Instructional Goals

Instructional goals are what people who fill teaching or guiding roles set for themselves to help guide their students. Setting instructional goals to help guide a teacher or mentor’s efforts is an excellent way to fortify the end result. After all, a lesson plan constructed on the fly is much less likely to be successful than one that a teacher spent time developing.

Instructional goals work by forcing an educator to start from the bottom when developing their lesson plan. If their goal is to have their students possess a firm grasp of several specific concepts by the end of the school year, the lesson plans they make should reflect that. In this post, we’ll go over some common instructional goals, how to set them, and more about why they’re important.

Instructional Needs

The purpose of an instructional goal is to guide teachers and students, of course, but the reason that they exist is that there is an instructional need for them in the first place. That being said, educational goals and instructional goals are not the same, but they are related. Often, one can come about because of the other.

To define an instructional need, an educator should follow several basic steps. They are as follows:

  • Describe the instructional need in question
  • Figure out whether or not an instructional goal is necessary
  • If yes, draft a goal statement outlining what you want to happen
  • Describe the learning environment
  • Describe a purposeful learning context
  • Use the above information to write a complete goal statement

In the next sections, we’ll go over the above list in more detail.

Describing the Need

Like we touched on above, an instructional goal comes about because there is a need for one in the first place. This need is caused by a discrepancy between what is and what you believe should be. For example, if your students need to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the rules of algebra by the end of the semester, but they do not already, that is the need that exists: a need to learn algebra.

Debating Necessity

Sometimes, even though an instructional need exists, creating an instructional goal may not be necessary. For instance, if your students do not have a grasp on a subject that you do not teach, it’s not your responsibility to incorporate that into your instructional goals; that’s the job of another educator.

Additionally, if your students won’t be expected to know a concept for several years, it may not be necessary to add it to your lesson plans right away.

Some mentors may choose not to form instructional goals for several reasons. One of these is because they don’t believe they can form an instructional goal that adequately encompasses everything they want to teach their students. Another is because the teacher desires a more “authentic” teaching experience for the students, and would rather form lesson plans and experiences on the fly.

Additionally, types of instruction where the student is expected to learn most or all concepts in question on their own don’t lend themselves well to forming specific instructional goals, since you won’t be instructing the students as closely.

The First Draft

Once you’ve determined that there’s a need to make an instructional goal, it’s time to start drafting it out. Within the instructional goal itself, you’ll want to be as clear and inclusive as possible, but still succinct with what you’d like to achieve.

When drafting your instructional goal, it’s essential to keep the abilities and skills of your students in mind. For example, as the students in a classroom setting will often vary widely in their abilities between certain subjects, it’s bad form to set an instructional goal expecting every student to gain an A for a semester of work. Instead, it’s best to model your goal off of something more encompassing, like the following:

  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of key Algebraic concepts and be able to pass a final exam
  • Students will be able to write a one-page paper with minimal errors
  • Students will demonstrate their knowledge with a full-scale project at the end of the semester

As you can see, there are many different ways to structure your instructional goals, and as long as they’re accounting for the instructional need of your students while not ostracizing any particular students, they should be valid. At this point, your goal is only a draft, anyway, so even if you’re not completely satisfied with it, you can move on to the next steps.

Describe the Environment

Naturally, the environment that your students are learning in plays a role in the manner in which they learn, how effectively they learn, and what types of activities are best suited to that environment, among many other things. Consider variables like the following:

  • Whether the class is held in-person, online, or as a combination of the two
  • How much time is allotted for the course
  • How much the students are expected to learn or are capable of learning on their own
  • What demographics make up the population of students, such as age, sex, or race
  • What resources are available to the class, such as textbooks and computers
  • How many students are in the class

The above conditions should influence how you create your lesson plan and form your instructional goals. For example, a class that meets five days per week for one hour will be able to learn far more information than a class that meets once per week for two hours. Teachers should plan their lessons and choose information to teach accordingly.

Identify Context

Identifying the useful context of things to be learned by students will be an important step in weeding unnecessary concepts out of your lesson plan. More often than not, you will likely end up with far more concepts picked out than you actually have time to teach your students. When this happens, isolate each concept and try applying it to a real-world situation.

If you cannot isolate a real-world situation where the concept will be necessary, even if that situation is as simple as needing to know it for a future course or class, then it should be passed over in favor of more critical concepts. Of course, if there is space in the lesson plan for these concepts at the end of your revision process, you can always add them back in.

Consider a scenario where a teacher wants to teach students about subordinate clauses. Strong understanding of grammatical rules is desirable later in life, usually for communication or job-related purposes, so there is an apparent reason for teaching their students about subordinate clauses.

Teaching their students a foreign language, however, while beneficial to the student in many ways (learning a foreign language is proven to benefit the mind), may not be necessary for the student’s success in the long run, especially if it’s a lesser-known language.

The Final Draft

Once you’ve completed the above steps, it’s time to define the final version of your instructional goal. To do this, you will want to take all of the things you’ve thought about or isolated in the steps above into account while expanding upon your first draft from earlier if you desire.

If you don’t know how to proceed, try making a list of what your students should be able to learn or do because of their experience in your class. If your students should be able to show a firm grasp of English grammar and punctuation, your final instructional goal draft should show that.

Consider the following example of a revision between a first and final draft of an instructional goal:

  • First draft: Students should gain an understanding of world cultures
  • Final draft: Students should show an understanding of world cultures through a project at the end of the semester.

While the steps we’ve explored above do an excellent job of outlining the process of setting an instructional goal, it’s possible to delve even deeper into the process. Objectives are one way to do this, and we’ll explore those as well as other concepts in the paragraphs below.

Objectives for Goals

You can think of objectives as the meat that makes up the instructional goal. While an instructional goal can sometimes be vague, objectives are not. Objectives help define the steps that the students will take to reach the end goal that the teacher sets.

Consider the example we provided above about world cultures. One objective of this larger, overreaching goal could be something like, “Students will choose one culture to study in depth partway through the semester to base their final project upon, and they will spend thirty minutes per day in class studying this culture.”

However, objectives for instructional goals must be set carefully. Haphazardly-set objectives can restrict the options of the teacher and the students alike. Objectives should be set so that students need to reach a clear threshold of understanding and learning, but should also be flexible so that students and teachers can express themselves within those parameters however they see fit.

The objectives you set for your goals also must be measurable and observable. In the above example, the measurable and observable part of the scenario involves the students reading for thirty minutes per day about a foreign culture to form their final project.

To make an objective measurable and observable, a good rule of thumb to follow is to make sure it has some sort of unit associated with it, such as time, percentage, or something similar. It doesn’t always need to have a unit of measurement attached, but it typically makes defining the objective easier.

Think of a goal as the bullseye on a target. If your students are your arrows, then think of objectives as a bow. You could throw your arrows at the target, if you wanted, but it would be much more challenging to hit the bullseye accurately. If you use your bow to propel the arrows instead, you’re much more likely to hit the mark!

Why Instructional Goals?

As we touched on earlier in this article, the purpose of setting instructional goals and objectives is mostly to streamline the efforts of the teacher while still allowing them to express their unique style. However, instructional goals also function in several additional ways, benefitting the teacher, the student, and the system as a whole.

From a system-wide standpoint, instructional goals work to keep instructors throughout a school or other system working to the same standards. For example, a fifth-grade teacher in a school in one town should be teaching the same or similar material as one in the next town over to help provide a stable, compatible experience.

From the view of the student, an instructional goal works to prepare the student for what the teacher and the school expect of them. Think of how many professors will pass out syllabi to their students at the beginning of the semester. In most cases, a syllabus is a detailed expression of the instructional goals of the teacher toward the students.

While instructional goals also help teachers narrow their efforts, they also work to keep them in line, as well. Instructional goals set by the system will not allow a teacher to arbitrarily choose what they should teach their students, for example.

Working with the example from above, a fifth-grade teacher from anywhere across the nation should be expected to teach their students the same as any other fifth-grade teacher, barring some minor variations based on the prestigiousness of the school.

Instructional goals for students, teachers, and organizations should work together to form a balanced, accessible system, and they should function as follows. They should be:

  • Concerned with essential areas of study first
  • Integrated into a progressive teaching and learning style implemented through the various grade levels
  • Defined enough that every educator should have a clear idea of what to teach their students
  • Within the capabilities of the students they’re created for
  • Achievable by both the teacher and the students involved

However, as ideal as the above goals sound, they don’t truly work that way in practice. Consider how some schools require proficiency in a foreign language to graduate, but some do not; this is one example.

Instructional Goals and Schools

Note that as one’s perspective shifts from the teacher to the school or organization itself, the importance of instructional goals becomes more and more apparent. Imagine one class taught by two different instructors at the same grade level in one school. If a class of sixty students is split evenly between the two classes, but each teacher grades differently, the students might learn or be graded for very different things.

Imagine if two students both aced the class under their respective teachers, but one teacher taught several concepts that the other one did not. While both students excelled in the class, if they were to take a class that builds on those concepts later on in their schooling, one student might be much more prepared than the other for those concepts.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though – different policies among teachers can result in discrepancies between lesson plans, grading scales, the importance of certain concepts, and many other things.

That, in essence, is why identical instructional goals between teachers are so important. While each teacher should be teaching their students the same concepts, they should still be able to express their creativity in the manner of doing so as they please as long as they still hold to the same basic rules and regulations.

The Art of Teaching

There is a concept called “the art of teaching” that always arises with instructional goals and maintenance of a universal teaching standard. Some argue that holding every teacher to the same exacting teaching standard – expecting them to adhere to the same instructional goals, in other words – takes all of the creativity and freedom from teaching.

However, this could not be further from the truth. While it’s ideal for all teachers to teach the same things, when and how they teach those concepts within the time they’re given is (or should be) largely up to the teacher. Consider the following:

  • One teacher prefers to teach their students through hands-on activities, such as games or puzzles. This approach works exceptionally well for young students, such as those in first or second grade, but many older students take the opportunity to goof off during these lessons instead.
  • Another teacher prefers to teach their students from the textbook. While this approach works well to keep older students on track and encourage them to do their own research, young students often find themselves getting lost or bored during these sessions.

Both of the teaching styles above are viable and accessible, but they suit different audiences better. Additionally, a teacher who works best from a textbook should be permitted to do so, while another teacher who doesn’t enjoy working from the textbook should not be required to do so. This is where each individual teacher’s instructional goals can really shine in setting them apart from other instructors.

Also, note that different concepts lend themselves well to different styles of teaching. Math, for example, is especially well-suited to blocks and other physical counting media, especially for lower grades that are still learning addition and subtraction.

English, however, doesn’t benefit as much from that model. While some students may see some benefit from working with physical letters to form words, A blackboard or whiteboard would likely serve the same purpose just as well.

Learning Goals and Teaching Goals

If you set objectives aside, instructional goals can be broken into two main categories: learning goals and teaching goals. In their purest forms, teaching goals define what you plan to teach your students, and learning goals describe what your students should learn through that teaching. Teaching goals and learning goals don’t necessarily need to line up exactly in every situation, however.

Teaching goals are flexible in that they can often mean different things to different students. If one student is academically ahead of the rest of their class, your teaching goals for them might be different than a student who is behind. You might pull that student aside and recommend further reading or more difficult concepts for them to learn outside of class, for example.

In the same way, your teaching goals for a struggling student will be just as different. You might prefer to provide extra lessons to that student after class hours, or you might recommend tutoring or further reading for them. In any case, you would want to watch them closely to be sure they maintained a grasp of key concepts, and that would be a goal of yours, too.

However, learning goals are the same for every student. Learning goals should be conveyed to the students at the beginning of each semester or each module, depending on the teacher’s style.

Besides informing students of what they’re expected to learn, learning goals provide several other benefits as well. Some of them include:

  • Letting students “self-evaluate” for how prepared they are for a specific course; in a college setting, for example, this might help a student judge whether they should drop a course if they feel they aren’t prepared for it
  • Promoting understanding between the student and teacher as to what will be expected of both parties
  • Helping communicate your intentions and aims to other faculty
  • Assisting in making decisions about what to include or exclude from your lesson plan

If a student goes beyond what they’re expected to learn, that is excellent and admirable – and on a case-by-case basis, if a teacher decides a student deserves extra credit for doing more than necessary, that is an option available to them. However, even the student who is lagging behind is expected to learn the core concepts that every other student is required to.

In some situations, it may be necessary for a teacher and student to make extra or alternate arrangements if they fall behind or have difficulty with certain concepts. However, not learning a concept will put them behind if they’re tested at the end of the semester, or if the concept is built upon in future years of schooling.

How to Set Instructional Goals

With everything we’ve mentioned thus far in this article, it should be clear that instructional goals need to be set with a certain amount of respect. A model that’s meant to squeeze as much material as possible into one lecture, for example, is a terrible one to follow. Instead, it’s best to spend a certain amount of time on one topic and ensure that all students understand it before moving on.

The above is just one of the crucial things to keep in mind when setting instructional goals. Some others that you need to remember are:

  • Make sure your goals align with those of other faculty (or at least don’t clash with them)
  • Consider both the skills and content that you want your students to learn when setting instructional goals
  • Consider the preparedness, prior knowledge, and real-world potential of the students learning the material

Trying to decide what should be pruned from your lesson plans and what should be included can be a complicated process. If you’re experiencing difficulties, try sorting the concepts in question into the following categories:

  1. Content that should leave a lasting impact or foster long-term understanding
  2. Skills and ideas that will be important to students in real life
  3. Skills and concepts that students need only to be familiar with

If a student needn’t have an extensive understanding of one topic in order to be successful, it doesn’t need to be included in your lesson plan unless there’s extra space for it. Concepts that fall under #1 should be the highest priority, then concepts under #2, and finally, #3. If necessary, you can put ideas between categories, too, or write them in descending order to help you decide.

Of course, if one concept depends on another to make sense or be viable, that can sometimes change things. If that’s the case, it’s important to consider both concepts, whether one cannot be left out, and if one idea detracts from the importance of the other. If one idea absolutely can’t be left out, but the concept it depends on can be, then by default, you must include both concepts.


It’s clear that, overall, instructional goals are primarily dependent on the students. After all, instructional goals should be set based on the needs of the students in the first place, not the teachers. If a teacher is setting goals based on what they think the student should know, rather than what they need to know, they can leave a negative impact on a student’s learning for the rest of their life.

As such, instructional goals should not be treated lightly or hastily. However, if you reference the concepts we’ve set up in this guide, you shouldn’t have any trouble setting achievable, relevant, high-quality ones for your students.

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