As teachers, we have benchmark goals for almost everything.
“Students should be reading on ___ level by the end of ___ grade,”
“Students should be reading ___ words per minute,”
“…. know __ letters/ sounds by __”
“…. know addition and subtraction facts to 10, 20….”
These goals may be helpful to us as teachers, but do they mean anything to students?
The answer is often a resounding no.
If students aren’t part of the goal-making process, they won’t be as invested in their learning.
Students Work Harder Towards Goals They Set!
When students participate in setting their own goals for learning, they work harder to meet these goals. Here are some more benefits of student goal-setting:
- They are excited to work towards meeting their goals. What better motivation than getting to choose which areas you want to improve on?
- Sets a clear focus. It’s much easier to focus on organizing one room in your home than say, planning a kitchen renovation, installing a pool, and landscaping all at once. Learning to read can be very overwhelming to students because it involves so many different aspects- decoding, comprehension, fluency, etc. Having students focus on specific goals makes this task a little easier to approach.
- Increases confidence. Instead of having the same goals as everyone else and feeling defeated if they don’t succeed, students can make individual goals they can meet.
- They learn about themselves as learners. When I lesson-planned my first years of teaching, I spread out my books on the dining room table and tried to tackle all of it in one sitting. It was overwhelming and I’d waste hours with very little headway. After reflecting, I realized I work better in a room away from distractions (and food), planning one subject at a time, and with deadlines. Some people work better when they set a reward for themselves. Setting goals can help students learn which habits will make them successful.
- You can hold them accountable. If a student isn’t working hard, you can remind them of the goal they set for themselves and ask them if what they’re doing will help them to achieve it.
- They learn life skills! Goal-setting, planning, reflecting, and problem-solving are all parts of everyday life and learning to do these effectively will benefit students throughout their whole lives.
Students CAN set their own goals
It may seem daunting to think of kindergartners and first graders setting their own goals (I can already hear 5-year olds saying they will read 10 chapter books in a day!), but it is possible with some guidance! Read my post on Goal-Trackers to see how easy it can be!
3 Important ideas for Goal-Setting
- Be realistic
- Make a plan
- Reflect and Revise
I love this analogy to running (by Lucy Calkins). You don’t just wake up one day and run a marathon! A runner makes an end goal and plans out the steps to get there, often setting smaller, realistic goals. Maybe they start by running 1 mile on the first day, 2 miles the next day, timing themselves and reflecting on what helped or hindered them. They might discover a certain pair of shoes helps them run more comfortably, running on a certain terrain helps build their stamina, etc.
I can relate to this. I tried to run a 5k without the proper preparation. I came in dead last.
Thankfully, my friend Krista stayed with me for motivation and to lessen my humiliation!
Just like a runner works toward their goal of completing a marathon in steps, making revisions along the way, students can also plan the steps they will take towards reaching their goals. It’s important to talk these through, so that children don’t get discouraged if they don’t meet their goals right away.
I always like to use the house organization analogy because it is real for me and I’m able to speak about it authentically (I am so not a runner!). To help them relate, I also use a video game analogy. They wouldn’t expect to beat all levels of a video game the first time they play it! They also wouldn’t give up right away, so I remind them that if they don’t have success the first time, they just need to think about what they could do better next time!
Here are some ideas on helping your students set their own goals:
Goal-setting looks different depending on grade level and subject area. Here are some ideas:
- Formal goal-setting sheet: Students can write out a goal, as well as steps they’ll take to get there. This can be further broken down to include goal dates for each step.
- Post-its on Anchor chart: Create an anchor chart for a subject area- reading, for example: Discuss possible areas of improvements and ask students which area they can focus on. Students can write their goals on a post-it note and add to chart (you can also write them for emergent writers). Revisit this chart to check in with students on their progress. You may want to give them a little slip to keep on their desk as a reminder. Use this chart to group students by goals and have them collaborate on ideas to meet their goals.
- Goal slips: I use these goal slips from my Sight Word program to help students set their own goals for learning sight words. They choose how many words they will master by a certain date. We brainstorm some ideas of how they can get there: study their word rings at home for 5 minutes a day, work with a partner during center time to test them on their word list, read their personal word walls 3 times a week, etc.
I also use these Sight Word Sticker Cards to help kids keep track of their progress with sight words. Students color in or place a small sticker in the boxes as they master each word.
What Can Students Set Goals for?
Pretty much anything! Here are some ideas:
- Number of sight words/ letters/ sounds to master
- How much time they need to read a passage accurately
- Any aspect of writing- including more details, making sure to use proper punctuation, adding feeling…
- Reading more books in a new genre
- Giving a book a chance before abandoning
- Doing their homework every night
- Even daily routines, like unpacking and ordering lunch daily without needing a reminder!
As you can see, you can have students set all kinds of goals! Start with one area you want to see student improvement in and work on that first. Don’t try to have students set goals for every area right away! For a resource on helping your students set and keep track of their goals, read about my Goal-Trackers here.
After all, small steps are part of goal-setting!
I’d love to know what you think of these ideas. Are there any you can implement in your classroom? What else would you add? Comment below and let me know!