SHADY OAK BEST PRACTICES: GOAL SETTING
Every month we publish two articles on “Shady Oak Best Practices,” our favorite approaches to education and why they work. If friends ask why you send your kids to Shady Oak instead of a “regular” school, refer them to this series—and the science backing us up—for starters.
Everyone knows that effective goal setting is a major key to success. Many teachers and parents, however—even if they’ve personally raised half a dozen kids and witnessed the initiative and determination that go into learning to turn over, walk, talk, use the toilet, and dress oneself—are under the misconception that small children aren’t mature enough to understand the concept of goals.
Of course, early-elementary kids may not yet be able to spell SMART, let alone grasp it as an acronym for the goal criteria Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-sensitive. But anyone can understand the principle of deciding what they want to do and planning ways to do it.
If you’re a teacher, you can implement goal setting into your curricula. Here’s one way to get started: at the beginning of the school year and periodically throughout, give the class a set-your-own-goals assignment. How many goals and how long-term depends on your individual class, but the basics of the assignment are:
- Write down one or two things you would like to accomplish by the end of the week/month/school year. Goals should be challenging but not impossible, and should be personally meaningful to the goal-setter. They don’t all have to be academic goals: it’s fine to choose something pertaining to extracurricular activities or home life.
- Make a list of things you’ll need to do (practice an activity, find supplies, put together one section every week) to reach those goals. Be as specific as possible (not just “practice every day,” but “practice the full piece three times right after supper every day”).
- Tell at least one other person what you’re doing, and ask them to check up on you.
- Report on progress as needed, and on results at the end of the week/month/school year.
This can be modified for children with limited writing skills, letting them use keywords or pictures to represent goals and steps.
Don’t grade this assignment: just review it and offer suggestions for clarifying and modifying individual goals. Don’t, however, be too quick to label anything “overly ambitious”—instead, make sure everyone understands it’s okay not to actually reach every goal on schedule, as long as you learn something and make progress. Better to aim at too high a star and land on the moon, than to stop at the top of a small hill simply because that was the best you thought you could do.
At Shady Oak, we emphasize goal setting because it is a proven means of encouraging students to accomplish more and learn to think for themselves.
Science Backs Us Up! Further Resources on the Topic
- Self-Motivation for Academic Attainment: The Role of Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Personal Goal Setting
- Promoting Self-Determination in Early Elementary School: Teaching Self-Regulated Problem-Solving and Goal-Setting Skills
- Goal Commitment and the Goal-Setting Process: Problems, Prospects, and Proposals for Future Research