By Amber Riggs
Week after week, year after year, students of all ages – infant to elderly – take their seat to engage in some form of Christian education. And at the end of each Sabbath school class or Bible study, we stand up, walk out, and more often than not, quickly forget most of what we were supposed to have learned during that past hour.
Is the purpose of Christian education simply to expose people to the Bible and keep their interest so that they leave with a smile on their faces? Or is it something more life altering?
A critical task in Christian education is to define success. That is, how will we know that a particular class has been successful? What about a quarter or an entire year? Have your students grown or learned something important as a direct result of your class? Or has their time merely been occupied?
How do you know? Can you prove it?
This is where instructional objectives enter the picture. An instructional objective is a statement that defines in specific, measurable terms what your students should be able to do as a result of your instruction. 1
In part 1, we explored the way that well-written instructional objectives both define what success looks like in Christian Education and how these objectives can help us focus our instructional time so that we can fulfill what we set out to teach our students to do.
In this article, we’ll explore three components of a well-written objective, examine how to avoid the most common mistakes people make when writing objectives, and try out our skills on a few case studies.
THE THREE COMPONENTS OF AN OBJECTIVE
Performances, conditions, and criteria are the three components that can work together to clarify the specific intent of your objective.
The foundation of any well-written objective is a performance. First and foremost, the objective must define the specific action or skill that you want to observe in your students. For example, you might be teaching a group of 8-10-year-old students the books of the Bible. You’ve identified the performance as:
- Students should be able to recite the books of the Bible in order.
The performance is “recite the books of the Bible in order.” However, you’ve left out an important condition.
Conditions describe “what the learner will be given, or deprived of, during performance of the objective.” 2 If the students recite the books of the Bible as a group and each student has a spot where she gets stuck and relies on the group to help out, do they really know all of the books of the Bible? What if a student recites individually but needs a lot of prompts from you? Does he know them as well as you would like him to? What if we added a condition?
- Students should be able to recite the books of the Bible in order from memory, without outside aid or assistance.
But wait… here comes Johnny up to recite the books of the Bible: “Genesis, Exodus (5-second pause), Leviticus, Numbers (15-second pause), Deuteronomy (10-second pause)…” At this rate, you could be there all day. And when you ask Johnny to look up a verse in Zephaniah, he is still going to find it faster by going to his Bible’s table of contents.
This is a case where we would want to add a criterion.
The criterion describes how well a student must do the action in order for their performance to be considered successful. 3
- Students should be able to recite the books of the Bible in order from memory without outside aid or assistance in 1 minute or less.
The criterion can include any set of criteria that sets the bar for success. These commonly refer to particulars like speed (in 15 minutes), accuracy (90%), or quality (no misspelled words). You’ll notice that on one of my objectives I included the words “with 75% accuracy.”
Including a criterion is especially important when you are communicating your objectives to a student who will be graded on how well they are expected to perform. For example, when you are taking a course, you’ll often find the criterion separate from the objectives in the grading scale for a course.
You can include a criterion any time that you need to further clarify how a successful performance will look.
AVOIDING THE FAIL: MEASURABLE VS. UNMEASURABLE OBJECTIVES
Hands-down, the most challenging part of writing an instructional objective is ensuring that your objective is measurable in that it is based on an observable performance.
The use of the following words will often indicate that an objective is unmeasurable: Value, know, appreciate, internalize, understand, grasp, enjoy, believe. These words are open to many interpretations and are difficult to connect with a specific action. On the contrary, these words are open to fewer interpretations and tend to facilitate specific actions: identify, write, list, describe, state, explain. 4
Unless you are careful, this is just a pitfall waiting to happen. Here’s what I mean-
I have four daughters, and I really want them to love going to Sabbath School class. I want them to look forward to it and I want my friends’ kids to love Sabbath School, too! It would be so easy for me to write the following objectives:
As a result of this class, my students will…
- Develop a positive attitude towards Sabbath School.
- Grow in their relationship with God.
- Understand how much Jesus loves them.
These are all very worthy and important goals, but as they are currently written they are worthless as instructional objectives. They have no use as objectives because they are unmeasurable. Why? Well, for example, let’s consider developing “a positive attitude towards Sabbath School”. How can you know without any doubt that someone is “developing a positive attitude?” Let’s say that I make this one of my markers of success. I plan lots of fun activities for the entire quarter so that my students will enjoy Sabbath School. And then the last two weeks of the quarter, I wind up with a kid who doesn’t want to come to class and then cries the entire class time. (Oh, and the other two start crying too just because their classmate is.) In my book, crying miserably does not indicate a positive attitude. Thus, by my own standards, I’ve failed.
Fortunately, what we do have is an excellent starting point for a worthy objective. While it is difficult to prove that someone has a positive attitude about something, one of the markers of a positive attitude is when someone speaks positively about it. They might also elaborate on things that they like about it. We can’t train students to want to come to class, but can we train students to speak positively about Sabbath School? Of course! Students can’t be taught emotions, but they can be taught to develop skills.
What if we defined success this way instead? As a result of this class, my students will be able to…
- Sing (or sign) “Everybody Loves to Come to Sabbath School” (with 75% accuracy).
- Name (or point) to three things they liked about Sabbath School this week (at the end of each class).
These are objectives that I can measure and say with confidence, “Yes! They can do these things!”
Let’s briefly look at the other two faulty objectives:
- Grow in their relationship with God.
- Understand how much Jesus loves them.
It is difficult to observe if or how much a student is growing in their relationship with God. But we can observe if a student is able to…
- Fold hands and repeat a 30-second prayer while sitting/kneeling in one position.
- Sing (or sign) 5 songs of praise (with 75% accuracy).
It is difficult to observe if or how much a student understands that Jesus loves them. But we can observe if a student is able to…
- Sing (or sign) Jesus Loves Me (with 75% accuracy).
- Tell (or point to pictures of) three ways Jesus shows us He loves us.
SPECIFIED ACTIONS EQUATE MEASURABLE OBJECTIVES IN SABBATH SCHOOL.
If you can observe an action specified by the objective, then that objective is measurable. If an objective does not include a specific, observable action, then that objective is unmeasurable. Avoid unmeasurable objectives at all costs. However, if you discover that you have written an unmeasurable objective, don’t throw it out right away. Instead, break it down to specific, observable actions and turn it into objectives that will set you – and your students – up for success.