If you walked into our fourth-grade classroom with our students on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning, you’d see our students unpack, set their reading goal for that night, and make their way to the carpet. Once at the carpet, they’d stop to read the morning message on our SmartBoard, do some work on the SmartBoard related to the morning message, and then find a seat along the perimeter of the carpet to start a circle so that we’ll be able to greet one another.
If you walked into our classroom on a Friday, though, it would look a little bit different. Instead of reading the morning message, some of our students would stop by the bulletin board at the front of the room where an assortment of colored papers is hanging. They’d remove the colored paper with their name on it, grab a clipboard and a new piece of colored paper, and then find a seat along the perimeter of the carpet. Once seated, they’d begin filling out their new piece of paper. Fridays are the day that we reflect on, celebrate, and set new goals for ourselves.
We introduce goals to our students on the Friday after the first full week of school by asking them to think back to the first day of school and name a way in which they’ve grown already since then. Our students share these into the silence so that classmates can hear one another’s ideas—maybe they’ve grown in that way, too, or realize they're hearing about an area in which they’d like to grow more.
We remind our students that they are constantly growing and changing, and that if they weren’t, it would mean we’re missing an important opportunity. We say, “We’re the kinds of people who are always trying to grow to be even stronger than we are now. One way that we’ll help keep ourselves on track and support one another in this work is to set weekly goals. Every week, you’ll have the chance to share a goal you’ve met and set a new goal. We of course have more than one goal at a time, but we’ll choose one that we’re going to really focus on and make public. It might often happen that it takes more than one week to meet a goal, and that’s okay, too. When the week comes that you’ve met your goal, you’ll share it with us on Friday and choose a new goal.”
We show our students our goal-setting sheets, which are printed on colored paper and color-coded by subject area, and explain the different parts:
In our classroom, we have different-colored sheets for goals in these areas: reading, writing, math, content (science and social studies), and general (not subject-specific, maybe something more behavioral).
On the first day we introduce goals, everyone chooses the color appropriate for their first goal, fills out the goal sheet, and then posts it on the bulletin board. The following Friday, we invite anyone who’s met their goal to take their goal sheet down so that they can share it with the class and choose the colored sheet they need for the new goal they’re setting. While they’re waiting for the class to gather at the carpet, they work on filling out the sheet for their new goal.
Once the class has gathered for morning meeting, we invite someone who has reached their goal to begin sharing it with the class, and then work our way around the circle. After a goal has been shared, we snap to celebrate. Students keep their goal sheets for the goals they’ve met in a plastic page protector sleeve with their name on it that hangs along the back of our library bookshelf.
The first few weeks, we’ll remind our students that it’s no big deal not to have a goal to share every week—or even for a few weeks. Some goals are goals we meet quickly, and other goals take longer. We will check in after a month to see if anyone hasn’t met their goal and then work with those students to support them. Maybe there’s something we can do to help them reach it, or maybe it was a goal that isn’t so appropriate right now, so they set a new one.
Goals are motivating for us personally. Even if we’re not totally successful in meeting the goal we set out to reach, having one usually helps motivate us toward some aspect of the work that we wouldn’t have taken on otherwise. We believe the same is true for our students.
In our classroom, we emphasize that we’re all constantly growing and changing, and goals help focus our efforts toward more intentional growth. Setting goals helps our students acknowledge areas of their school lives in which they’d like to grow that they might not have considered otherwise.
It’s important to note that these weekly goals are more informal than goals we might set at the beginning of a writing unit of study, for example, because those goals are reflected on across the unit of study and the students’ published piece or on-demand writing at the end of the unit is used as evidence of meeting their goal. These goals are not evidence based in that way, and instead are driven totally by the students and the areas they recognize as needing some focus and growth week to week.
Why Do We Make Goals Public?
A bulletin board at the front of the room holds the goals we’re currently working toward. It requires some thought and time to set a goal since it’s being written down, and putting it in a public place means that others now know our hopes and can help hold us accountable to them. Just like weight loss or fitness groups advocate having accountability partners as a way to help us reach our health goals, there is something about physically writing down a goal and posting it for all to see that helps create more accountability.
The goals that students set as part of this weekly goal-setting routine are often small, and are most often met in one or two weeks (remembering to put homework in our “work you’re proud of” basket every morning; practicing math facts as part of nightly math homework; walking quietly in the halls; and writing a little more each day during writing workshop are some examples). Still, we celebrate when we’ve decided we’ve met our goals by sharing them with others and snapping in response.
We believe that this regular celebration of goals, and the time to reflect on how the work toward our goals is going, helps create a classroom with students who believe they are doing things worth sharing and worth being proud of, that even the smallest growth is something worth celebrating. In our classroom, having goals we’re constantly working on helps to reinforce that we’re serious about our work and about growing to be better students and people than we were yesterday.