Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Go For the Goal: Goal Setting for Partners in Learning


Howdy, GTCers!

Hope everyone had a restful and recuperative Thanksgiving break! Just before we broke for the holiday, the GTC was fortunate enough to have guest facilitator Melita Denny come and talk to us about the importance of goal setting for creating dynamic and active classrooms. Provided below is her summary of the most important points covered during this workshop:


Is it useful to teach goal setting a part of a class?

Certainly any class would have goals, a particular amount of material to be covered, expectations of skills and concepts that the students should master in a particular amount of time.  Classes are often focused on performance objectives such as exams, and may require the completion of projects.  As teachers we have goals that we set for our students.  We call these the objectives for the class and we hope that our students will be able to master at least some of them over the course of the class.
Taking time to discuss goal setting can help engage the students in taking ownership of their own learning. 

“If you, the teacher, have a goal, and you don't share it with your students, they aren't really your partners in learning.”


Some important concepts in effective goal setting:


Clearly define the expectations for the class -

The most helpful thing we can do as teachers is to clearly state the course objectives.  Make sure the students know what will be expected of them


Involve the student in the process of setting goals -

If the students feel that they are involved with the process the goals will be more meaningful to them.  It might also be useful to understand that students will have different goals.  A student may come in to your class with particular interests and expectations.  A student may not really care about getting an A, he or she may just want to pass the class.  As teachers, we have a responsibility to challenge our students.  Ideally we would like to inspire them to care about the subject and help them find ways to succeed.  But ultimately the choice is theirs.  The goals will only be  effective if the students accept them.


Set specific goals -

Specific goals are much more powerful than vague goals.  As noted above, it is important to make sure your students know what your expectation are for the class.  A well designed class will have specific expectations, amount of material to be covered, skills and knowledge that must be mastered for exams or assignments.  Giving specific information about the course objectives can help the students to make their own specific goals. 

For example, an over-achieving student taking an into biology class might approach the class with the idea that she is going to learn everything there is to know about biology.  This is a laudable goal, but rather vague.  It could be helpful for her to make a more specific goal of being able to answer all the chapter questions in the textbook.


Create a plan of action -

Once the goal is specifically articulated, we then need to create a plan for achieving it.  In most cases it is useful to have a step-by-step process that breaks a large goal in to more manageable pieces.  Many goals require time to achieve.  Building a skill, training for athletics, memorizing material, these things all work best when done a little at a time.  Some teachers will break a large project in to smaller steps to help the students.  For example, a large research paper might require the preliminary steps of: compilation of a bibliography, development of a thesis, rough draft, and editing.  These steps can be separate assignments with individual due dates to help the student work step-by-step. 

A student might not always know how to achieve a particular goal.  If he or she hasn't written a significant research paper before, it would be important that they learn to work through the steps in the process.  If the teacher is explicit about the reason for assigning the project in steps, the students can learn the value of creating a plan of action for achieving a goal and may be more successful when they take another class in which they are left to do the project on their own.


Goals for teachers -

Thinking about goal setting and explicitly making it part of the classes we teach can help us to organize more effectively.  When preparing a class, it is always useful to ask, what are my objectives?  What do I want my students to learn in this class? 

The model I outline above can be used as a guide for developing your class: define your expectations,  set specific goals, create a plan of action to achieve those goals.
The content of lectures, the assignments for the class, and the content a format for your tests should all reflect your goals for the class and your plan to achieve them with your students.


Many thanks to everyone who participated in discussion for this topic!  This is a very interesting topic and I learned a lot from all of you.

Melita Denny



Many thanks to Melita for her thorough and thoughtful recap. Just a reminder that tomorrow, Thursday December 4th, 2013, the GTC will be hosting a workshop entitled "Peer Assessment in the Classroom: Why? How?" facilitated by Melody Schmid. Interested? Please see the flyer below for more details. 

Hope to see you there!


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