At the recent #TeacherSuccessSummit, Dr. Donyall Dickey presented on the power of annotating objectives (interchangeable with standards). He discussed how allowing time for students to annotate an objective gives them an anchor—something to hold on to. And this anchoring not only provides clarity for what an objective is asking students to demonstrate, but it also provides equitable access to them.

Now I know that there are many objectives we reference and work on in a unit; however, there are typically 2-4 that we assess in a given unit, and it is these 2-4 that should be annotated. I know I made many assumptions on what students did or didn’t know in terms of vocabulary in an objective, as well as certain skills they should have learned in previous years. And it is these assumptions that endanger the learning experience—establishing an inequitable platform from the very start.

How it works…

I am going to go through the example Dr. Dickey used to show just what this would look like. Now, when he presented this it was done with a sense of humour and a well honed delivery—which would definitely add a layer to the learning experience (I know it made a difference for me).

The following objective from the CCSS will be used (R.L.9-10.1): Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Here is where our assumptions can be checked. Dr. Dickey went through all the words that could possibly not be clear for students: cite, strong, thorough, textual evidence, support analysis, explicitly, inference.

Yes, we can assume students know the word “strong” in general…but what about in relation to identifying evidence from a literary text? What does it mean in that context?

In the following picture you will see Dr. Dickey’s explanation of the potentially troublesome words. Each word then has a word/phrase highlighted which would serve as the anchor.

  • cite — location (where in the text)
  • strong — powerfully (well-chosen)
  • thorough — completeness (of evidence)
  • textual evidence — directly from text (quoted or paraphrased properly)
  • support — hold up (clear connection)
  • analysis — breaking apart (into smaller pieces to study it closer)
  • explicitly — clearly stated (how evidence connects/what evidence proves)
  • inferences — logical assumption (not educated guess)

Why this matters?!

  1. The language in the objective can be used throughout the unit to keep students grounded in the skills they will be assessed on. (Clarity of experience in a unit)
  2. Breaking down the objective ensures that all students start from the same place of understanding in order to demonstrate their best work. (Equity of experience in a unit)
  3. Helps set students up for more effective self and peer feedback opportunities.
  4. Annotating objectives transfers into the annotation of prompts in IB and AP classes.

One thing that I focused on specifically over the past 4 years was ensuring that my students not only knew the objectives they were expected to demonstrate in a particular unit, but that all of the formative work/assessment we did in a unit was driven by these objectives. Basically, if I didn’t teach directly to a skill, then: (a) I shouldn’t be assessing it and (b) I shouldn’t expect students to improve on it.

Teaching requires repetition, differentiation, assessment, and feedback. And although every student may not achieve mastery, the goal is for each student to get fundamentally better.

— Kate Roberts

And how do we help each and every student get at least a little bit better in a skill? We structure for success. We ensure that all students: (1) know exactly what they will be assessed on (this is where annotating of objectives fits in), (2) be given practice and feedback to get better at the required skills, (3) understand how they will be assessed (access to assessment criteria).

Including the annotation of objectives into the beginning of a unit is a win-win: It sets up students for success; it grounds both teachers and students in the specific work that needs to be accomplished; and it helps students to gain more independence in their learning experience.

I also believe this provides another opportunity: When students have a clearer understanding of what the objective is asking them to improve on, they can be more self-driven in how they demonstrate the skill in the objective. When we allow students to become co-owners in their learning process, when we increase their choice and voice, we connect to learning on a deeper, metacognitive level.

Let’s Reflect…

  • How do you give clarity to the objectives of a unit?
  • How often do you revisit an objective throughout a unit?
  • Where are you providing opportunities?

Not only do I thank you for visiting this site and reading my thoughts…but I would love to hear your thoughts and wonderings, too. Please, leave a comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @readwritemore

You can also see more of my writing (along with the writing of some other brilliant and beautiful minds) at

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