Tips for Creating Student-Centered Academic Goals

By on September 1, 2014

As we welcome the new school year, it is time to think of ways we can create and track progress on academic goals with our students. As teachers, we will focus on setting high expectations with student goals centered on career and college readiness. As we get to know our students, some students will set the bar much lower with their actions and their words. Some students do not believe in their own skills and abilities and will use their beliefs to opt out of success. It is up to us to recognize their potential and build on their strengths. We can guide them to career and college readiness by involving them in the goal setting and tracking  process. Here are some tips when creating academic goals with students...

1.) Ask students to write to themselves

  • During the first month, have students write a short letter to their future selves. Explain that we want to capture the positive attitudes the new school year brings out of all of us. Many students have their new clothes, hairdos, school supplies, and big plans to break bad study/school habits and focus on being successful.
  • In the letter they will capture those positive attitudes by explaining their goals and feelings they have at the start of the year. Ask students to tell themselves the hopes they have for their future.
  • They will read the letter the following month to remind them of their goals and desires.Then they will track their progress on whether or not they are on track in meeting the goal.
  • Each month, they will repeat the process by reading and adding more thoughts and feelings to the letter and tracking their monthly progress.

2.) Guide students in the direction of creating an academic goal

  • Explain why academics are the foundation for success. Explain to students that an education allows them to explore many sides of themselves and will offer more options for future careers.
  • Students may want to create goals based on interests. They will create goals based on sports or social events. As teachers, we can use their interests to make connections to academics. If the student’s goal is “I want to play varsity basketball,” we can tie the goal to school work. Explain if students do not meet the academic requirements, they will not be able to participate in sports. Although students know that information, they do not always make the personal connection.
  • If the goal they want to write does not connect to school, we can ask students to write a personal goal in addition to their academic goal.

3.) Start with a larger goal students will use throughout the year

  • Students will need one overarching goal that they will use to make connections to all other goals and action steps. An example could be “This year I will earn a GPA of 3.5 or higher.”
  • Connect your course unit and/or chapter goals to the overarching goal. Students will create subgoals that connect to each subject area. We can help students create goals for all subjects even if are not their teacher in the the other classes.

4.) Help students distinguish between goals and actions

  • Students usually create action steps instead of goals. They will write things like “I will go to class and do all my work.” or “I will create a space in my notebook for completed work, so as I finish my work, I will move the assignments. This way I know I am doing all of my work.”
  • You will need to take those ideas and help them turn the actions into goals. For example, students could turn the action items into goals by saying, “I will attend class 100% of the time and complete 100% of my assignments.” This allows them to track progress and measure success.

5.) Teach students to construct goals that are specific and measurable

  • Give reasons why general goals will not provide the high expectations needed. Students will tend to write very general goals. For example, “I will study more and get good grades.” Explain that if a student studies one word yesterday and two words today, she has met that goal. That doesn’t hold her to any rigorous standards.
  • Provide examples of how to move from general to specific. Instead of ““I will study more and get good grades,” try, “I will take one page of daily notes in each class and study my daily notes for 15 minutes each night.”

6.) Avoid the word “Try” and do not allow students to set lower expectations for themselves

  • Students use the phrase “I will try…” without really understanding the implications. Most of the time, “I will try..” translates into zero change in habits. The word “try” gives students a choice. If they omit the word “try” and say, “I will…” they will have to commit and follow through if we hold them accountable. Before they finalize their written goals, tell students to make sure they are willing to follow through on their goals because the word “try” is not an option.

7.) Communicate with Parents

  • Involve their parents by requiring students to explain the goals at home and return with a written parent response and signature.
  • Ask parents how they plan on supporting their students in this process. Suggest to parents that you need their help to make sure the students are following through with their action plan while they are at home.

8.) Track progress on goals

  • Use the Student Performance Tracker to involve students in the process of tracking their progress and reflecting on their performance. Students become really excited when they are able to create a visual representation of their progress and share it with others. This activity allows students to revisit their goals and reflect. Often in education we start something at the beginning of the year and for whatever reason, we do not carry it throughout the year. By tracking monthly progress, we are showing students that goals are important and they will be expected to focus on reaching their full potential.

As teachers, we have the power to transform the lives of our students. We can support them by making them see their potential for skill development and personal growth. By giving them time to reflect on their journey to career and college readiness by involving them in the goal setting and tracking  process, we are are setting them up for success.

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