I used to cringe inside whenever I heard the phrase "goal setting" in relation to my students. Images of ladder and step graphic organizers with goals like "get good grades" or "play professional basketball" with half-hearted steps like "work hard" or "make the team" made me want to give up before I even started.
Now I think about it differently. Goal setting is about deciding to do something and planning to get it done. Simple as that. Big or small, lofty or humble, anything can be a goal. Stop and get eggs: goal. Get a PHD: goal. Learn to tango: goal. Stop losing my keys: goal. Answer emails: goal. Walk for 20-30 minutes every day: goal. Drink less coffee: goal. I could go on. The goal itself does not matter. What matters is the process, what you do between deciding to do something and doing it.
Plenty of learners can state a goal. It is in the planning and doing that they struggle. Chances are most of the learners in our classes have not actually been taught how to do this. Chances are most learners get limited instruction and practice with how to do this.
In learner-centered environments, goal setting and completion plays a critical role. We need to model for students a variety of strategies for planning and completing goals. Then we need to give them repeated, intentional practice with those strategies. Then we need to guide them to figure out which ones work best for them, and use them.
Let's think through how we might do this, Remember my goal list above? We can use some of those to see how we might teach goal setting to students. So how do I go about remembering to get eggs? What did I do that actually worked? Here is my actual process:
1. Decide to get eggs
2. Look at schedule and decide WHEN to get eggs
3. Put a reminder in my digital to-do with an alarm for about 30 minutes before when I decided to get eggs
4. Got eggs at the time I decided to
Now I have to translate this into how I might teach learners goal setting and completion for a similar goal. First I think about if this is a big goal, or a small goal: small goal. Then I think about what strategy I used: to-do list with alarm. Now I think about what other strategies I could have used: sticky note on steering wheel, paper to-do list, put in my calendar. When I teach this to students, I will plan to do two or three separate lessons in which I model (talk out the thinking and act out the doing of) a strategy or two. I will also give students the tasks of trying out each strategy several times, paying attention to how each worked for them. Once there has been several chances to practice with the strategies, I will model (talk out the thinking and act out the doing) of reflecting on which strategy worked best for me. Then my learners will do the same. For a while afterward, I will give frequent prompts to remember to use the strategy that worked for them. After a while, once I see that most learners are using a strategy, I will stop reminding with the same frequency. Of course, I will always be ready to reteach a small group or a student on two on an individual basis.
Courtney is the Instructional Coach for KIDS RSU #2 in Maine. She also hosts a podcast about personalized learning, and is available for independent consulting work.
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