Board with Aims

2 Dec

I just came back from a surprisingly interesting workshop about using the whiteboard effectively.  While I never did learn how to write in a straight line while facing the class, there was an interesting discussion about whether or not teachers should write up the aims of their lessons on the board.

I have to say, I’m pretty vehemently against it for a number of reasons but maybe I’m overstating the case and should just relax.  Anyways, here are my reasons against pre-boarding lesson aims and stages, and I’d love to know what other teachers think, especially those who find the practice useful.

  • Breathing space – I think most teachers would agree that lessons should be dynamic, have some degree of freedom/learner autonomy, and that lesson plans should be flexible (for many teachers this is putting it mildly!).  If this is the case, then why needlessly constrain yourself?  What happens if it’s more useful to spend longer on something at the start of class or to change the language focus?
  • Student reactions at the start – The other day I walked into my Spanish class and saw that we were going to be looking at Part 2 of the Reading Paper for my DELE exam.  Great.  This definitely dampened my enthusiasm right off the bat, even though I know that it’s necessary practice.  Would it have hurt to have led into it gradually?  A little mystery isn’t such a bad thing after all…
  • Student reactions at the end – Assuming you’re not a militant with a stopwatch and don’t quite make it to where you had expected, how are the students meant to feel?  They can see that there was something else planned and might well feel like they’re missing some crucial course content that never got covered (one of their grammar mcnuggets is missing from the box!).  I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to avoid that scenario if at all possible.

I suppose the argument is that some students like to know in advance what’s being covered in class as it helps to organize their own notes and study habits.  Fair enough, but isn’t it possible instead of writing up the lesson contents and aims at the start to write them after having completed the stages?  This way whatever you decide to focus on is fine and the learners still end up with a written record of what went on.

So teachers, what do you do and why?  And what should I tell my trainees?


9 Responses to “Board with Aims”

  1. Oli December 3, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Hi Ben, I had this same discussion recently with colleagues. I think there are valid arguments for and against, depending very much on your own view of methodology. Certainly from a dogmetist’s standpoint it doesn’t make sense, but if you’re going to cover something specific in a lesson then I don’t see the harm in writing up lesson aims from time to time. Actually, as a learner I quite appreciate that clarity in lessons because I tend to look for structural input from my teacher (I get plenty of freer practice out in the real world).
    However, my view is that a good teacher will always make learning explicit enough to students, either as it happens or reflectively at the end of a stage/lesson. Given that, advance notice of lesson aims wouldn’t seem necessary. But more to the point, by knowing what’s coming up students are no longer working from a blank slate and they are being funnelled into using, or at least thinking about, preselected language. Since I want to avoid this in my classes, I would very rarely write up my aims.

    • Ben Naismith December 5, 2011 at 8:56 am #

      Hi Oli,
      I guess it really does depend on learner preferences – unlike you in my own Spanish classes I’m sick of structural input and just prefer interesting lexical chunks and reformulating my output.

      I can see your point about the usefulness of boarding aims depending on methodology and I suppose if the aims are lesson aims than it could make sense. Maybe what I object to more then is teachers boarding lesson stages (masquerading as aims) which is invariably restrictive.

  2. grahamcoke December 3, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    As far as I can tell, and I sort of hope I’m wrong on this, there are no studies supporting the benefit of writing your objectives on the board. Thus, the entire issue becomes one of preference and, hence, can be discussed ad infinitum.

    Having said that, I’ll have to jump on your wagon and say I can’t really see why writing your lesson aims would mean a substantial improvement on the long run. If anything, it might put your students off from mildly to moderately for the reasons you highlighted.

    About keeping a record of language points you cover so students know what to study later, I think there are board work techniques that address that. For example, I keep a language point column on the left side with structures, uses of tenses and the like. At the end of the lesson, the language points I covered all end up as titles of my grammar column.

    I just don’t label them as “aims”, but I think they’d clearly help a student who looked for additional material online. Plus, I usually wait until I’m done explaining the language point before I write its technical name, or at least until some student recognizes it and calls it out.

    Going back to the first paragraph, teachers usually end up doing what works best. I didn’t write many lesson aims before questioning why I was doing it in the first place and why it was helping. If there’s any way of using lesson aims on the board I haven’t seen, I definitely want a peek, but what I’ve seen so far has been a bit close to the operose side of the board work spectrum.

    At the end of the day, I like my board like I like my kitchen: simple, functional, orderly and clean.

    • Ben Naismith December 5, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      I’d love to see some research about students’ reactions to the practice of boarding aims! Even if it’s on a very informal level, I’d still be interested…hint hint

  3. Kristin February 1, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Really interesting – cheers for the topics!
    Boarding your aims??
    I’d like to reply by referring to each of your points…
    ‘breathing space’ – if you can also help ss to understand that the process of the lesson is more important than/ as important as the end result and are able to justify with them why something took longer, then maybe this won’t be such a negative;
    students’ reactions at the start – this might depend on how you word the aims, for example ‘The Past Simple’ may well get many students thinking along similar lines as you felt, or possibly sth like “..we studied that in Level 1!!”, but the same lesson aims could also be worded ‘ Telling stories’ ie it could be a more communicative aim rather than a mechanical/structural one…
    students’ reactions at the end – similar to breathing space, perhaps – the class could negotiate which of these aims to rollover to the next class, or you could find out if ss were disappointed and tell them you’ll deal with it some other time / tomorrow / via homework (??)
    What do you think? I sometimes write aims on the board and in other classes don’t….I haven’t ever had students ask what happened to the aims we didn’t reach, but then I do try to write them to represent the major themes/ tasks in the lesson. I have told ss things like “..we didn’t get to this, so please have a look tonight and come and see me if you have questions..” and I think that’s been OK so far.
    Cheers, K

    • Ben Naismith February 1, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Thanks for commenting Kristin. In light of all the useful comments, I’ve since softened my stance on boarding aims (thank you PLN!). As you pointed out, as long as the aims are general enough and communicative, there is no danger of trying to force pre-determined structures into the lesson. This suits my usual TBL tendencies just fine…

  4. gareth @reasons4 davies May 11, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Hi Ben,
    I am not sure your Spanish teacher boarded their aims, they just said what was going to happen in the lesson. There is a difference.
    If I can let my students know what they outcomes of the lessons will be before we start that should motivate them.
    Boarding aims helps teachers to challenge and motivate students and allows both the teachers and students to reflect on the lesson at the end.
    There is nothing wrong with a 3 minutes session at the end of a lesson saying okay did we reach the aims, why why not.
    Interested to hear your views.

    • Ben Naismith May 11, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      Hi Gareth, thanks for stopping by.

      Like I mentioned in response to another comment, I take your point about the difference between boarding aims and boarding procedure. If the aims are general enough than I can see the justification (although I would still not choose to do it). For me this is especially true if the aim focuses on task completion or communication and don’t include reference to a certain structure.

      I completely agree with you about the value of reflection at the end of the lesson, I just find that this doesn’t require aims at the beginning. In fact, since my students aren’t primed for a certain language point (I often haven’t selected one beforehand), the reflection stage becomes a critical part of the lesson.



  1. Confessions of an unrepentant (yet slightly defensive) unskilled user of the whiteboard | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections - October 3, 2013

    […] is not strictly related to this topic but I am always happy to share Ben Naismith’s blog. Here he writes about the perceived need for teachers to write the aims of the class on the […]

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