Educators share their tips for setting and monitoring effective goals

In our webinar Goals mean growth: Using student goal setting to jumpstart student motivation and success, NWEA researcher and author Chase Nordengren shared actionable strategies for making goal setting part of your practice. He highlighted insights and research from his new book, Step into Student Goal Setting: A Path to Growth, Motivation, and Agency, and provided fresh ideas for increasing motivation and student agency.

Educators attending the event had an opportunity to share what works well in their own goal-setting practice. In the spirit of teachers helping teachers, we’re highlighting some of those responses and demonstrating how they align with Chase’s five research-based principles for setting and monitoring effective goals: start, build, showcase, create, and center.

1. Start (early and keep it up)

Don’t be afraid to start goal-setting work with younger students. While early learners may not fully understand the numbers behind an improving grade or test score, you can break down standards into learning targets that directly connect to students’ interests and aspirations. For instance, a child interested in space exploration may be excited to improve their reading so they can check out more advanced books on the subject.

Begin the conversation with the concept of “yet”: kids may not have a certain skill yet, but they are expanding the depth of their reading or math skills so they can understand and do more things in the near and distant future.

Teacher tip

2. Build (the habit)

Student goal setting isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s a practice, a muscle educators and students continue to build.

Make time to connect with students about their goals and get to know how they learn and approach challenges. Offer plenty of support and step in to redirect when a student gets off track.

Teacher tips

  • “I believe in face-to-face discussions, to create a dialogue with the teacher and the students.”
  • “I focus on co-constructing what the learning habits look like and sound like as we build toward goal setting within the learning tasks.”
  • “Peers can sometimes help each other process their goals. Pair and share goals and steps to achieve. Then have students check back in with each other once a week.”

3. Showcase (success)

Give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and to see their successes. This can look like providing assessment opportunities to measure learning growth, visually documenting progress in the classroom, or keeping portfolios of student work.

Teacher tips

  • “As a school leader, it is imperative for us to lead this charge by holding school- or grade-level assemblies to kick off the goal setting and again to celebrate meeting them. Displaying them in hallways also creates buy-in!”
  • “In our district, student goal setting is non-negotiable. We use the custom goal-setting tool in the Student Profile Report to collaboratively set goals with students in one-on-one goals conferences. For some, we set them based on a RIT score goal, for some we use the achievement percentile, and for some we use the growth percentile. Student voice is key! Our student growth has been incredible since we started using this custom goal-setting tool.”
  • “Group goals are fun to use on the quadrant report [in the Achievement Status and Growth Report]. You can keep names private but see the overall gains of the group.”

4. Create (personal relevance)

Goal setting can help students understand why learning matters and what expanding the breadth and depth of their knowledge can do for their lives. Like grown-ups, when students know and believe in their “why,” they have increased agency and motivation to take on the “do” (in this case, their learning or assignments).

Teacher tips

  • “We have freedom to adjust lessons per student interest within the context of their classes. I think this gives them more motivation for completing lessons.”
  • “We revisit goals from time to time. Long-term goals are good for the big picture, and revisiting them keeps students motivated on a day-to-day basis.”
  • “I have done a lesson with student leaders in which they look at a list of leadership values and they determine which one they are strong in and which one they want to work on. Then they build a plan for how they will work on that, and we have revisited that once a week to discuss how they worked on their value, such as being a more creative thinker or being more nurturing.”

5. Center (student choice)

Allow students to make authentic, meaningful choices about their goals. Students may have different levels of readiness for setting their own goals, but in every case, they should have a say in how they spend their time to meet their learning targets. They should have opportunities to direct their education.

Teacher tips

  • “My goal is to empower students to be in control of their own education and learning. I offer choice on how to reach those goals.”
  • “Try class surveys. Let your students decide within their small communities what the goals are and plan around the ideas for goals you, as their teacher, created.”
  • “We have to set high expectations and believe in our learners so they can establish and come up with clear goals by themselves.”
  • “I’ve had students pick a topic of their choice to write about in a standard five-paragraph informational essay. We hit the standards for writing but they were actually interested in the topic.”

Get going with student goal setting

For more information on beginning or refining your goal-setting practice, watch our webinar on demand and read Step into Student Goal Setting: A Path to Growth, Motivation, and Agency. I also encourage you to try our MAP Growth Goal Explorer tool.


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