Sunday, January 6, 2013

5 Tips for Setting Goals With Students

            It’s the beginning of the New Year, and for many this signals a return to the classroom after a holiday break.  This can be a perfect time to set or re-set goals with students for the rest of the year.  Now that everyone has had a few months to get to know each other and the mutual trust is built, the opportunity exists for specific goal setting that utilizes this knowledge and trust. Whether you spend all day with your students or 45 minutes a few times a week, whether you have known them for a long time or for a short time, whether you have 30 students or only ten, you can utilize these tips to set goals with your students. Keep in mind that goals do not only have to be academic in nature; you can set social goals with students as well.  It really is about what the student needs most and what they are interested in working on. Teacher and students working together can usually find goals that both can agree on.  If a strong disagreement does arise, work with the student on meeting somewhere in the middle. 

Why Set Goals With Students?  
  • ·      Goal-setting is a powerful way to engage and re-engage students in their learning; 
  • ·      Specific goals can help you and your students to focus on individual student needs;
  • ·      Goal setting helps students feel empowered, especially when they are part of the process;
  • ·      Specific goals encourage students to take part in their own growth and development;
  • ·      Goals offer another measure of progress that can be linked with state and common core standards, if needed.

Tips For Goal Setting:

1.     Involve Students in Setting Goals.  Goals that are arbitrarily imposed  
without student input are less likely to be successful. Setting goals together with students is a powerful process that can reveal further insights that will help you know your students on a deeper level.  The first time I tried this with students I was a bit nervous, not knowing how it would go. By the end of the process, I found that I actually had to cut down on the number of goals we came up with. Through my experience and that of others, I have found that most often students are eager to participate in setting goals and generally have a good sense of what they would like to work on, especially when it comes to social goals.  When it comes time to meeting with each student individually, it does not have to take a long time. If you ask students to think about their goals beforehand, this will shorten the time you have to spend discussing them.

2.     Set Aside Time.  Set aside the time you will need for discussing goals, giving students time to think about goals beforehand and the time needed to actually meet with students to set goals; of course, you will have to take into account the number of students you have and the amount of time you have them with you.  Set aside approximately 20 minutes to explain goal setting, why you are doing it, that the students will have a say in the goal-setting and provide an example of a specific goal. If you are choosing to do both academic and social goals (though these can be one in the same), give an example of a specific goal for each. Next, give students time to think about the goals they would like to set.  I would introduce goals one day, then give students until the next class period to think about their goals and come back with at least one goal they would like to work on.  You can find what you think will work best in your classroom.  The final step is to meet with students to set goals.  These conversations can be pretty short or can take as long as you feel is necessary. I have had one-minute conversations with students where goals and action plans were set; some lasted a bit longer.

3.     Set Specific Goals & Create An Action Plan.  Goals that are specific hold much more weight and are easier to measure than broad goals.  “I want to get better at math” is a fine a goal, but is pretty broad.  A more specific goal might go something like, “I want to be able to solve 90% of multiplication problems without having to use a calculator,” or,  “I want to use a real-life application of the Pythagorean theorem in my next project.”  Social goals are similar in that the more specific they can be, the more they can be reflected upon. “ I want to be a nicer person” is another fine goal, but not as specific as, “I want to recognize one person every day for something nice they did.”  To be specific, goals do not necessarily to have a number associated with them, but specificity can be helpful when it comes time for evaluation. Some argue that having a number associated with a goal is limiting or fear that it resembles too closely our obsession with quantifying everything.  I tended to set goals without numbers attached to them or at least downplayed the number. In most cases it was a non-issue, and unfortunately having the number did help to justify the need to the powers that be.  Creating an action plan with specific steps is critical. Along with the student, you want to come up with the how’s.  How will the student go about reaching their goal(s)?  It is also necessary to come up with a time frame (i.e., I want to solve two problems using the Pythagorean theorem by February 10th).  

4.     Set Realistic & Attainable Goals.  This may be perhaps the most important yet trickiest aspect of goal setting. We all want students to push forward and achieve beyond their preconceived notions. We don’t want to limit them, and at the same time we have to be realistic in setting goals, otherwise it is an exercise in frustration.  Most likely you wouldn’t ask the least physically-gifted student to play basketball at the Michael Jordan level.  More likely you would ask him or her to learn how to make a proper pass or use the proper form for delivering a foul shot.  In the same fashion, you would most likely ask the student who struggles with all aspects of grammar to focus on perhaps one or two areas to improve upon. Of course, you must consider the amount of time you and your students will have to dedicate to these goals. Some goals, while attainable, may be unrealistic within a given time frame. It’s been my experience that students often underestimate the time needed to achieve a goal, especially if it’s their first time setting goals.

5.     Evaluate & Check In.  This step is and important part of the process.  Evaluating and checking in gives you and the student a chance to reflect on the progress that was made and create a plan for future success. You will need to set aside time for evaluations and check-ins. This, again, will depend on the number of students you have and how much time you spend with them. It is best to schedule this time rather than waiting for an opportunity. Check-ins can be brief and can take the form of feedback from both you and the student along with some suggestions. Evaluation can be as formal and as quantitative as a rubric, as informal as a collection of work, or as qualitative as observations and feedback. There are many great goal-setting rubrics available online. I recommend creating your own.  You can use the same basic format for each student, and of course it will be specific with regard to the goal, action plan and how it will be measured.  If your school uses a portfolio process as a method of assessment, goal setting and evaluation could fit nicely into the process if it isn’t part of it already.

Hopefully, you can find some time within the next couple of weeks to engage in goal setting with your students.  While there is an investment of time (and as we know, time is short for many teachers), the time invested is worth it. If you are really stressed about time or worried about how administrators may view this, then be sure and connect the goals to state or common core standards. You will find that the goals you and your students come up with are easily connected with these standards.  Besides engaging and re-engaging students in their learning, it can help students become personally invested their growth.  Imagine how powerful it can be to a student when they are asked what are their goals for the year, and what do they want to get out of being there, especially if they have never been asked that before. In my experience, it makes students think about their time at a school in a different way, and at the very least, it introduces to them the idea of personal goal setting, something they will most likely engage in throughout the rest of their lives.


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