Guide Students to Goals Using Action Steps
A MiddleWeb Blog
The last few weeks have been jam-packed with discussions about goal setting. I’ve been brainstorming with teachers about monitoring their professional goals, as well as their daily lesson plan learning targets.
I’ve also been busy working with teachers to review students’ progress and performance as we monitor, review, and write goals for students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
Come to think of it, setting goals is a tremendous part of our teaching and learning lives. But we must keep our focus on our behaviors and actions – not on our goals alone.
As I was reviewing and creating IEP and lesson plan goals with a few teachers this week, I found myself zooming in on a key point. In fact it is THE point of creating goals. And here it is…
The goal itself is really outside of our control. Only the actionable steps toward the goal are in our control.
All too often I hear teachers getting frustrated because students “still don’t get it.” As I look more closely at these situations, I frequently find that the teachers have a clear focus on the goal itself – along with the activities they think the students should do to achieve the goal – but not on the action steps we need to take to help them “get it.”
Making the shift from focusing on the goal itself to focusing on our own actions can make a world of difference in guiding students to achieve their goals. Let’s consider these two examples.
The co-teachers carefully plan an English lesson that includes the goal for students to demonstrate their comprehension by annotating the text and providing text evidence to share key points. Of the 25 students, five students barely annotate the text and are unable to identify text evidence or share key points. One of the teachers says, “Well, you didn’t annotate! Go back to your seat and annotate the first few paragraphs – then you will be fine.”
In math class students are given the goal to demonstrate their understanding of ratios and proportional relationships by solving real-world word problems. In this class of 25, there are 7 students who are not able to apply the mathematical thinking, directly following the teachers modeling the process. As the teachers walk around the room, one teacher “supports” the students’ thinking by saying, “Remember to underline key words in the word problem and set up your ratios.”
In both scenarios, teachers’ actions were driven by their clear focus on the learning goals. But it wasn’t enough. More strategic teaching moves were needed to explicitly teach and provide meaningful supports. Clearly, the teacher in Scenario #1 needed to guide some students in deeper strategic thinking and applications. The process of annotating needed to be further explained with guided practice before just expecting the students to “achieve” the goal of annotating by simply being reminded to do it.
- Incorporate student choice and multiple means of learning through Universal Design for Learning. Students may not only be a part of creating their goals, but they may also choose between activities that guide them to process and express their understandings.
- Provide a comfortable environment that fosters resiliency. Co-create classrooms where students are motivated to push through challenges as they focus on the process of learning. Meaningful learning leads to achieving goals as a natural result of clear intentions and effort.
- Keep your actions focused on guiding student understanding. The Understanding by Design Framework reminds us of three important steps: 1. Identify desired outcomes. 2. Determine assessment evidence, and 3. Plan meaningful learning experiences. When teachers plan purposefully and teach with intention, students have a greater opportunity to focus on creating meaningful learning connections along a path that naturally leads toward goal achievement.
Creating actionable steps
Our instructional decisions must be connected to clear goals, but we cannot allow the goal to be our action. To achieve the goal, we must create short-term actions that produce a very necessary step-by-step guidance process. It is our actions – our behaviors – that are the building blocks to realizing achievements.
Are you looking for a way to get students to focus on their behaviors in order to achieve goals? When I was teaching at the middle school, I co-created a weekly goal sheet with students. Each student selected a goal that they needed to work on that week and then broke it down into three visionary steps:
- What can I DO today?
- What can I DO tomorrow?
- What can I DO by the end of the week?
By helping students translate goals into manageable actionable steps, we can help assure that they will “get it” as the time is right.
Has this post changed your thinking about goal setting and your own action steps? How do you connect?