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Sunday, December 18, 2022

Targeted Teaching: Ensuring Lessons Hit the Mark

By Jamie Bricker

Targeted teaching is all about setting students up for success. Rather than hoping a certain topic hits the mark, it provides a progressive framework to ensure chosen tasks are purposeful, practical, and personal for the given learner.

Progressing inwards from the outermost ring represents the powerful, and all important, evolution from Memory to Meaning to Me. In the informational ring, students locate all relevant data, the intellectual ring then provides them the opportunity to explore appropriately challenging tasks, and finally the individual ring activates each learner’s specific schema. The centre ring represents the ideal, which means attaining the somewhat elusive goal of having all three of the other rings in tight alignment.

The outer ring is informational, as the learner collects relevant facts and figures for his/her focus topic. This content will set the context for future learning by answering key questions with regards to the whos, whats, whens, and wheres.

This ring provides lots of memory-based items, from definitions to algorithms, that may well play a vital role in igniting meaningful learning during the intellectual ring. It also provides students the opportunity to further refine skills that will be embedded in future applications.

It is vitally important to always keep in mind that worksheets and textbook questions can only take a student so far, and overemphasizing the importance of this informational ring has produced generations of casualties of “drill and kill.” Drill based teaching is enticing because it can quickly generate vast quantities of data, that can then be used to calculate a student’s mean average. The real question is what do these marks actually mean? Any assessments based strictly on informational tidbits, are certainly easy to mark, but even easier to forget.

The key is for teachers to find the delicate balance between isolated practice and contextual application. This ring serves as an essential starting line for the examination and exploration of any field of study, but it can never be mistaken for the finish line.

The intellectual ring is all about thinking, as the key questions now focus on the hows and whys. Intellectual inclusiveness is a key aspect of this ring, as it’s incumbent on the teacher to provide the appropriate level of cognitive challenge for every student in a given classroom. All students deserve and require routine opportunities to explain, explore and extend new learning concepts.

This ring provides the impetus for student inquiry and project-based learning, as rather than simply explaining the answers in the informational ring, the intellectual ring is all about exploring the questions. The most exciting part of this ring is its self-perpetuating nature, as the more students learn, the more they want to learn!

Students become active risk-takers, and it’s imperative for the classroom environment to encourage and support such academic freedom. It is essential for the teacher to also be an active risk-taker, as students will undoubtedly follow a genuine “Do as I do” attitude far more enthusiastically than a token “Do as I say.”

The focus in this ring shifts to the individual learner, as it connects student learning with his/her existing schema, or unique combination of skills, experiences and personality traits. All students are motivated to learn either because they have to or they want to. The have to motivation is all about getting a good mark, whereas the want to motivation is triggered by feeling a genuine connection with the work. Obviously, tasks driven by this kind of personal passion resonate far longer with any learner.

Speaking of schema, it is also vitally important for teachers to make a concerted effort to provide common classroom schema for all students to help level the experiential playing field. All students should experience a range of school field trips, guest speakers and virtual expeditions to help them get a real sense of the broader world. Socioeconomic imbalances deny many students the opportunities to engage in camping trips, zoo visits, long distance trips, etc., and schools must do all they can to minimize the impact of this experiential bias.

Lifelong learning is ultimately an individual pursuit fueled by an insatiable appetite for personal growth and development. One of the key moral imperatives of the educational system is to routinely recognize and activate students’ schema, as it validates their identity and makes their work matter. The real legacy of any learning experience, after all, is entirely driven by the impact on the student, not simply the intent of the teacher.

By definition, this ring is somewhat idealistic. It represents the tight alignment of the other three rings: a wealth of rich purposeful facts and figures provide the foundation for thought provoking queries that resonate personally with the individual learner.

As much as this goal is utopian, it must always be the target of our teaching, as this alignment will provide the basis for lifelong learning in our students. They realize that learning in particular, and life in general, is both very challenging and very rewarding. Ideal learners become lifelong proponents of the growth mindset.

As the rings progress inwards, the learner’s attachment to a task evolves from explanation to exploration to exhilaration. It is important to note that each ring plays an essential role in this process, and there is a strong synergy among them when they are tightly aligned. By the same token, however, the sequence of these rings from outside in is significant, and none of these rings should ever be employed as a stand-alone. Targeted teaching is all about making learning matter and better preparing our students to ignite the future, rather than rewarding them for simply reciting the past.

About the Author

Jamie Bricker was a long-time elementary school administrator and teacher from just outside Toronto, Ontario. He is now an international educational writer and speaker. He can be contacted at

This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.

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