Students Setting Personal Learning Goals / by Tyler Wood

"Ronald Taylor (1964) compared the goals of underachievers and achievers. He found that underachievers either had no particular goals, or if they did, aimed impossibly high. Achievers, by comparison, set realistic, attainable goals that were related to their school work " (as cited in Siegle, 2000, para. 3). We can work really hard getting lost, or it can be smooth sailing to our destination, the difference is having a map. We need to have an end goal to organize our efforts. However, if the teacher sets the goals, that means the teacher is expecting that all the students have the same interests. Any amount of experience in a classroom will prove that idea wrong. Having the students set their own goals can personalize the relevance and offer the students autonomy. "Research has shown that motivation is related to whether or not students have opportunities to be autonomous and to make important academic choices" (McCombs, 2014, para. 1). This also has the added benefit of not only creating more motivation in the students, but creating a skill that they can use later in life. Being able to self-assess is beneficial for their learning and life beyond the classroom. Allowing the opportunities for autonomy has the built in assumtion that the student will most likely choose something they are more interested in. Even if given a few choices and they are not keen on any, they are allowed to pick one they prefer, given them the motivation of not having to write one of the other choices they liked less. 

A major skill the students will need as well to keep it simple and make their goals reasonable. Students should "set small, achievable goals that can be accomplished quickly" (Siegle, 2000, para. 2) so they can build confidence by getting those small wins. This is the video game effect. Instant feedback and points keep the player coming back for more. If players had to wait to beat the game to achieve anything, games would probably have a much less enticing allure for players. Students will also need to be able to self-assess in a meaningful way and in allignment with the standards and/or class objectives laid out by the teacher. "As students learn to monitor their progress, they become more motivated by their successes and begin to acquire a sense of ownership and responsibility for the role they play in these successes" (McCombs, 2014, para. 13).

Eventually, that ownership leads to freedom to do without guidance. Teachers should also "help students deal with inevitable disappointment that comes when they don’t perform as well as they hoped they would. For example, students can be taught strategies for using mistakes as learning opportunities and for controlling the negative emotions that can interfere with learning" (McCombs, 2014, para. 16). Biting off small pieces is key to being successfull and building confidence, but what about the failures that may occur? Students need to learn the skill of managing disappointment as much as managing their time or effort. Life is not life without some disappointment. Why ignore that lesson in school? As Winston Churchill said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Students should know that making mistakes is normal and part of the process, then they will be more likely to get up and try again. This is especially pertinent in Korea where high-stakes testing and parents with higher expectations has created students who refuse to make a mistake. One of the biggest problems I have with writing class is that student will stop writing if they don't know how to spell a word and not move until they spell that word correctly. No matter how often I say that it's better to keep writing and fix it later, or even leave it and get your ideas out, they refuse to budge until I come help them. 

Click below to see my student assessment worksheet with error analysis, student tracking record and my reflection. 

Student Progress and Assessment Worksheet



McCombs, B. (2014). Developing responsible and and autonomous learners: A key to motivating students. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Siegle, D. (2000). Help students set goals. Department of Educational Psychology. University of Connecticut. Retrieved from

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