Student Goal Setting: Promoting Independence and Establishing Relevance in Teaching and Learning

On January 27, Sarah Lynn facilitated the final session of First Literacy’s Professional Development Workshop, “Fostering Independence: Helping Students Become More Effective Self-Directed Learners.” The workshop was over-enrolled with a waiting list, which attests to teachers’ interest in the topic and First Literacy’s responsiveness to meet teacher needs.

One of the underlying themes of the workshop was the importance of student goal setting to build relevant curriculum and to encourage learner independence.

First Literacy’s PD workshops typically run for two sessions. At the end of the first workshop, we encourage participants to try out ideas in their own classrooms with the intent of sharing their experience at the second session. To assist with this process, we provide an action plan template and partner sharing time to help formulate a “take away” plan.

Emily Decatur, of the Quincy Community Action Program, implemented a great idea for student goal setting. For a full lesson plan, please go to Resources: for Educators on our website and scroll down to “Fostering Independence: Helping Students Become More Effective Self-Directed Learners.” Here’s Emily’s story:

Goal Setting For Low Level ESL Beginners

Goal setting is a wonderful way for students to connect to their deeper personal and professional motivations. By uncovering and seeing progress towards their defined goals, students are more likely to become persistent and self-directed learners.

For beginning English Language Learners, the abstract concept of “a goal” can be hard to grasp. I decided to start with taking students through an organic process of discovering the meaning behind the word “goal” and ultimately to prompt students to define their own goals.

I passed out a photo of a soccer game with a player kicking the ball into a goal. Students discussed what they saw in the picture, and we built some basic vocabulary this way, adding new nouns and practicing correct verb tenses. Because they were familiar with soccer, this was a good place to start. We then moved to other photos—a family in front of a house with a “For Sale” sign, a driver reading a road map, and a group of students reading an English textbook. After reviewing the new language based on what they saw, we moved on to “What do they want to do?” in each of the pictures. We used the structure: They want to_____ because ______.

This activity helped students transition to their own goal setting with some specificity. Once they became familiar with the concept of “goal,” I asked them to complete the following: I am studying English because I want to _________________. After completing three sentences, we shared them as a class. Students saw that many of their goals were similar, which led to class discussions.

We then categorized the goals into three areas: jobs, education, and life. This goal setting activity helped me to plan a relevant curriculum around students’ goals. I plan to keep the goals posted in the classroom and to give each student a handout with his or her stated goals. The goals can be referred to as a class and individually to assess progress toward goals throughout the class cycle.

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