Goal-setting has been a part of my class for many years, long before my decision to stop grading individual assignments and begin meeting with students to decide their grades at the end of each quarter. In the past, they were a part of the grade students would receive, but with all the other grades that were being entered throughout the quarter, they were only a small part. This year, though, goals now play a much larger role in our classroom. As a result, I spent a lot of time examining the categories in which students would need to set goals, and I’ve also spent more time thinking about how I can help students make progress towards these goals, both by giving them reminders and the support they will need in order to reach them.
First, though, a bit about our goal-setting process. At the end of the quarter, students set goals in specific categories for the upcoming quarter, I look over them and suggest revisions as needed, and then I add certain goals that I think the student needs to work on, mostly in the same categories but sometimes in other areas too, especially in writing where I might add a process-related goal for some students. Then we’ll meet for a short conference at the start of the next quarter to discuss them. The categories are always open for revision, but here are our current ones:
- productivity and pace (number of books finished, number of pages read a night)
- book selections
- expanding their tastes as readers (experiments with authors and genres)
- letter-essays, roundtable paragraphs, and contributions to roundtable discussions
- booktalks or making recommendations to other readers
- their work as a poet (free-verse poetry is our first genre study and something students often write the rest of the year in between finishing a piece and starting a new genre study)
- topic choices
- purpose and sharing their writing with others
- editing or mastery of specific conventions on their individual editing checklists
To help students track their progress and make plans, we take time every two weeks to fill out a reflection form where students record anything they’ve done over the previous two weeks that relate to their goals and make plans for the next couple weeks. Over the first half of the year, I’ve realized that I need to do a better job of teaching students how to reflect and how to fill this out. Otherwise, many seventh graders will just go through and put yes or no for everything.
During the second half of the quarter, I will begin to check in with students to see what goals they need to focus on and what help they need from me. As needed, I will begin to put together small stacks of books for students who want/need to try a new genre or encourage them to talk to specific students in class who know those genres well.
Another simple thing I’ve started doing that has helped a ton is to put goals at the top of related documents. In reading workshop, there are two main types of writing students do about their books: a letter-essay once a month and a paragraph(s) in preparation for roundtable discussions during the other weeks. Each quarter, they have a document where all their letter-essays and others’ responses are written, and they have a separate document for their roundtable prep. Every student has at least one goal related to letter-essays or roundtables (many have goals related to both), and these goals are pasted into a box at the top of these documents. That way, every time they open this document they are reminded of their goal.
This has also been a big help to me too. Each time they do these, students get written feedback. On their letter-essays I give them feedback, and they immediately make any necessary revisions. On roundtables, since the paragraphs follow the same basic format each week, they get feedback to apply the next time around. In both cases, having goals printed there makes sure that some of my feedback is related to those goals. Plus, when I type up my notes, which I use to put comments in our online gradebook for parents to see, I can also be sure to include notes related to their goals.
In addition to these things, I’m always trying to come up with new ways to keep students (and me) aware of their goals. We’ll paste editing-related goals onto their individual editing checklists. Sometimes students will copy reading goals on an index card to use as a bookmark (this works well for some but others lose them almost immediately). I’ll also sometimes paste all their goals into a table that I can print out and carry with me to writing and reading conferences, giving me the goals of the whole class on the front/back of the same document.
I know that it’s just as important for me to stay focused on these goals as it is for students. I can’t create a situation where we meet at the beginning of the quarter to set goals and then I turn them lose for nine weeks before I check back in and see how they do. In the past, there were times when I was guilty of this. Now, however, with students’ goals being the sole topic of our assessment conferences at the end of the quarter, we’re both accountable for these goals. Students are accountable to do the work necessary to meet them; I’m accountable to provide the support they need to be able to do this.