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Goal Setting with Students

As adults, we often set goals naturally.  Whether they’re more long term and large (like saving for a few years for a trip to Disney for the family) or smaller goals (such as cleaning the bathroom, going through the mail, and taking out the trash one evening), we set goals and tasks to accomplish regularly.  If you have a Type-A personality like I do, you live and breathe goals and checklists.  What’s even more, I struggle with procrastination and anxiety and it’s important for me to see things being accomplished and crossed off my list in order to have the motivation to keep working.  Our students don’t come to us with much experience in goal setting, but we can teach them how goal setting is a helpful, lifelong strategy.


Goal setting helps build a growth mindset in students as they work towards achieving their goals through continued persistence and effort.  If the regular classroom environment includes starting with where you are and working to where you want to be, it shows students that progress is what’s important.  Setting individual goals with students also helps reinforce the idea that everyone is on their own path and everyone’s goals will be at different places.  Students learn that some goals are not achieved, while others are.  They learn that what they do has a direct effect on reaching their goals.  While hard work doesn’t always result in goal achievement, it does result in progress.  Helping students see that progress is important sets them up for success in life.


Some of our students don’t come to us with intrinsic motivation for school tasks.  Even the students with the highest performance on assessments, may not be actually motivated to continue pushing themselves to reach higher levels.  When you set individual goals with students you help to build investment in their learning.  For some students, just setting the goal and coming back to it is enough to keep students engaged and invested.  For others, they won’t feel tied to the goal until they start to make progress towards it- until they see themselves achieving it.  When those positive steps forward happen, it can be a catalyst for some students to work harder.

I’ve had students who had very poor self-images surrounding school, but when they started seeing the growth they were making things changed.  They started to give better effort at school.  They started actually trying their best on assessments instead of rushing.  I can’t say that it was always forward movement, and we often had setbacks, but they left in a much better mindset than when they started the year.  They developed intrinsic motivation for school when they saw school as something they could be successful with.  Their growth and success came along with it!


How and when you set goals for students is really up to you.  The fantastic part is that you can set goals for virtually anything!  I begin with our large year-long goals that I want for the entire class.  I display them on my first class bulletin board along with the student names.  My Constructing a Great Year Bulletin Board is perfect during the back-to-school season as it sets the goal setting environment for the kids right from the start.

Bulletin board with student names

The students’ names are displayed on each of the nuts (the file is editable) and it’s available in gray or yellow and is editable by hand or on the computer.

Student name on a gear on a bulletin boardI put each of my student’s names on one and arrange them across the bulletin board.  I like for my Back to School bulletin board to feature student names to help welcome them and show them they belong.

Constructing a great year students and goals

I choose 4 year-long class goals that also are displayed.  Having just a few goals helps to show students that it’s okay to focus on a few very specific things and not try to accomplish anything and everything possible.  I have them displayed before students even arrive because they’re general goals not necessarily based on their specific data- that comes in our individual goal setting (explained more below)  I introduce our goal setting to the students using the class goals during the first week of school.

Constructing a great year back to school bulletin board

This is how the bulletin board looks on the first day with the student names and class goals.  After this, we’re ready to focus on individual student goals.

I also set goals based on things I want to work on in class for us off and on throughout the year.  Classroom goals may be something like everyone coming in from recess and getting to the meeting spot in 90 seconds while following procedures.  Or, everyone silently reading for 20 minutes, or having 90% attendance for the week.  When you build a classroom environment where goals are the norm, it helps students see that it’s okay if goals are not always met, but that they help give us something to work towards.  It also can help build engagement and increase attendance and effort during the year if the goals are something students are excited about.

I’ve found that having individual goals for students based on their current proficiency helps students give their best effort throughout the year.  Because the assessments we use aren’t quick and easy, keeping students invested at the end of the year can be difficult.  But, when students are invested in their goals and actively work to achieve them, they’re more likely to give their best effort and continue to be engaged at the end of the year.  This is especially helpful with longer diagnostic assessments.



Student Goal Setting workbook

I set goals with my students using the goal setting workbook included in my Constructing a Great Year unit.  It has a construction theme, with the “tools” being the tools needed for a successful year.  Pages are included for students to identify the specific tools they need to succeed, which can be done individually, in small groups, or as a whole group lesson.

Student goal setting table in goal setting workbook

As I mentioned, I set individual student goals based on our diagnostic assessments.  I record student’s initial assessment scores in the workbooks.  Because I teach third grade, I find it easier to get things started myself.  The students are then able to continue to add their assessment data after the first one as we do assessments throughout the year.  I use the “Drilling Down on Assessments” pages in my class workbooks to track students’ data on each of our large tests and then we also graph students’ progress towards their goals using the “Measuring My Goals” pages.

Student goal graph

I set my student’s goals with them and given their input.  I won’t let a student set a goal that shows less than year’s progress, but I also have several who push themselves to try and reach a harder goal.  I know it can be difficult to find time to sit down with students and talk about their individual goals, but making it a priority has been very beneficial for our class and it’s worth it for me to find that time.  I’ve found that I can use some of my students’ read to self time to have those individual conversations rather than holding reading conferences.  At the beginning of the year, this is the perfect time for me to get to know each student, have some one-on-one conversations, and talk to them about how they feel about the different subject areas.  We also have a weekly computer lab time and I’m able to individually pull students during that time as well during the year without impacting our instruction.

Student goal setting graph

The “Measuring My Goals” page is open ended so you can scale the graph any way you choose.  I like to do .2 increases but there is enough space to do it just as .1; I’ve had enough students make more than a year’s growth in the past that I want my graphs to have space when that happens.  I shade in the student’s data on the graph the first time, fill out the scale, and put a star where our mutually agreed upon goal is.  If you teach older students you can have them complete their data tables and graphs with your guidance and not have to do it yourself.

The conversations I have with students typically only last about 2 minutes or so later in the year, but in the beginning I’m still getting to know the students and those conversations last a little longer.  Because they’re pretty quick, it’s easier for me find a few minutes while students are working to pull students. Having these private check-in conversations throughout the year help students stay invested in their goals as they’re reminded about them and their progress towards them.  Plus, nothing beats having your nearly full attention on a student throughout the year asking them how they’re feeling about their goals, and what you can do to continue to support them.  They love that individual attention, it builds relationships, and helps keep them focused on their own goals and progress.

Once each student has set his or her goals for the year, we use the remaining pieces in the goal setting workbook to continue talking about our goals.  We use the “Tools for Success” to talk about what each student needs to do to be successful (using time wisely, eating breakfast, going to bed early, reading for 20 minutes each night, etc). Students then summarize their goals on one page at the front of their workbooks that they can refer to during the year.

Student goals in goal setting workbook

Students then choose one goal they want to anonymously display on our class bulletin board.  They write it on the given card without their name, and I put it up.  That bulletin board stays up throughout the beginning of the year to help remind us all of our goals and set the stage for the year.

You can see everything that’s included in my Constructing a Great Year unit in my TpT store by clicking here or the image below.


Part of the beauty of goal setting is that there’s no one right way to do it.  Setting realistic goals with students and keeping students interested in them builds a growth mindset, keeps students engaged and invested, and promotes lifelong goal setting.  Whether you use my workbook, just do it orally, or find something else to meet your needs, you won’t be disappointed in spending the time on goal setting in your classroom.

Goal setting in the classroom with goals sheetGoal Setting in the Classroom with goal graphing


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