Resources mentioned in this episode:

Constructing Goals for Student Learning through Conversation by Jessica Hunt and Mary Kay Stein

Join NCTM 

The Flexibility Formula K-2 online PD course

The Flexibility Formula 3-5 online PD course

Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 93. Today we are looking at Constructing Goals for Student Learning.

Welcome to Build Math Minds the podcast, where fidelity to your students is greater than fidelity to your textbook. I’m your host, Christina Tondevold, the recovering traditionalist and Founder, where my mission is to change the way we teach elementary math to our kiddos. Are you ready to start building math minds and not just creating calculators? Let’s get started.

This week I’m sharing an article with you.  This article is only accessible to NCTM members, so if you are a member go check this one out.  If you aren’t a member…First, you (or your school) should become a member and second, even if you can’t access the full article I hope the podcast will give you some things to consider when constructing goals for student learning.

One of the things I really appreciated about this article is how they differentiate between learning goals and performance goals.

This is from pages 905-906:

“To begin the discussion and definition of a learning goal, we start with what a learning goal is not. That is, we distin- guish learning goals from performance goals. Too often, we define what mathematics we wish students to come to “know” as performance, or what students will “do,” absent the understandings that underlie their behaviors. Suppose a teacher is planning lessons to develop students’ notions of unit fractions as relational quantities (e.g., using equal-sharing problems, such as three friends share five energy bars, Empson and Levi 2011). Here is an example of a performance goal the teacher might write:

Given a word problem involving the creation of unit and nonunit fractions through equal sharing, students will partition whole objects into a number of parts equal to the number of sharers with 100 percent accuracy across three consecutives trials.

This goal states observable actions that students will perform in a certain way over a period of time. Yet, a limitation of this goal is that although it says much about student activity, it says little about what students will learn from engaging in the activity. It states only that students will correctly perform the activity. Another limitation of this goal is that it does not support the teacher to connect pedagogy (planned learning situation, interactions, or representations) that might promote understanding. For instance, we do not know from this goal how or why the size of the parts become related to the whole from which the parts were created or why partitioning wholes into parts results in fractional quantities related to the size of the whole.

In contrast to a performance goal, here is an example of what we could refer to as a learning goal:

Students will develop an understanding that fractions are numbers that have magnitude determined by the relationship of the numerator and denominator.

As opposed to performance goals, learning goals focus on the development of student learning, namely, understanding.”

There are four pillars inside The Flexibility Formula course (K-2 course, 3-5 course); Understanding, Observing, Connecting, and Experiencing.  Building our own Understanding of the math, Learning how to Observe student thinking, and Connecting math concepts helps us make plans for the types of Experiences we want to provide our students.  One of the big things we talk about inside The Flexibility Formula is that we shouldn’t be focused on what students will be able to DO, we need to focus on what they will UNDERSTAND.  Participants in the courses even get a digital lesson planner that puts a focus on what kids understand, not what they will do at the end of a lesson.

Typical lesson plans are focused on what students will be able to do, that’s putting a focus on the performance of your students.  When you create learning goals, you are putting a focus on what your students will understand.

Take for example when you learned dividing fractions.  I use this as an example because most of us probably learned how to DO that but never really understood it.  If our focus is on building math minds, we need to switch the focus from doing math, to understanding math.  One of the places to do that is through the goals we set for each lesson or unit.  We need to create learning goals, not performance goals.  If you want to learn more about that go read the full article.

For those of you who are NCTM members, here’s the article and for those of you who aren’t members I highly encourage you to join.  I’ve been a member since my first year teaching and have learned such valuable information through the organization.

And as a complete side-note…if you work with elementary aged kiddos and want to help them actually understand their math facts and not just memorize them, I’d love to have you join me for a live webinar I’m doing about the 3 Keys to Building Elementary Students’ Math Fluency.  How kids understand basic addition and multiplication facts impacts how they operate with multi-digit numbers.  So in this free webinar, I’ll be showing how to create a solid understanding of addition & multiplication from the start that also builds their fluency.  Go to to sign up. 

These episodes are sponsored by the online trainings that I do for elementary educators.  The Flexibility Formula K-2 and 3rd-5th are online PD for teachers that you can do in the comfort of your home at your own pace.  These courses help you understand the foundation of number sense and how it impacts students’ ability to become fluent in the mathematics at your grade level.  Registration for the courses will be opening soon.  Go to to learn more about each course.

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As you start off the school year, I want you to keep in mind what is really important as we're trying to teach mathematics to our students.