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Effective Goal Setting for Students

by Bruce Lewolt on December 28, 2012

Effective Goal Setting for Students

 Sheryl Cardiff, M.A. Certified Mental Trainer

            It is useful first, for teachers to understand and implement goal setting strategies, so they can assist their students in mastering the concept. Most people have set goals and understand the importance of goal setting, but not everyone is familiar with the different types of goals. For peak student success, it is important to consider which goals are appropriate to use when. In other words, daily and weekly goals look and function quite differently than end of the school year goals for example. 

            It is common for students to set outcome based goals, such as being in the top 10% of their class, getting into a certain college or getting an academic award.  Outcome based goals are fine, as long as they are long term. This is because one has little control over outcome goals. One cannot control other students, college admission boards or the people who decide the recipients of academic awards, so other students could out-perform you or you could get overlooked for an award even if you quite deserve. Short-term thinking for long term goals can end up in big disappointment, and even worse, giving up. Finally be sure to keep outcome goals realistic and achievable, and make sure you give yourself some time, at least 6 months to a year.

            Performance goals have a different function, but are equally as important. They are a little shorter term, and one has more control. This is because the focus is achieving performance objectives independently of other students or administrators. So, performance goals are more flexible than outcome goals, and one has more control. For example, ‘I will increase my average test scores in math from 79% to 84% by next semester’. This is different than saying ‘I will get a better grade than anyone in the class’, because you cannot control what everyone else is doing. This could put more pressure on a student, therefore increasing anxiety and ability to perform on an exam to the best of their ability. So, the message is: plan for EACH STUDENTS future performance based on THEIR past performance. How would THEY like to improve?

            Finally, process goals are shorter term and under a student’s control. These are the goals that will help students take small successful steps to their performance goal(s) and ultimately to achieving their outcome goals as well, or as close as they are capable. All three types of goals are important, but process goals will keep students moving in that positive direction. Process goals help keep the focus on tasks that students can, without a shadow of a doubt, get done. That is important to keep moral and motivation high. An example is, ‘I will practice my Spanish vocabulary words by putting them on flashcards, and quizzing myself every day, for the next five days for 15 minutes per day. I will do this at 4:15 p.m. and in a quiet part of my home. It is also important to anticipate thing that might get in the way of achieving process goals and to set yourself up for success. Here are two examples.

  1. Part of my goal is to avoid being distracted while I study. To achieve this part of the goal I will turn off any electronic device that might interrupt my studying.
  2. I will start studying after I have had a snack and relaxed for a few minutes from school.

The key to both of these written statements are that they are specific, detailed, and controllable. Goal accomplished, and that feels good.

            Keep in mind that the research shows that most students dramatically underestimate how often they have to re-study something in order to master it. So part of a study success strategy may be for the student to learn how to have a conversation with a teacher to get some guidance in regards to what material to study and for how long each day. Then the students need to plan it into their schedule.  Each student is different in regards to how he or she learns and how long it takes to master a given subject matter, so individual discussions with a teacher could be very useful to a student’s success.

            Think of goal setting for students as a personal roadmap that starts with the end destination in mind, which is their long term outcome goal. As they travel back to present day, they can set performance goals which are measurable increases in their performance. Finally, students can set short term daily and weekly process goals that they have complete control over. These process goals are vital stepping stones to their performance and outcome goals and should be tracked and recorded. If a student does not practice his or her Spanish vocabulary words in a quiet place during a realistic and designated time for 15 minutes 3 times per week (process goal), it will be difficult to achieve a 10% increase on the next exam (performance goal) and to make it into Honors Spanish the following year (Outcome goal). This roadmap should be in writing and posted where the student can see it every day, and reevaluated every 60 days.

Topics: Goal Setting for Students, Goal Setting, Mental Toughness Training