We know the importance of having goals for our instruction. After all, instructional goals provide direction, suggest strategies we can employ, and help us to evaluate our impact. However, we may be less familiar with the value of setting learning goals with students. The truth is that student goal setting can pack substantial power to lift learning and help personalize student learning experiences. Setting learning goals with students also can build important life skills. Consider these five ways that student goal setting improves learning and prepares students for life.
First, goal setting builds confidence. Setting learning goals helps students to see that they can achieve important outcomes. The pursuit of those goals helps students connect their persistence and focus, effective strategies, and the use of available resources to their progress and success.
Second, goal setting improves academic performance. A meta-analysis of research studies conducted by John Hattie found that when students set and pursue learning-related goals, their learning accelerates, leading to more progress than would otherwise be expected in an academic year.
Third, goal setting supports students to overcome learning challenges. By focusing on achieving a challenging outcome or overcoming a difficult task, students begin to see that they do not have to live with the limits they may have placed on themselves and their potential. They become more open to taking risks and aiming high when it comes to their learning.
Fourth, goal setting helps students to develop long-term thinking. Goal setting helps students to shift their attention to the long-term while generating short-term motivation. Of course, we want students to think long-term; however, we also need them to be motivated to engage in today’s work. Goal setting can help them to accomplish both.
Fifth, goal setting supports students to develop life skills. When students set goals and then develop and utilize action plans to achieve them, they gain important skills that prepare them for life. Goal setting builds commitment and focus and encourages measurement of progress, all key skills for life success.
Of course, setting goals with students requires more than telling students to develop goals or developing goals on their behalf and presenting them to students. Our involvement, support, and coaching will play a key role in the goal-setting success that students experience. Here are six steps we can take.
Involve students in setting goals for their learning. We may think we know what the goals should be, and we may feel the urge to play a dominant role in the process. Yet, unless we give students an authentic voice and help them to commit to their goals in writing, we can expect minimal commitment and less-than-full effort.
Frame goals positively and keep them within reach of the student. For example, focus on improving accuracy rather than making fewer mistakes. Effective goals build strengths rather than lessen deficits.
Focus student attention on factors over which they have control. Students need to see what they can do to achieve their goals and be confident that their efforts will make the difference, not rely on outside influences or factors over which they have no control.
Partner with students in the construction of action plans. Help students break the process into manageable steps and sequence them to build a path to success. At first, students may need considerable support with this process, but be sure to listen and include their ideas as well as yours. Eventually, students will be able to build effective action plans without assistance.
Be sure that goals are stated in a manner that is specific enough to support measurement of progress. When students can see and measure their progress, motivation grows. When the desired outcome is defined in a specific, measurable form, success becomes clearer, and the goal is more likely to be achieved.
Involve students in measuring progress and deciding when adjustments to the goal or action plan are needed. Monitoring progress can be a good source of ongoing motivation for students. Further, when students are monitoring their progress, they are more likely to see when they may need to abandon some steps and strategies in favor of others. Our co-monitoring of their progress also positions us to be ready with support, suggestions, and coaching when goals need to be adjusted or action plans need revision.
The process of setting learning goals with students is a key strategy for building ownership for learning, instilling confidence, and developing skills that will serve students well for a lifetime. When students are active partners in building effective action plans, monitoring progress, and measuring success, we create with them a clear sight line to success.
Adapted from Six Reasons You Should Start Setting Learning Goals with Your Students and Ready to Set Goals with Your Students? Six Tips to Get Started. The Institute for Personalized Learning.