Learning Target Deconstruction


By Theresa Staley

Of all the “wow!” moments in my educational career, I believe observing my students as they mastered their learning targets has been the most profound. This mastery involved a demonstration of student evidence to show they “got it” and could attach it to larger ideas and concepts. Through watching each student work to meet and master targets, “learning target deconstruction” came to fruition.

What is Learning Target Deconstruction?

Learning Target Deconstruction is the process by which student groups work together to break down the language and content within a target and give it personal meaning. This practice does two important things: it engages students in explicit, ongoing exposure to the language and content of the learning target and it requires them to apply reasoning as they develop a higher-order understanding of the skills they will be working on.

There are four steps to this process:

  1. Rewriting the learning target in a meaningful way
  2. Brainstorming academic vocabulary and skills necessary to reach the target
  3. Conceptualizing examples of student evidence
  4. Making larger connections

Step 1: Rewriting the Target

  1. Place a large piece of paper on each set of student desks. I call this a “tabletop.”
  2. In the middle of the tabletop, student groups write the target they will be working on. (I usually have a basket of writing utensils, such as markers, etc. on each table.)
  3. Students circle each word or phrase they do not understand within the target.
  4. Students draw arrows stemming from the words and/or phrases they circled. At the base of each arrow, students change the words and/or phrases into similar synonyms or like phrases they understand more clearly. Student groups work together to repeat this process until they have executed the task for all circled parts of the standard.
  5. Together, they re-read the standard, replacing misunderstood text with the information they have written.
  6. Students make a team decision, assessing if the new target they wrote makes better sense or if they need to make additional tweaks.
  7. Once they are confident in their final product, a student group author rewrites the entire target above the original text on their tabletop.


Step 2: Prior Learning Skills and Academic Knowledge

  1. Allow students to brainstorm the non-negotiable skills they need to master in order to reach their learning target.
  2. For example, if the target involves inferencing as related to fiction, perhaps the students might decide they would need to be able to read, have a strong understanding of the text and making predictions, have a grasp of the setting or characters, have expertise in analyzing how one event leads to another or is reactive of another, understand plot, indirect characterization, dialogue, etc.
  3. Students choose a corner on their tabletop to list each skill they decide is paramount to the execution of their target. They will label the corner with the title Academic Skills.
  4. Similar to #1 in this part of the task, students determine what academic vocabulary they must know at a rigorous level (to read, write, connect, and so on) in order to master the target. Since this involves academic vocabulary, students are required to speak and convey usage of these words throughout the articulation and execution of the entire task in a meaningful manner. (Using the activity title Learning Target Deconstruction is critical because they have to know what a target is and what it means to deconstruct it—and “deconstruct” is a commonly used term in the compositional area of state assessments.)
  5. The groups will document the information in a new corner of their tabletop, labeling it Academic Vocabulary.


Step 3: Student Evidence

Formative data in the form of student evidence is really the bedrock of our instruction. Without it, we simply would not know if our kids “got it,” and that makes moving on dangerous territory. This piece of the activity allows students to make decisions about what they will provide as evidence of their learning.

  1. Students discuss specific types of products they will create as evidence to show they reached their learning target. They will title another corner of their tabletop, Student Evidence, and list each piece of possible evidence the teacher might see to prove they have mastered the target.


Step 4: New Connections

This part of the activity calls for students to think more deeply about the target and what they have learned.

  1. Students hypothesize what evidence they might create to demonstrate that they went beyond the target and created something new, labeling the final corner of their tabletop New Connections, where they will document this information. For example, if the target was inferencing, perhaps students constructed the plot of a mystery, or completed a detailed character sketch, including examples from the text to support their inferences.

What’s Next?

Once the entire task is completed, display each tabletop throughout your classroom and engage students in a gallery walk of their work!


Have questions or need advice? Leave a comment below to start the discussion.