Setting Clear Instructional Outcomes: Overview & Examples

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson gives an overview of how to bring greater clarity to instructional outcomes. You'll learn strategies to move from unsatisfactory outcomes to ones that best support student learning.

Improving Instructional Outcomes

A teacher we'll call Unsatisfactory Ursula is constructing instructional outcomes to help plan her approach to classroom instruction. The problem is that her outcomes are not turning out that great. In fact, if you judge them by the standards of the Danielson Group's Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument, Ursula's outcomes are considered a Level 1 - Unsatisfactory.

Instructional outcomes are intended to express the knowledge and skills that students will gain from a teacher's instruction, but Ursula hasn't mastered writing them yet. This lesson follows Ursula as she gets help from her fellow teachers, Basic Bob, Proficient Pete, and Distinguished Dana to improve her outcomes and make them clearer.

Clarity in Outcomes

So what is clarity when it comes to setting instructional outcomes? Here are some descriptors for what we mean by clarity in this context:

  • Outcomes should not be confusing or hard to understand. (This may sound obvious, but Ursula has written some head-scratchers in the past).
  • Outcomes should focus on important learning. In other words, the learning should be significant rather than trivial.
  • Outcomes should be written to reflect what a student will learn, not how they will learn it. The outcome shouldn't describe a specific activity.
  • You should be able to assess whether or not an outcome has been achieved.

Level 1 Example - Unsatisfactory

Ursula's instructional outcomes have been evaluated so far as Level 1. They are unsatisfactory and need a lot of improvement in order to reach the best, known as Level 4.

What does a Level 1 outcome look like? Let's check out one of Ursula's outcomes from a history class she plans to teach:

  • ''Students will show in a document how they have gained knowledge about the date when the first postage stamp was produced and price up until present day.''

This certainly doesn't match with the guidelines above related to clarity. What makes this outcome less clear than it needs to be? The outcome is difficult to grasp. What does she want students to learn exactly? She mentions a document and the dates and prices of stamps, but we are left in the dark about what purpose this outcome serves.

  • The outcome focuses on one somewhat trivial area of knowledge (the date and price of stamps) rather than a more significant body of knowledge.
  • The outcome focuses on what students will do (an activity) rather than on a learning outcome.
  • How will Ursula know that the objective has been met? It sounds like she's expecting her students to hand in a piece of paper with a set of dates and prices. Is that really all she wants from her students?

Level 2 Example - Basic

Ursula's teacher pal, Basic Bob, stops in to check on her progress. Bob has a handle on the second level of instructional outcomes, those that would be considered a step up from Ursula's.

Bob suggests that Ursula make her outcome more clear by stating what learning will take place. Plus, she should focus on a level trivial body of knowledge. Together they come up with the following:

  • ''Students will learn about the evolution of postal delivery.''

Bob has helped Ursula include a more significant area of learning and make the objective focus on learning rather than doing. We can imagine a teacher developing a lesson plan that begins to tackle this topic. However, Bob's suggestion still leaves room for improvement.

Level 3 Example - Proficient

Proficient Pete overhears Ursula and Bob talking and chimes in with his input. He's been creating proficient Level 3 outcomes and has some suggestions.

He asks Ursula whether she intends to discuss the evolution of mail delivery throughout history and in all regions of the world. If the topic won't be so broad, why not make it more clear what she does want to teach? In this case, Ursula changes her outcome to state:

  • ''Students will learn about the evolution of postal delivery in the United States from colonial times through present day.''

Pete also suggests that Ursula consider how she will assess this outcome. How will she know if it's achieved? She thinks this over and modifies her outcome as follows:

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