responses, I will share them in the future. There’s power in seeing the impact we are each making and how it affects the big picture of our students’ experiences.

To learn more about AVID, visit www.AVID.org!


 This painting was created for Craig by his students: Kavina Hsu, Amy Wang, and Sara Watters.Craig McKinney is an English Language Arts Instructional Specialist for Plano ISD. A Dallas-area native, Craig attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he received degrees in English and Sociology. He earned his master’s degree at the University of North Texas. During his 22-year teaching career at Shepton High School, Craig taught English, Humanities, Latin, and the AVID Elective. He also bakes a mean loaf of sourdough bread, serves as an officer of his university’s local alumni association, and loves herb gardening, attending cultural events, and playing board games.

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