2 types of student goal setting that empower early learners

Student ownership of their learning journey is key for growth. Children need to understand what they are learning and why. They also need a clear path to follow and use to monitor their growth along the way.

Like I mentioned in “Goal-setting foundations for pre-K–2 teachers,” even our youngest kids are ready to reap the benefits of goal setting. Don’t let their age deter you! If you’re an early learning educator, here are two types of goals that will surely help you empower your students.

1. Individual daily goals

To build student autonomy, students need choice. This includes choice during goal setting.

In my first-grade classroom, I used to place a sticky note on each student’s desk every morning. They would write a goal (or draw a picture of their goal, if that was easier for them) that was personal to them. They would do this every single day, so while we would definitely set long-term goals, too, these stickies helped me ensure my students had a daily chance to practice setting and meeting goals.

Some students would choose a behavior goal and others would choose an academic goal. For example, a child could write that they wanted to remember to raise their hand every time they had something to say, instead of interrupting, as they were sometimes tempted to do. Or they could write that they wanted to get at least half of the day’s math problems right the first time. The kids got to pick what was important to them to accomplish that day. They would then place their goal sticky on a chart. (There’s a great example of what our sticky chart looked like on Pinterest.)

[M]y students had a daily chance to practice setting and meeting goals.

When a student met their goal, they would tell me right away. Sometimes this meant a pause in instruction, but for me it was always a worthwhile break. We would celebrate as a class using one of Dr. Jean’s cheers.

At the end of the day, we would go through the goal stickies left on the chart, which would take about 10 minutes. We would celebrate the met goals a second time with one big cheer and discuss what we could change to meet the ones that weren’t.

If a student did not meet their goal, the class worked as a team to problem solve on ways to improve the goal the next day. Sometimes a student would say they wanted to read 50 books in one day, for example. At the end of the day, they had maybe only read three. We would use this time to discuss how a more attainable goal could be to read five books instead of 50. This helped to build a culture of learners instead of a culture of competition.

2. Long-term, data-informed goals

Not every early childhood student may be ready for a deep dive into their assessment data, and that is okay. Just like with individual daily goals, students should have voice and choice in goals around data and even around how to use data. Guide students through the process of what data means and how it helps them grow as learners. Use multiple types of data to teach students this goal-setting process.

If you are a MAP® Growth™ user, the growth goals section in the Student Profile Report will provide one data set that can help you begin to work one-on-one with students to set goals. The report provides a clear visual for them that will help them see where they started their learning and how they’ve made progress over time. Talk to them about how if they grow as projected (see projected RIT and projected growth numbers in the Achievement Status and Growth Report), they will most likely keep moving in the same direction. Use kid-friendly language: “You’re on the right track! Let’s keep doing what you’re doing.”

If a kid is not on the right track, think about ways you can support them by providing more personalized instruction or talking with their families to explore options, like more social-emotional learning, homework, and tutoring. The culprit may also be something difficult going on at home, and communication can help you set goals that account for that student’s reality outside of school.

If you do not use MAP Growth at your school, you can still support students in setting goals around assessment data. When I taught kindergarten, for example, I made bar graphs that I printed and put in data binders for each student. Together we would sit and color in the letters, sounds, and sight words they knew after an assessment. I would ask them how many more they wanted to know by the next time I tested them. We would then put a different-colored line on their bar graph to represent where they wanted to be. A long-term, data-informed goal!

Data-informed goal setting in […] student-friendly ways helps children know where they are in their learning and where they need to go.

To ensure we were relying on more than one data source during goal setting, I would work with my students to determine at least one additional data point we could look to. We would often use student self-assessment, for example.

Data-informed goal setting in these kinds of student-friendly ways helps children know where they are in their learning and where they need to go. It helps them understand their own personal success criteria to grow as learners. It also helps students who are not meeting proficiency celebrate their growth. Be sure to share the data with your students and their families.

Ready, steady, goal

Goals build student efficacy. It is never too early to start involving students in goal-setting practices. By starting goal-setting work early with our learners, we pave the way for a motivating start on their educational journey.

You have the power to create students who love learning by letting them take ownership of their learning process. Use it!

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