With PISA results released this week, and the academic year finishing up, I was thrust into a rather introspective mood. With much of the media reporting focusing on what teachers and education are doing wrong, I began to contemplate what I can do in my own classroom to ensure my kids achieve their best possible academic outcomes.
It is important to note that best possible outcomes does not mean I expect all students to get As. It’s about engagement, it’s about improvements in their affective domain first and cognitive domain second. I view improving students attitudes as a priority, with the belief that when students are happy and their dispositions towards mathematics are good (or at least becoming more positive) good grades will follow.
I use a S.M.A.R.T. approach to setting goals. It can be applied in a range of settings: for teachers and students, or (as I learned in Speech Pathology earlier this year) for patients. This approach (summarised nicely in the graphic) recommends goals should be:
- Specific: working out exactly what you want to achieve, and where possible associate it what a quantifiable number. See also that your goal can’t be broken into smaller steps
- Measurable: how will you know how you are progressing towards achieving your goal?
- Attainable: it’s nice to set high goals (I’ve lost count of how many classrooms I’ve seen with the poster ‘shoot for the moon, even if you miss you land amongst the stars’) but self-efficacy, the belief that you can achieve your goals, is vital for maintaining motivation
- Relevant: the goal should apply directly to your key responsibilities or work
- Time-bound: set a target date (or dates) by which you should have achieved your goal. It may be necessary to include deadlines, dates and frequency.
The old adage of ‘failing to plan means planning to fail’ holds particularly true for goal setting: having a plan of attack is vital to successfully completing goals. With this in mind, these are my five priority goals for 2014 (in no particular order):
- Incorporate student reflection into at least 80% of lessons. This can be written or oral feedback in the form of end-of-lesson reflective questions.
- Include a problem-of-the week as extension work. This is something I did last year fairly successfully. I selected problems related to the topic students were working on, and they assisted stronger students in developing their problem-solving and reasoning skills at a higher level. Differentiation is clearly important in the classroom, and it should occur at both ends of the spectrum.
- Work with my students to set goals for each topic. Much of the literature I’ve read lately relating to self-regulated learning, reflection and the affective domain has highlighted the importance of goal-setting in the classroom. I often start the year with grand plans of incorporating more goal-setting but it falls by the wayside. This year I want students to set one cognitive and one affective goal (minimum) for each topic.
- Spend one hour a week on professional reading and interaction (e.g. twitter) not directly related to my research. I’ve found twitter an invaluable source of information on education and I would like to become more regular at reading and interacting online.
- Blog 500 words a week. 500 words takes me no more than an hour, it helps me keep my reading current and broad, and it has immensely assisted my persuasive writing. I’ve found Saturday mornings a great time for me to blog, but it doesn’t really matter when it happens: it just needs to happen.
As I’m working casually this year I haven’t done the usual goal/target-setting activities at work. When I realised this in the past few days I thought it prudent to devote a post to it. Goal-setting is so important: in the wise words of Lewis Carroll, in Alice in Wonderland
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—“ said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
If we don’t take the time to reflect on where we have been and where we want to go, we can end up wandering around in circles (or going backwards) and failing to make any real progress personally, on a professional level, or with our students. We have little hope of our students achieving their best possible outcomes, or being the best educators we can be, if we aren’t quite sure what our vision for the future is.
I’m interested to hear what approaches to goal setting other educators have used, and how successful you’ve found it in your classrooms.
I obtained the graphic from http://studentsuccess.unc.edu/setting-goals/