October 24, 2018

Making Sense of Student Learning Targets

For this episode of The #PhysEd Show Vlog, I decided to explore the difference between grade-level outcomes (GLOs) and student learning targets (SLTs). I wanted to give a special shout out to Kevin Tiller for prompting me to make this video (sorry it took so long, Kevin!)

Subscribe To The #PhysEd Show

Subscribe to The #PhysEd Show in all of its formats to make sure you never miss out!

The Podcast: Subscribe on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

The Vlog: Subscribe on YouTube

Live Episodes: Subscribe on Facebook

Show Notes

Before getting into the value and power of student learning targets, it is important to discuss the difference between SLTs and grade-level outcomes. The two types of objectives are often thought to be the same thing, which isn’t the case.

What Are Grade-Level Outcomes?

Grade-level outcomes are the instructional objectives that describe what students should be able to do, know, or understand at specific grade-levels. They describe what the evidence of mastery will look like from the teacher’s perspective. GLOs are written in teacher-friendly language and can be pretty complex as they describe the conditions and criteria for that mastery by providing teachers with the action statements, content pieces, learning context, and additional clarifications that help paint a clear portrait of what learning will look like.

What Are Student-Learning Targets?

Student learning targets, on the other hand, are the goals for lessons, units, courses, or sweet, sweet YouTube vlogs. They are created based on the standards and grade-level outcomes and are used to support student learning by making it easy for the student to understand where they are going in their learning. Effective student-learning targets are written in concrete, student-friendly language that is designed to be accessible to the learners. SLTs typically begin with “I Can” and are found posted in gymnasiums and classrooms so that they can be tracked by both the students and the teacher throughout the learning journey.

An effective practice when it comes to SLTs is to have them unpacked by students (with the guidance of their teacher) in order for students to best discuss them, analyze them, make sense of them and use them to enhance their learning. In the very best of situations, student-learning targets can also be co-authored by both the teacher and the students, allowing students to take true ownership of their learning.

When Are GLOs Used?

Ok, so now we have a better idea of the difference between GLOs and SLTs. Let’s take a look at when they get used in the learning process.

Grade-level outcomes are used before the learning even begins. They are used by the teacher when designing lessons and units within their physical education program. Through a process called Standards-Based Instructional Design, GLOs are unpacked in order for the teacher to gain a crystal clear idea on what learning will look like so that the teacher may then design assessment tools and instructional activities that will help students master the skills, knowledge, and understandings that are packed within the grade-level outcome.

Here are some resources that can help you better understand how GLOs guide the planning process in standards-based teaching:

  • Unpacking The National Standards
  • #PhysEd Learning Roadmaps

When Are SLTs Used?

Student-learning targets should be shared and posted at the start of a unit and/or lesson. Students and the teacher should have a discussion in which they unpack the learning targets so that students – just as their teachers do when working with GLOs – have a clear idea of where they are going in their learning. Doing so invites students to become active partners in regards to their progress and provides them with the language required for metacognition (thinking about learning) throughout their learning journeys

SLTs should be reflected on and reviewed throughout the learning journey. Doing so provides regular reminders to students in regards to where they are going, but also invites them to reflect on where they are currently at in their learning and how they can close the gap between those two places.

Student-Learning Targets In Physical Education

Ok, so what can student learning targets look like in PE? Here are a few examples of student learning targets I’ve created based on the grade-level outcomes we focus on in my physical education program:

Here’s another example of student learning target, this time working based on a middle school GLO:

I use the What Why How Graphics that I created for my gym to help me introduce SLTs in my teaching:

In the WHAT section, I share the overall theme or focus of the day’s lesson.

In the WHY section, I work with my students to develop a sense of purpose and meaning in regards to the learning we are about to take on. This process could be a whole other video’s worth of content, but the big idea is that my students and I make a link between the day’s content and learning targets with our overall goal of the lifelong development of our physical literacy. You should check out the work of my friends Doug Gleddie (@doug_gleddie) and Andy Vasily (@andyvasily) when it comes to tying meaning into your teaching and your students’ learning.

In the HOW section is where I share the Student Learning Targets for that day’s lessons. Again, they are written in “I CAN” statements and student-friendly language. Whenever possible, I try to unpack each target to help make sure that my students are crystal clear on what they will be learning that day.


Ok, so wrapping up:

  • Grade-level outcomes are the teacher-friendly descriptions of what students should be able to do, know and understand at any given grade-level.
  • Student learning targets are the student-friendly learning outcome that provides students with the bite-sized learning that they are aiming for by the end of a lesson, unit, or course.

SLTs are essential because they:

  • Represent clear and manageable goals that motivate students to accomplish tasks by letting them know that success is within their reach.
  • Provide students with opportunities for short-term success which helps students build their confidence as they experience success at previous attempts.
  • Let students know where they are as they provide students with opportunities to reflect on why they reached, or didn’t quite reach, the target. This informs students on what they can do or what they know, and what they still need to learn.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to continue to learn more about student learning targets and grade-level outcomes, I really recommend that you check out the ASCD’s “Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim For Understanding In Today’s Lesson” which has some sample chapters available as a free, online PDF (I provided a link to it in the show notes for this episode).

Another resource I highly recommend is EL Education’s “Leaders Of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment” which is one of the books I am currently exploring with my PLC at school.

Also, EL Education has an incredible video series that explore high impact teaching practices. Here’s an example on how SLTs can be used throughout a lesson:

Ok, that’s it for this episode of The #PhysEd Show! I know I haven’t been putting these out at the rate at which I had initially hoped for, but I hope you’re enjoying these deeper dives into important topics!

Thanks for watching and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
View all posts

Similar posts


Sign up and never miss another blog post!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.