Setting Learning Goals with Students

Author: Laura Cunningham - September 1, 2021

Setting learning goals with students is an effective way to improve motivation.

There are many challenges and distractions in our lives that deter us from our goals and even prevent us from knowing what our goals are. Setting explicit goals increases success and helps us track our progress. This is true for everyone. For middle and high school students, setting learning goals helps them become consciously aware of their choices. This is an important time in development, as students become more independent and are better equipped to make decisions and weigh the consequences of those decisions. With more students attending school virtually, setting learning goals becomes paramount toward student success.

Benefits of Setting Learning Goals

As educators, we try to encourage our students to take responsibility for their own learning. Setting learning goals with students helps establish that ownership, because it requires students to be intimately involved in their education. Student motivation to learn also increases because students are setting their own goals of what they want to achieve. Setting explicit goals for success and tracking progress is one way to encourage and motivate students.

Limitations of Setting Learning Goals

Setting learning goals may not be relevant for students in all age groups. This technique is especially effective with middle and high school students, because they are cognitively aware of their choices and the impact their choices have. When learning goals are set, it is important to have ongoing communication with students to track their progress. Often, goals may require modification. The role of the teacher is also a consideration. Teachers often need to redefine the traditional role of teacher to advisor to ensure success.

How to Establish and Sustain Learning Goals

The main point of establishing learning goals is to help students take realistic steps to achieve these goals. This can be done at the beginning of the academic year or at any time within the year. Part of this includes having a maximum of three goals at a time that are clear and measurable. It is important to track goals and document progress, which will help sustain student motivation. There also should be designated times to revisit priorities and make follow-up goals as needed. This is accomplished by pairing students together to help with goal setting and monitoring, class conversations, and journaling.

Setting learning goals is only effective if the goals are explicit, relevant, and achievable. What learning goals have you set for yourself? How do you think learning goals would help your students?

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