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How To Make Goal-Setting Work for Your Readers and Writers

The beginning of the calendar year or the new semester is the perfect time to think about goal-setting. No, not those new year’s resolutions that we all make (or vow not to make) and then forget about by February.

Instead, I’m talking about supporting students with setting and working toward meaningful goals all year round. Setting goals is an essential component of motivating and engaging kids in learning because it helps them develop a sense of autonomy, see their growth, and build community.

In the past, I would do this work with my students and much like failed resolutions, kids never seemed to meet their goals or even seemed like they were taking much action toward them. It wasn’t until I paused to reflect on how I was supporting (or hindering) my students that I realized I was missing those key components that make this work so powerful.

Here are three tips to make goal-setting work for your readers and writers.

  1. Create goals with students, not for them.

How many times have you suggested a goal for a student and found later that they haven’t tried working on it at all? One reason could be that they didn’t choose or voice the goal. It was the teacher’s goal for the student, not their own. Another cause is that the goal isn’t what the student needs. While you might have objectives for the whole class based on a unit, an individual writer or reader may need some goals that are matched with their unique skills.

When helping your readers and writers set goals, make sure they’re part of that decision. One way you can do this is to confer with individual students while looking over artifacts that can show them the data they need to make an impactful goal. Here’s where you’ll invite them to notice what they’re already doing and decide what they’d like to work on.

While you want to ensure that the goal is student-generated, you can still help them articulate the goal. You’ll also want to help them choose an objective that they can work on over time, which most likely entails multiple skills or strategies. For example, writers may look through their writing folders or notebooks to see how much they’re writing each day. This can help them decide whether or not setting a goal around volume makes sense for them.

There are different strategies a writer can use to write with more volume: set a timer, increase the number of lines they try to write each day, or use thought prompts. A reader might reflect on their sticky notes, reading notebook, and assessments and create a goal around determining the theme. Again, this is a goal that has multiple entry points.

2. Make the goal visible.

Out of sight, out of mind. Just like that sticky note I have on my bathroom mirror reminding me to floss, visual reminders can help students remember the goal they’re working toward.

These reminders can take on many forms. Try a sheet of paper with the goal written at the top with strategies supporting the goal below. Not only will this help the writer or reader with the action steps they need to meet their goal, but it’s also a reminder for you the teacher of what you’ve already taught.

The reminder could also be in the form of a bookmark with the same information. The most important thing is that just like the goal itself, it’s created with kids and not for kids. I spent so much time creating resources for students only to find them shoved at the back of their desks or left on the floor. I’d get so frustrated, but really my students were just communicating to me that the tool wasn’t meaningful to them.

Either they didn’t need it or didn’t know how to use it. By creating visual tools alongside readers and writers, you address both of these issues. As an added bonus, students can use these reminders to track their progress toward their goals as well.

3. Help kids stay accountable.

What’s one of the most important ways to do this? See tip number one! Kids are not going to be motivated to stay accountable to a goal that isn’t meaningful to them. Beyond that, another important way to do this is to leverage partnerships. When we share our goals with others, it can increase our chances of meeting them.

Reading and writing partners can keep each other accountable by sharing their goals, encouraging each other, and being a resource for each other.

Partner time is a regular part of the reading and writing workshop structure. When planning for this partner work, remember to build in time for partners to check in on their goals.

Here are a few questions that partners can use to support each other:

  • What did you do today to work on your goal?
  • What can I do to help you work on your goal?
  • What will you do next that will help you with your goal?

Of course, partners may also need to learn how to explicitly ask for help:

  • Can you help me with…?
  • I tried to… what else do you think I could try?

If you already started goal-setting in the fall, the new semester is a great time to check in and see how it’s going. And if you haven’t started, there’s no time like the start of the new year!

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