Instructional Planning

Instructional planning, the systematic selection of educational goals and objectives, and their design for use in the classroom. We will divide this purpose into four parts, and discuss them one at a time. First is the problem of selecting general goals to teach; where can a teacher find these, and what do they look like? Second is the problem of transforming goals into specific objectives, or statements concrete enough to guide daily activity in class; what will students actually do or say in order to learn what a teacher wants them to learn? The third is the problem of balancing and relating goals and objectives to each other; since we may want students to learn numerous goals, how can we combine or integrate them so that the overall classroom program does not become fragmented or biased? Fourth is the challenge of relating instructional goals to students’ prior experiences and knowledge.

The Relevance of Educational Goals

Educational goals provide a sense of mission and purpose. The more aware you are of your mission and purpose in teaching an area of content, the more you will be able to inspire your students to learn it. Your ability to articulate goals conveys to learners your sense of purpose, from which they can make a commitment to learning. This is why goals are important—they energize and motivate students to become actively engaged in and committed to the learning process. Goals help teachers articulate “Why am I teaching this?”

At the most general or abstract level, the goals of education include important philosophical ideas like “developing individuals to their fullest potential” and “preparing students to be productive members of society.” Few teachers would disagree with these ideas in principle, though they might disagree about their wording or about their relative importance. As a practical matter, however, teachers might have trouble translating such generalities into specific lesson plans or activities for the next day’s class. What does it mean, concretely, to “develop an individual to his or her fullest potential”? Does it mean, for example, that a language arts teacher should ask students to write an essay about their personal interests, or does it mean that the teacher should help students learn to write as well as possible on any topic, even ones that are not of immediate interest? What exactly should a teacher do, from day to day, to “prepare students to be productive members of society” as well? Answers to questions like these are needed to plan instruction effectively. But the answers are not obvious simply by examining statements of general educational goals.

Goal statements, although written for the teacher, are expressed from the learner’s point of view. In other words, goals identify what your students will learn from your instruction. For example, the statement “The teacher will show students examples of logical arguments” would fail as an educational goal because it describes what you will do, not what your students will learn. “Learners will acquire the ability to construct a convincing argument” qualifies as a goal statement because it identifies what is expected of your students.

How do you choose goals for learners? What is the best way to find proper goals, given the diversity and complexity that exist across subjects and grades? Several approaches to formulating educational goals have been developed to help you. One approach comes from the work of Tyler (1974).

Tyler’s Goal Development Approach

Tyler’s approach to generating educational goals has had a major influence on curriculum development over the past three decades. Tyler believes that as society becomes more complex there are more things for people to learn. But the time available to learn this ever-expanding amount of knowledge and skills continually decreases. Consequently, educators must make informed choices about which goals are worth teaching. Tyler identified five factors to consider when a teacher establishes priorities for what students should learn. First, goals must include:

  • the subject matter we know enough about to teach (subject matter mastery)
  • societal concerns, which represent what is valued in both the society at large and the local community
  • personal interests of the students, and the abilities and knowledge they bring to school.

Second, these goals must be refined to match

  •  your school and community’s educational philosophy
  • what instructional theory and research tell us can be taught.

Video 8.2.1. The Tyler Method for Curriculum Design reviewed.

National and State Learning Standards

Some (but not all) of the work of transforming such general purposes into more precise teaching goals and even more precise objectives has been performed by broad US organizations that represent educators and other experts about particular subjects or types of teaching (Riley, 2002). The groups have proposed national standards, which are summaries of what students can reasonably be expected to learn at particular grade levels and in particular subject areas. In the United States, in addition, all state governments create state standards that serve much the same purpose: they express what students in the state should (and hopefully can) learn at all grade levels and in all subjects.

Because they focus on grade levels and subject areas, general statements of educational standards tend to be a bit more specific than the broader philosophical goals we discussed above. As a rule of thumb, too, state standards tend to be more comprehensive than national standards, both in coverage of grade levels and of subjects. The difference reflects the broad responsibility of states in the United States for all aspects of public education; national organizations, in contrast, usually assume responsibility only for a particular subject area or a particular group of students. Either type of standard provides a first step, however, toward transforming the grandest purposes of schooling (like developing the individual or preparing for society) into practical classroom activities. But they provide a first step only. Most statements of standards do not make numerous or detailed suggestions of actual activities or tasks for students, though some might include brief classroom examples—enough to clarify the meaning of a standard, but not enough to plan an actual classroom program for extended periods of time. For these latter purposes, teachers rely on more detailed documents, the ones often called curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides.

National and State Curriculum Standards

Education World maintains a comprehensive list of national and state curriculum standards, including Common Core standards, voluntary national education standards for the major subject areas, national standards for specific populations, and state standards by subject.

Curriculum Frameworks and Curriculum guides

The terms curriculum framework and curriculum guide sometimes are used almost interchangeably, but for convenience, we will use them to refer to two distinct kinds of documents. The more general of the two is the curriculum framework, which is a document that explains how content standards can or should be organized for a particular subject and at various grade levels. Sometimes this information is referred to as the scope and sequence of a curriculum. A curriculum framework document is like a standards statement in that it does not usually provide a lot of detailed suggestions for daily teaching. It differs from a standards statement, though, in that it analyzes each general standard in a curriculum into more specific skills that students need to learn, often a dozen or more per standard. The language or terminology of a framework statement also tends to be somewhat more concrete than a standards statement, in the sense that it is more likely to name behaviors of students—things that a teacher might see them do or hear them say. Sometimes, but not always, it may suggest ways for assessing whether students have in fact acquired each skill listed in the document. Exhibit 1 shows a page from a curriculum framework published by the California State Board of Education (Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Committee, 1999). In this case, the framework explains the state standards for learning to read, and the excerpt in Exhibit 1 illustrates how one particular standard, that “students speak and write with a command of English conventions appropriate to this grade level,” is broken into nine more specific skills. Note that the excerpt names observable behaviors of students (what they do or say); we will discuss this feature again, more fully, in the next part of this chapter, because it is helpful in classroom planning. In spite of this feature, though, the framework document does not lay out detailed activity plans that a teacher could use on a daily basis.

Exhibit 1: An Excerpt from Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools


Written and oral English language conventions, third grade

More general standards statement

Students write and speak with a command of standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level.

More specific or concrete framework statements → (stated as relatively specific skills or behaviors)

Sentence Structure

1.1 Understand and be able to use complete and correct declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in writing and speaking.


1.2 Identify subjects and verbs that are in agreement and identify and use pronouns, adjectives, compound words, and articles correctly in writing and speaking.

1.3 Identify and use past, present, and future verb tenses properly in writing and speaking.

1.4 Identify and use subjects and verbs correctly in speaking and writing simple sentences.


1.5 Punctuate dates, city and state, and titles of books correctly.

1.6 Use commas in dates, locations, and addresses and for items in a series.


1.7 Capitalize geographical names, holidays, historical periods, and special events correctly.


1.8 Spell correctly one-syllable words that have blends, contractions, compounds, orthographic patterns, and common homophones.

1.9 Arrange words in alphabetical order

Teachers’ need for detailed activity suggestions is more likely to be met by a curriculum guide, a document devoted to graphic descriptions of activities that foster or encourage the specific skills explained in a curriculum framework document. The descriptions may mention or list curriculum goals served by an activity, but they are also likely to specify materials that a teacher needs, time requirements, requirements for grouping students, drawings or diagrams of key equipment or materials, and sometimes even suggestions for what to say to students at different points during the activity. In these ways, the descriptions may resemble lesson plans. Since classroom activities often support more than one specific skill, activities in a curriculum guide may be organized differently than they might be in a framework document. Instead of highlighting only one standard at a time, as the framework document might, activities may be grouped more loosely—for example, according to the dominant purpose or goal of an activity (“Activities that encourage the practice of math facts”) or according to a dominant piece of equipment or material (“Ten activities with tin cans”). Exhibit 2 shows a description of a kindergarten-level activity about “autumn leaves” that might appear in a curriculum guide. Note that the activity meets several educational objectives at once—tracing shapes, knowledge of leaves and of colors, and descriptive language skill. Each of these skills may reflect a different curriculum standard.


Curriculum guides provide graphic descriptions of activities that can be used fairly directly in the classroom. Although they are relevant to standards and framework statements, they often are not organized around standards and objectives as such.

Activity: Autumn Leaves

Level: Kindergarten

Themes and Curriculum Connections: trees, autumn, color naming, color comparisons, size comparisons, functions of leaves, growth, the life cycle. See also Standards #xx–yy.

Best time to do it: Fall (October), or whenever leaves are available

Materials needed: (1) small paper (6 × 6 inches); (2) access to leaves; (3) white glue; (4) felt pens or colored pencils

What to do: Give one piece of the small paper to each child. Invite children to color the sheet so that the entire sheet is decorated. Invite children to choose one leaf. Place leaf under the colored (decorated) paper and trace the shape of the leaf lightly in pencil. Then invite children to cut out the colored paper in the shape that has been traced of the leaf.

Cautions: (1) Some children may need individual help with tracing or cutting. (2) Try to use leaves that are still somewhat pliable, because some very old leaves (dried out) may crumble when traced.

Things to talk about: Are some leaves bigger than others? Do they change shape as they grow, or only their size? How do leaves benefit trees? How many different colors can real leaves be?

From Educational Goals to Classroom Accomplishments

Broad educational goals can provide direction for unit and lesson planning, communicate the importance of your instruction to administrators and parents, and energize your learners to higher levels of commitment and performance. They can also provide a practical framework around which to organize and sequence your instruction. While goals answer the question “Why am I teaching this?” they do not specify what or how you will teach on any given day. Goals give you little direction as to what strategies you might use to achieve them and do not indicate when—or even if—they are met. A satisfactory answer to these questions requires the preparation of lesson objectives.

Objectives: Giving Goals a Direction

As we have seen, identifying educational goals is the first step in unit and lesson planning. In the course of your teaching, you will be responsible for preparing and managing extended sequences of instruction, called units or modules, and day-by-day activities, called lessons. Units comprise interrelated sequences of lessons, which may cover one, two, or more weeks of instruction. Lessons represent the content for a single class day.

Content outlines are useful for identifying topics to be covered in a unit or lesson. However, they typically do not provide information about the more
fundamental issue of what your students must do with what they have learned. In other words, will you expect your students to recall important facts, such as definitions of weathering and erosion? Or will you expect your students to master such concepts as fault, plate tectonics, and continental drift? Or is the purpose of your unit to teach students to acquire important generalizations concerning the relationship between plate tectonics, faults,
and earthquakes and use these generalizations to problem solve?

Deciding what you want your students to accomplish during a lesson or unit of instruction requires answering the following questions:

  • What knowledge or content (facts, concepts, principles, rules) is essential for learner understanding of the subject matter?
  • What intellectual skills are necessary for the learner to use this knowledge or content?
  • What habits of mind or attitudes are important for learners to perform successfully with this knowledge or content?

In the next section, we will explore a method for making decisions about curriculum, goals, and objectives.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Educational Psychology Copyright © 2020 by Nicole Arduini-Van Hoose is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book