When I sat down to confer with Grace, I was surprised when the focus of the conversation quickly changed to my own reading, specifically a reading goal that I had set and shared with the class. “How’s your stamina?” she said as I sat down next to her. I was so surprised that for a minute I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.
When she repeated her question, I remembered that I had shared with the class my personal goal to improve my reading stamina. I shared that there were a lot of distractions in my life and my stamina was being affected. I modeled how to set a goal and encouraged my students to set their own reading goals. What surprised me during my conference with Grace was not just that she remembered and asked about my goal but that it felt really good to talk to her about it, my lack of progress toward meeting it, and making a plan to get refocused.
After my conference with Grace, I spent time reflecting on my students’ goal setting and how it was going in my class. I’ve been working for years to get a system in place so that my young students know what they are working on and are able to move on to the next goal as needed. We do check-ins as a class and talk about our goals in class lessons, and I review goals during reading conferences.
But it’s been challenging to find a system for my young students to really embrace their goals and feel like they know what they are working toward. I want students to have input into what they want to work on but be able to modify it if necessary. And keeping the goals individualized adds to the struggle. My conference with Grace gave me an opportunity to really reflect and realize that other than a thumbs-up/down, my students weren’t really given time to reflect and plan.
I decided to make some changes in our class goal setting and have found that slowing down and offering more support at the beginning of the year ultimately gives my students more ownership of their goals. Just like other areas of my classroom, a gradual release model is the most effective.
Back to the Beginning
To begin the year, I am sure to define goal and give students examples of goals that we make in different areas of our lives. Several times over the years I’ve been talking about goals in the later part of the year and had a student raise their hand and ask what a goal is. Defining and using the term goal is important to do, right from the start.
Once I think students have an understanding of goal setting, I use our anchor charts to guide them in setting their first goals. At the very start, I use just one chart: our agreements for independent reading. On this chart several expectations are listed. Students use a small sticky note to write their name and place the sticky note next to the agreement on the chart that they think they can improve in. We use this chart with sticky notes as a reference for reflection before and after independent and partner reading. This chart is also easy to reference during our reading conferences.
I continue to use this strategy for goal setting during the next unit of study, but instead of one chart, I remind students of all the things I have taught them. We refer to the multiple anchor charts we have created, and again, students are able to choose their goal and indicate it with a sticky note.
Finally, once the class and I are in a good routine with reading workshop, I extend the goal-setting routine with built-in reflection that I learned from my conference with Grace. At this point students talk with their reading partner, choose their goal, write it on a sticky note, and turn it in to me. If I agree with the goal, I tape the sticky note onto a paper titled “Goals to Habits.” This title is an extension of the work we do in our first reading unit of study, so it connects nicely to the foundation we set in September/October. Each Friday students review their goals with their reading partner and write a reflection on their paper about how the week went. When students have reached their goals—when their goals have become a habit—we write a note on the habits side of the chart.
Going slowly and teaching my students a step-by-step process to set goals and giving them an opportunity to reflect, on their own and with a partner, has changed how my students interact with their goals and has improved their commitment to them. Setting goals is no longer something to check off the list but rather an opportunity for personal reflection. And this continuous reflection helps the goal become a habit.