Over the last ten years, we’ve come to the understanding that online learning is part of the college preparatory experience — something that our students have to be guided and led into like so many other experiences while they are in high school. In 2017, 33.1% of college students took at least one online course, and that percentage continues to grow steadily. Online learning isn’t at the fringes anymore; it’s built in to the college experience.
For most of our students, their online course with One Schoolhouse is their first online course. So, in the same way all educators support new experiences, we put structures and safeguards in place for support. Most importantly, we’re intentional about the on-boarding process. One key to building success has been to engage our students in a deep goal-setting process that creates regular reflection on the metacognition of learning.
We’ve all experienced futile goal-setting exercises and we have prodded advisees through the goal-setting process. (Actually, let’s be honest: we’ve bribed them with donuts.) Even as we plod through those moments, we know we’re not reaching the goal of goal-setting! Goal setting needs to be authentic and engaging to each learner, so One Schoolhouse students begin by creating their own learning profile plan and understanding growth mindset. What makes goal setting meaningful is the usefulness and effectiveness of the accompanying plan to achieve the goals. MIT does a good job of giving us framework in the SMART goals approach, which we adapt here at One Schoolhouse as part of our quarterly goals and reflection cycle with students. We also integrate Jordan Peterson’s research that shows the powerful link between motivation and achievement, and promotes a goal-driven approach to motivation.
Setting goals and devising a plan to achieve them motivates students because the exercise helps them envision how they want to show up in the class and how they plan to tackle challenges. In essence, the students’ goals become the primary metric for their growth We begin the year with SMART goals, and establish a routine for reflection. Teachers invite students into metacognitive reflection, asking them to reflect not only on their own growth and success, but also on the process of learning: Was the unit inspiring? Did they make the best choices? What do they want to do differently? Finding the right balance between goal-setting and reflection is essential. When goals boost motivation, we’ve gained traction.
Reflection and goals are also embedded in our formal quarterly student report cards. Teachers report on the student’s progress towards her goals and often include the student’s own reflections in the narrative comment itself. It also helps teachers write authentic, meaningful comments. The benefits? We get to reinforce that we take our students’ goals and progress seriously as an institution, and parents love the comments they receive from our teachers. Comments bring the goal-setting cycle full circle--we celebrate achievements, honor growth, and build essential skills.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)