Recently I read a post against writing learning intentions on the whiteboard/class site. While I understand some of the arguments raised (particularly about who is driving the learning), I still think having the learning intentions available to students is valuable, if not imperative, to their learning.
This is particularly true when the students are from a low socio-economic background. Unlike their peers, the language of school is unfamiliar and confusing. Even once they are older, and become more used to the school environment, their are many children who find school, and learning, confusing and challenging.
Learning intentions are helpful for all students because they mean that students can spend the introduction focusing on the content and connecting it to prior knowledge, instead of trying to figure out what on earth the teacher is talking about. I felt like this recently while completing a MOOC about ancient history. The lecturer was talking about five different topics and I could not figure out which was the most important. It was so frustrating! I was so busy being confused, that I did not learn anything during that lecture. I assume that is also how students in our classes feel when we give them no direction.
All of this does not mean that lessons cannot change according to student needs or interests. It also does not mean that learning must always follow a specific path every time. It does mean that we owe it to our students to give them an even starting point, where they can develop and learn in their own directions.