Do the students normally set goals and targets for themselves? Do they achieve these goals? Perhaps, those questions should be rephrased. Do the students in your class set attainable and realistic goals? Do they develop a plan and have the skills to achieve these goals?

It is easy to set random targets at some point in the future; however, it is quite different to consciously set a realistic goal to attain and develop an action plan in order to achieve that goal.

Understanding how to set realistic targets and developing a plan to achieve them is important to help students understand who they are as learners and provides them with the opportunity to get a better perspective about their journey, instead of merely focusing on successes and failures.

Teaching students how to set realistic goals can be divided into three different sections: firstly, students should set realistic goals, then a step-by-step guide to help them achieve their goals, and finally, students then reflect on their progress towards reaching their goals.

Setting realistic goals

Why is teaching students the process of setting realistic goals so important? In our experiences, when we ask students to write down some of their goals, many of them quickly scrawl something along the lines of “Get an A in math,” “Become the captain of the basketball team,” or “Become a better student.” These are great goals to have, but are they realistic for that particular student?

Is the goal specific or is it too broad? Is the goal clearly defined? For example, getting an A in math is great, but does that mean an A on an assignment, on a unit test, or at the end of the term? These are three very different definitions of getting an A in math, so it is very important for students to clear picture of what they would like to achieve.

More importantly, is that A in math realistic for that particular student? If a child normally gets Ds in math, then it may be overwhelming to suddenly get that A grade. The worry is that a child who sets an unrealistic or poorly defined goal will not be able to achieve it and then feel disappointed in their perceived “failure.” If a student receives Ds in math, then it is probably more attainable to first try to achieve a B on the next math test and then work towards the A after that.

Developing a Step-By-Step Action Plan

Once teachers have sat with students and discussed setting prefer realistic goals, the next step is to work on the action plan that makes the goal feel more achievable. We define a realistic plan to not only include a set timeline and end date, but also small goals to reach along the way.

Students need to ask themselves, “What should I do in order to reach my goal?” In our experiences, Teachers have monthly plans to work well with students, as students have a weekly check on their progress. Let’s take “I want to get a B on the next math test” as the goal for the month. What are some things the student can do to work towards this goal?

Perhaps completing all their homework, asking the teacher for extra help, and studying each night during the week of the test are the mini-goals. We can look at this as a step-by-step progression.

Each week, students can take some time out and reflect on their progress towards their goals. This makes students responsible for their success and provides them with the opportunity to understand what they need to work on next.

Reflecting on the Journey

At the end of the month, students should reflect upon their journey and whether or not they achieved their goal or not. Students should have in their mind that not everyone in the class may not be able to achieve their goals—this may be due to lack of effort, difficulties along the way, or circumstances beyond their control.

The discussion in the class should also focus on reflecting on the journey and not just on the final result, as the journey is just as important as the destination. For example, if the student’s goal was to get a B on the next math test, but they end up with a B-, should the student be disappointed that they did not achieve their goal? Are they a failure? No, of course not.

This is the key lesson for students to realize—the journey to reach their goals is just as important (if not more important) than the outcome. If a student who normally gets Ds in math has begun to complete their homework, ask for extra help, and study for tests, then they are well on their way to attaining that B.

Too often, students mainly focus on the end result instead of focusing on the entire journey. The key factor for students is that determination, hard work, and reflective thought is required in order to recognize an area where they need improvement and actively work to accomplish a change.

At the beginning of the year, we allow students to choose any type of goal to work towards, while at other times, we choose a particular theme for students to focus on; for example, teachers can have students focus on academics, extra-curricular activities, social relationships, or personal goals.

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