Boost learning by teaching students to set their own goals.
For the past six years, I have had the opportunity to be a Literacy Coach and RtI (Response to Intervention) Specialist on a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary campus. I was put into that position six years ago because the concept of RtI was new to our campus and school district. We were on a HUGE learning curve with looking at data, planning interventions, and actually helping our students to grow as learners. I learned a great deal about what to do and what NOT to do to help our kiddos make progress.
There were assessments, documentation, paperwork, data meetings, trainings…the list goes on and on. We were seeing some growth with the strategies we had in place, but something was missing. I was responsible for all of these teachers and students, and I was working really hard to make a change on my campus. Still, something was still missing. After five years of new documentation paperwork (every year), changing the way we organized the data meetings, and constant professional development, I wanted to try something new. Something that would be a game changer.
As teachers we want our kiddos to think for themselves, to be excited about their own learning, and to celebrate their accomplishments. I started thinking… What works for me? How do I learn best? What makes me a better Literacy Coach? Just like when I was a classroom teacher, I provided the best instruction when I planned the lessons myself, not when muddling through someone else’s lesson plans. I started with just one student when I began this goal setting process. The student and I met daily to practice reading and thinking strategies before the school day even started. Due to my responsibilities on campus, before school was the only free time I had. Fortunately, it really set up the student for a successful day, so it was a win-win situation for the both of us. We worked for months, and while I was seeing some growth, it just wasn’t enough.
Students must take ownership of their own learning.
Through a great deal of reflection, I was beginning to realize that my student had to take ownership for his own learning, look at where he really was academically, set his own goals, make a reasonable plan for himself, document his own growth, and celebrate his successes!
Goal setting process
After more trial and error than I would like to admit, here is the basic process that worked best for us:
- Look at the data with your student: At first, this one was difficult for me because I didn’t want my student to feel bad. Together with the student, we studied the actual state-based assessment results and the latest classroom assessments. Your student needs to see for themselves where they fall as a learner and where most students should be at that time during the school year. My student was actually surprised that he had done so poorly in certain categories.
- Guide them to set their own goals: It is very tempting, but try not to tell them what their goals should be. Let them see what they need for themselves and verbalize it. Now with that being said, you should have your own set of goals for each student. Your goals and the student’s goals will mesh but may not be exactly the same. Tip: I encourage my students to set only one to three goals at a time. Too many goals at once will be overwhelming. You must also consider what kind of goals your student should set. Should your student set very specific performance goals? For example: I will read 100 words per minute by the end of the six weeks. Or, should your student set study habit goals? For example: I will read more challenging books for 45 minutes each night. I have tried doing both kind of goals with my students. What I discovered was that more progress was actually made when we set study habit goals, but I think it depends on the student, the needs, and possibly the student’s grade level.
- Teach them how to make a plan: This is one step where they will need a great deal of guidance; your students will likely struggle with knowing how to make a plan. After you go through this whole process with them several times, it will get easier. Here are some questions you may want to ask your students to help guide them in the right direction:
- Why did you choose that particular goal?
- What can you do to achieve your goals?
- Is there anything you can do during class to learn better?
- Is there anything you can do at home?
- Have you learned any strategies in class that could help?
- What do you notice about other students that are doing well?
- What skills are you already good at doing?
- Provide your student with some type of personal tracking system: The data tracking can be done on paper or digitally, but make sure that the student is the one that is physically documenting the progress. This will help them to make that connection between all the work they have been doing and the progress they are making. Being able to see the progress in black and white is powerful! If students don’t see that there is a payoff for all their hard work, many struggling students tend to shut down. If you click here, you can get a free copy of the paperwork I used with my students.
- Celebrate the successes: This is such an important step! Your kiddos need to recognize how far they have come and celebrate their hard work. What worked for my student was allowing him to call home and tell his family the great news. I have found that “prizes” work far less than being able to tell another person they look up to that they are doing well and meeting their goals. If your student doesn’t have a strong support system at home, then you could try prior teachers, a school secretary, the principal, a custodian, a librarian… Our campus wasn’t there yet, but if you have a mentor program at your school, I would definitely find a way to use it with this process.
- What assessments will you use to review with your student?
- How often will you meet with your student to review the learning goals?
- end of six weeks
- end of semester
- end of year
- How many goals will you suggest that your student set?
- Will your student benefit more from setting performance or study goals?
- What paperwork or documentation will you use with your student? I have a free set that may work for you and your student; see the link above.
- What will you do if your student is not making an appropriate amount of progress?
- Will you involve the parents? If so, how?
- How will your student celebrate their successes? Will you have them call home, send special notes home, have them visit the principal, eat lunch with a special friend, etc.?