Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ring in the New Year with Student Created Learning Goals

Can I get a whoop whoop for Christmas break??!!! I have major plans for these next 2 weeks…but, let's face it…to very much will get checked off my list. I will find myself having to decide between TpT'ing, getting ready to go back to school, or just hanging with my family….hanging with my family will win.every.single.time. :)

I am **thinking** about what I will do when I get back to school from this break, and I decided the first day back, my students will be creating their own learning goals. Or I guess I should say revisiting and revamping their fall learning goals.

Goal Setting
As teachers we have our teaching goals and objectives which are critical because these give us the direction we need to go. Without them we would not be very effective teachers. But what about our students? Do they know where they need to go? They may know because we tell them and we share our objectives with them, but do they have ownership in that? Is telling them enough to motivate them to expect more of themselves and to strive for the goals we create for them? Probably not.

As teachers, we know the best instructional strategies involve the students being active participants. The "sit-and-get" just doesn't cut it anymore. The passing of information from teacher to student isn't engaging to students. Some of them will learn the material, others will not. We want all our students to be successful. Sharing our essential questions and objectives with students is important, don't get me wrong. It lets them know what they can plan on learning for that day, week, or unit of study. But if we want students to truly take responsibility for their performance, for their learning, we have to let them be active participants. When students are active in their learning, they take pride in it, and they have a sense of accomplishment. What better way to do this than to help them create learning goals for themselves? 

Students as Active Participants
Students tend to be their own worst critic, so getting them active in creating goals for themselves will motivate them to do the very best they can. It also helps them pinpoint areas of weakness that they need to improve. Sure, we can tell them they need to work on 'XY and Z', but sometimes that is in one ear and out the other! It's kind of like when you let students "help" make their classroom know what you want the rules to be, so when needed, you gently nudge them in that direction. But most often, what happens? They end up making rules that you wanted, and, I know for me, sometimes they would come up with rules I hadn't even thought about! The point is, when you allow students to have some authority, they will often do so at the level you expected, and sometimes rise above it. 

How to Start
Learning goals aren't easy for students to create, which is why when I first begin, I create class learning goals. I share my essential questions and objectives for the next unit of study, and I model how to create goals. I use the gradual release model of lessening my support. Next I let them lead in creating class goals, then I shift to having them create their own individual goals. My students love checking their progress with their goals. It keeps them motivated to continue working, even if something is difficult for them because they don't want to fail. 

There are a couple of different ways I keep these learning goals organized. I teach 5 periods during the day, so I color code each class. Each class has the same essential questions (I teach advanced ELA), but sometimes each class' learning goals differ (some classes are on average higher than other, and I have found the classes move at different paces). So I post each class' learning goal poster on the white board. This keeps me from having to put one up, take it down, put the next one up, take the next one down. Instead of seeing all white posters on the board, they can go straight to their color. I could hang them on the wall, but then they would take up space, and our fire marshall counts hanging posters on our white board as part of the 50% wall covering rule, so when he is in the building I can take them down easily since all it takes are some magnets! #sneakyteacher

Color coded learning goal posters

When I have my students create their individual learning goals, I want them to have their goals handy and within reach. Each of my students has an ELA binder, so they can simply write their goal on a piece of paper. As their goal changes, they can cross out and revamp the goal. It's nice to be able to see a running record of how their goals change over time.

Self Assessment
But having students write these goals is not enough. They need to regularly assess their work to see if they are moving closer to reaching their goal. For example, some of my students have revision as a goal. Specifically, they want to add more specific details to their writing during the revision stage. So, when my students are in this stage, I ask them take their learning goal with them. What a great focus for the students! Instead of trying to critique every aspect of their writing, they can focus on 1-2  things...which is what we do as teachers when we grade their writing. 

Across the Curriculum
Learning goals can be created for any content area. I have found them to be very powerful tools in getting students to take responsibility for their learning and crank up their motivation. It gives them a purpose for learning, and gives them something to aim for. I hope that you will give them a try!

Do you already use student created learning goals? I would love to hear how you get your students to take responsibility for their learning!

Until next time!
**Please excuse any typos as I don't have the super power of being perfect :)

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