S.M.A.R.T. and Connected Learning Aims

Coming up with the learning aims is one of the hardest parts of preparing transformative lessons. Along with structuring the passage (see Chapter 4), this is where I see teachers struggling the most. These are difficult enough that many teachers give them a miss. If you spend the time at least considering these two parts of the lesson preparation, your learners are more likely to be transformed by the lesson because you are more intentional in your effort. You r learning aims need to be S.M.A.R.T. and connected. There are a number of variations of the S.M.A.R.T. approach to writing aims or goals. The version I recommend is adapted to transformative Bible teaching:

  • Simple — Each aim should be Simple. That does not mean easy. It means that each aim has a single focus. If the aim can be divided into two or more individual aims, it should be. That way you can explain to yourself and others what you are really trying to accomplish with each aim. You can also determine if you are trying to do too much in the time allotted for the lesson.
  • Measurable — The cognitive and behavioral aims should be directly measurable. For example, for the cognitive aim, you could go so far as give a quiz at the end of the lesson to decide how well the learners grasped the content of the lesson. More realistically, you could ask a question or two along the way (or even at the beginning of the next lesson) to measure their level of comprehension. For the behavioral aim, you might have them demonstrate some new or improved skill. For both, the measurability can be directly connected to accountability. Measurability is not as easy for affective aims since they cannot be measured directly. There is no meter that measures changed desires or decisions. Instead, when writing affective aims, determine what changes in cognition and behavior might be evidences of a changed affect. These indirect measures can then be used to help you discern transformation in your learners.
  • Achievable — Can the aim be reached in the span of the lesson or course for which it is written? If not, refine it. “The learner will be Christ-like” is not achievable in this lifetime, much less in a single lesson. The point of teaching for wisdom is to see the learner become more Christlike, but the aim of a single lesson needs to be more specific. For example, in what specific way or in what specific context could the learner be more Christ-like?
  • Results-Focused — The aim should be the result of the lesson rather than the method of teaching the lesson. For example, “The learner will study the the extensive fellowship described in 1 John 1:1–4” is the method by which the results-focused aim — “The learner will understand the extensive fellowship that can be experienced with Jesus” — can be reached. The second aim can guide the lesson toward transformation while the first merely describes one of the methods that might be employed to accomplish the real aim.
  • Timely — The timeless truth of the passage being taught should timely in its transformation. Is the aim relevant to the world in which your learners live? Is it appropriate for this stage of their physical and spiritual maturity? Will it apply to their lives as soon as the lesson time has ended? If the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” then the aim is timely.

The aims for the lesson should not only be S.M.A.R.T., they should be connected.

  • Connected to the central truth of the passage — Does the aim apply the transformative truth of the passage to the individual learner’s life? It should. You may have secondary aims that help the learner understand the support of the central truth, but don’t get caught up in minutia and neglect the main point of the passage. If you find yourself over-achieving in your lesson aims, that is, if you have so many aims that they cannot all be achieved in the time allotted, favor aims connected to the central truth.
  • Connected to the real needs of the learner — That means that the aim should be learner-centered. Even if you don’t write the aim with this pattern, your determining the aim should complete the following sentence: “As a result of this lesson, the learner will…” So, this is not what you will do in the lesson. It is not even what the learner will do to reach the aim. It is transformation you want to see in the learner. How will he or she be different in thinking, desiring, deciding, or doing? The aims will help you determine what method you might use to see the transformation, but the method is not the end goal. Aim for the transformative end.
  • Connected to the other learning aims — Each of the aims should be connected to the others. As discussed, educators divide the individual into domains of learning — cognitive, affective, behavioral — but you are trying to see transformation of a whole, an integrated, a psycho-spiritual unity, in short, a person. Each of the domains contributes to change in the others. What you know changes what you desire and decide; it changes what you do. What you desire and decide changes what you will know — or seek to know — and what you do. What you do changes both what you know — through the experience itself — and what you desire and decide. This all sounds very intellectual, so let me explain using a real example. Imagine a person who struggles with some besetting sin that does not characterize your life. That knowledge changes your emotions about and your actions toward that person. How can you be transformed?

    Well, it could start in the cognitive domain — your thinking. When you study the Genesis 1–3 and come to understand how they have marred the image of God differently than you, your love for them changes because you recognize them as another image-bearer of God, which, in-turn, changes your behavior toward them. So, cognition changes affect, which changes behavior. What if your affect changed first? For example, what if you shared some circumstances that made you have a new love or respect for them? That affective change will still result in behavioral changes, but it also changes what you know and what you seek to know about them and about God’s truth. Affection changes both cognition and behavior. What happens when you pray for someone. That simple behavior changes your knowledge of God’s will and your love for God and His image-bearers. Behavior can affect the other two domains.

    Since we are holistic beings, it shouldn’t surprise us that each part of us affects each other part. Write your lesson aims so that they are as connected as the holistic person you are trying to see transformed.
My recommendation is to come back to this section periodically. Writing lessons aims is difficult. These tips should transform the transformative nature of your aims. Changing your aims will change your lessons. Changing your lessons will change your learners.