Keeping Goals in the Picture

In the bustle (and sometimes chaos) of the semester itself, it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day details and forget the bigger picture. But of course there is a bigger picture, and it’s the answer to this question:

What do you want your students to achieve in your course?

The answer to this question comprises your learning goals, and they’re an important touchstone whenever you find yourself mired in the muddle. They serve as a reminder—what’s the aim of my class again?—and they’ll help guide the choices you make as a teacher.

Learning goals probably already affect many of our pedagogical decisions, either implicitly or explicitly. We assign certain readings because we want our students to assimilate relevant information; we give students problem sets because we want them to be able to solve those kinds of problems; we ask for essays because we want to foster critical thinking and writing skills. We intend that students who pass our courses will know and understand certain things and be able to do certain things—and maybe even that they’ll feel certain things. But here’s another question: have you ever spelled out those goals?

Maybe you’ve been explicit, listing your learning goals on the syllabus; we think that’s a great way to let students know what they should be striving for. Even if you haven’t consciously articulated your goals, however, there’s still time. As you launch into a session or a new section of the course, you can tell the class what you’re hoping they’ll get out of it. And you can use this touchstone—goals—as a way to make sure that your teaching choices are the right ones, supporting your students as they try to reach the mark. It’s also important to keep track of students as they go, to make sure they’re making progress and, ultimately, achieving those goals.

For more on all this, consult the Teaching Commons—we’ve got a Learning Goals page and an Evaluating Student Learning page that can get you started—or, as always, reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to help!


This spring, we’re using the CNDLS blog to highlight the Teaching Commons, a compilation of resources and case studies designed to help faculty revitalize their courses and gain insights into practical issues in pedagogy at Georgetown. As a living resource, the site evolves to encompass new scholarship in teaching and learning, as well as technological innovations that are changing and enhancing the current teaching landscape. To help you explore all that the Commons has to offer, we’re showcasing tools and other information on a semi-weekly basis, guiding you through the semester in real time. Missed the other posts? Check out our takes on crafting a syllabus, starting the semester, leading discussions, evaluating learningdesigning assignments, and active learning, then hear from fellow faculty in our interview highlights.