Frank Norris said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” These words ring true for us. We have writing projects, articles, and blog posts that we want to write. Ideas to write about flood our minds, but the act of sitting down and putting our fingers on the keyboard isn’t always easy. As writers, if we want to accomplish anything, we need goals. Without a goal, our free time gets taken up by errands, laundry, and, yes, even brushing the dogs’ teeth. It’s amazing what we can find to distract ourselves.
Yet, we love having written, and this feeling pushes us to set goals. So each Sunday night, we make a plan starting with the question, “What do I want to accomplish this week?” Having a goal and a plan makes all the difference. It isn’t that we always achieve our goals, but more often than not, we accomplish more because we planned.
In schools, our students can learn the power of setting goals to accomplish their hopes and dreams. Whether it is to become a stronger athlete, find more time to read, or try a new genre in writing, students can take charge of their learning by understanding how to reflect and how to set goals. As they learn the process, reflecting and then setting goals can become a way of life.
One way we can help students incorporate reflective thinking into their lives is by teaching the steps in the goal-setting process. Helping them internalize these steps gives students a choice in their learning. They can decide what is important and what they want to accomplish.
During writing workshop, we teach students the steps in the goal-setting process. We intentionally make the goal-setting process explicit so that students can internalize the structure and rely on it when they want to make changes in their lives. Here are the steps we share with students and how one third grader set his writing goals.
Step 1: Read your piece of writing. What do you notice? What line or section stands out to you? Name what you did as a writer.
Jacob, a third grader, pointed to a sentence in his text that said, “It was boring at first, but it got exciting.”
Tammy said, “What do you love about that line?”
Jacob replied, “I wanted to explain that the glass–bottom boat was really fun.”
Tammy said, “So you added your feelings into your writing. When you add feelings to your writing, it helps your reader to know your character a bit better.”
Step 2: Read a piece of writing you admire. You can choose the mentor text the class is studying, a different mentor text, or a piece of student writing.
Jacob chose to reread a few pages of Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse.
Step 3: Reread the piece and ask, “What do you notice? What line in the text stands out to you?”
After reading, Jacob pointed to a line and said, “Karen Hesse used dialogue right here. I would like to try that.”
Step 4: Find a place in your current writing where you could try the strategy, and say the words aloud: “Write in the air.”
Pointing to the text, Jacob said, “I could add what I said right here:
“’Mom, can we really swim with the dolphins?’
“‘We sure can!’ Mom yelled.”
Step 5: Write your goal on a sticky note and put it in your writing notebook. Put the sticky note on the first page of your draft paper.
Jacob added dialogue to his next piece on his own:
“I looked up at the monument and felt small. ‘I don’t want to be here,’ I said to my mom. ‘Can we go home now?’”
When the goal-setting process is clear, students can internalize the steps and use them whenever they want to learn something new. As Peter Johnston writes, “If nothing else, children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals.”