The Power of Setting Goals With Students

On a daily basis in schools across the country, adults in the building review data to determine what action steps need to take place to help students achieve.  Unfortunately, far too often students are left out of this conversation. If it would be unheard of to discuss the progress of a weight loss plan without the voice and participation of the person who is executing the plan, why is it the norm to not include students in the process of reviewing their academic progress and goals? As educators, we need to rethink our approach to setting academic goals and reviewing student progress. 

For this post, I want to use the letters in the word G.O.A.L. to discuss the importance of reviewing academic progress and establishing goals with our students. 

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Growth. Without setting goals, how will students know when they are learning and improving? We certainly cannot rely on grades to be the only measure of growth. In fact, grades measure compliance more than student growth. The assigning of grades is a teacher task and involve little collaboration or input from the student. On the other hand, goals should be collaborative decisions made by the teacher and the student and include various measurements of progress along the way.

Ownership. Students become owners of their learning through goal setting. They are not able to be passive participants who wait for the teacher to determine if they have mastered the learning objectives. When students own their learning, they understand the standards that have been set, and through scaffolding and support from the teacher, they have a clear path on how to improve. Standards should be written in student-friendly language so that students can articulate exactly what is expected of them. Students should be given exemplars for self-evaluation and reflection, as well as a place to collect evidence that demonstrates their progress toward the learning standards. Lastly, when students are able to facilitate a student-centered conference about their progress, it gives them the opportunity to share their learning with their parents and teachers.

Awareness. Typically, students become most aware of their progress during progress or report card time. On most occasions when students receive graded work, they often look at the grade without little thought about the learning that occurred. Goal setting helps students to be more aware of the learning they are expected to experience. This awareness helps students to be engaged in the learning process. Mastery-oriented goals give students the opportunity to focus on learning standards and their own growth. Without goals, student motivation and engagement decreases because students are not aware of what they should be learning and have no idea about their role in the learning process.

Learning. Learning cannot occur in the absence of feedback. Goal setting with students must be accompanied by individualized, targeted feedback. Goals without feedback will not increase student achievement. Choosing a limited number of goals will help teachers focus on the most important needs of the student and will help students focus on the most critical areas of their learning. Goals should be individualized for each student, and an entry point that is challenging but attainable for the student is a great starting place when it comes to setting goals. When students experience success, they are motivated to continue to push themselves.

Setting goals with students inform teacher practice, engages and motivates students during the learning process, and creates a partnership between the teacher and the student. Think about how you can begin to include students in the process of setting goals and reviewing academic progress. They are an essential part of the equation and they deserve to sit at the table.

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