I often speak about how One Schoolhouse values the understanding that every student learns differently and uses a personalized learning approach to accomplish this mission. The end of the school year gives us an opportunity to reflect on one way we personalize learning and give students more voice and choice in the learning process: student goal setting.
Goal setting at One Schoolhouse is an intentional process that is consistent across all classes. Students begin by creating their own learning profile, using their choice of tools, and they share this in conversation with their teachers (reinforcing the understanding that teachers work with students as unique learners). From there, students are guided through a mindset training in order to understand the power of “yet.” And finally, students set “SMART” goals for the year and then refine these goals through conferencing with their teachers. Teachers and students reflect quarterly with each other on progress towards goals.
Many schools follow similar steps for student goal setting, if not in each class then in an advisory setting. What is different – and what we have found powerful at One Schoolhouse – is that the goals form the basis for reflection throughout the year. There also are two side benefits. First, goal setting and at least quarterly reflection on goals help students focus more on building competencies and learning new skills and less on grades. And second, quarterly teacher comments reflect student goals and thus are better and more personal (something our parents and schools comment on often).
Let me give you a couple of examples of student goals to illustrate their value. A number of students in our math courses set goals this year to gain for the first time or re-gain confidence in mathematics before going to college. This is an interesting goal for the teacher to scaffold for the student, and the primary pathways are very much rooted in two of our core teaching practices: empowering self-assessment and the student-teacher relationship. Knowing that a student is working on math confidence, our math teachers help students know what to do when they don’t know how to tackle a problem or how to tack when they get something wrong. And then they leverage these moments during unit reflections. Not only have students developed mathematical persistence, but they’ve also gained the courage to keep trying. These growth moments were made possible by the teacher’s deep understanding of the student’s growth goal.
In course pre-assessments, teachers often ask students what they are worried about or not looking forward to. Knowing that One Schoolhouse values collaborative learning, some will inevitably say that they “hate group work,” and, moreover, they are worried about group work in the online space. The teacher can then guide them to turn a dreaded activity into a goal: many of these students set the goal of becoming a more effective collaborator and team member. Encouragingly, we find that this goal often has to be adjusted as the year goes along, because with concentration in this area, students become better at managing themselves and others; not surprisingly, group work that goes well turns out to be really fun!
What these examples show is that goal setting helps students feel empowered and reinforces the commonality of purpose for the student and teacher. We know student goal setting increases motivation and helps students move from “having to know” what is taught and external motivations to “wanting to learn” and internal motivations..
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)