Guide students to the creation of their own meaningful goals and take
advantage of the excitement, expectations, and newness that the start of the
school year brings.
Primacy-recency theory indicates that students are
most likely to remember what they learn first.
On Day One, when students tend to
be more fresh and hopeful, set aside some time to take your advisory class
through these steps to successful goal-setting.
In How the Brain Learns, David Sousa asserts that the first minutes of class are students’ most attentive, what he calls “prime-time-1,” and should be used for the learning primary to your goal.
Successful middle school
goals are student-generated; caring adults set the stage and steer them in the
right direction. Important steps include establishing a purpose and core
desires, stating what will be done to get there, and predicting the consequences
of success. Afterward, teachers commit to doing everything they can to assist in
the realization of student goals.
Steps of successful
1. Establish a Purpose
A. In a notebook or journal,
ask students to brainstorm reasons for coming to school (2 minutes)
students all the information they need to be successful:
- they have two minutes
- they are to think and write silently
- they’ll be sharing their ideas with others after they write
- their answers must be stated positively and be school-appropriate
- they may write complete sentences or create a list
- their answers will be used to help set goals later in the
Ask: Why are you here? Why school? What’s your purpose
Sample student response: My purpose is…
I’m here to get a
high-quality education; I attend school in order to be able to make a difference
in the world; I’m here to learn so I’ll be able to make something positive out
of my life; my purpose here is to learn as much as I can; I come every day to
better myself; I’m here to prepare myself for a happy, fulfilled adult
B. Students share their ideas in pairs (1
Teacher facilitates by forming pairs and modeling how pairs
should interact, including:
- greeting each other
- using appropriate voice level
- using appropriate body language of speaker, listener
- thanking each other when finished
C. Pairs report their ideas
to whole group (3-5 minutes)
The teacher facilitates; hand-raising and
waiting to be called upon before participating are required. The teacher or a
student scribes a list of student responses on a large sheet of paper. If a
student offers an inappropriate response, don’t include it in the list.
D. Review list (3 minutes)
- Read entire list aloud, and post
- Check for understanding
We have established and discussed what our purpose is.
Knowing why we’re here will help us as we think about goals we have for this
year. Let’s keep this list in mind as we proceed.
Interest in Goal-setting
Set the tone for positive, meaningful planning.
For example, tell a personal story, read a narrative or poem, watch a film or
film clip, display a work of art, or play a piece of music that inspires people.
The following are possible sources of inspiration:
Films to excerpt:
“Pride,” “The Knights of South Brooklyn,” “Mad Hot Ballroom,” “The Ultimate
Gift,” “A Walk to Remember,” “Hairspray,” “Remember the Titans,” “Snow
Treasure,” “Breaking Away,” “Smoke Signals,” “Pow-wow Highway,” “Whale Rider,”
“Hoop Dreams,” “Aquila and the Bee”
Stories to excerpt:
I Know Why the
Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou; The Absolutely True Diary of a Half-Breed
Indian, Sherman Alexie; Snow Treasure, Marie McSwigan
“Magic Johnson” by Quincy Troupe; Langston Hughes’ dream poems
“The Thinker” by Rodin; “Mona Lisa” by DaVinci
Sunscreen” by Baz Luhrmann; “When You’re Smiling” by Louis Armstrong
Students must understand the importance of listening carefully and
thinking about the messages contained in the spark you choose.
going to watch an excerpt from the movie “Pride,” which is about what it takes
to overcome all sorts of obstacles and become successful. Watch carefully:
you’ll be responsible for knowing what the main characters in the film desired,
what got in their way, and how they overcame the barriers to success. I’ll ask
you for your input, so pay attention.
What did you notice? What were the characters’ goals?
What obstacles they had to overcome? What inner qualities did they possess that
allowed them to persevere?
Create a link between the spark and
The movie we just watched contained characters who
struggled at many points, but once they set meaningful goals and committed to
achieving those goals, nothing could stop them. And here we are, with the entire
school year stretched out before us…the possibilities for successful learning
are endless. What an opportunity! Let’s come up with some goals of our own. What
are your goals for this school year?
3. Write Initial
The idea is to have each student create initial goals so the
goal-setting conversation can continue. The goals needn’t be comprehensive or
in-depth at this stage; more formal goal-setting conferences will follow. They
may jot them down in writing journals, academic planners, or on a piece of
loose-leaf paper. The goals they write can include one or more of the following:
- An academic goal for reading, writing, math, science, and/or social
- An academic goal in each class they’ll have during first term
- A social-skills goal
- A social-skills goal for each: Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility,
Empathy, and Self-control
- A study-skills goal
- A leadership goal
- An extracurricular goal
Ask: What do you want to achieve?
Sample student responses: My core desires/goals are…
I want to improve my math skills this year; I want to become a more
creative writer; I want to experiment with exotic chemicals in biology class; I
want to learn a lot about U.S. History; I want to improve my study and
note-taking skills; I need to participate more is class discussions; I want to
cooperate with others more when working in small groups; I need to learn to
manage my time better when I’m in class and when I’m at home.
are kept confidential; they’ll be altered slightly and made public in the next
4. Transforming Goals into Declarations
declarations from their goals, students move from stating a desire (“I want to
improve my math skills”) to crafting a positive plan of action (“I will improve
my math skills by focusing in class, doing all the work to the best of my
ability, handing it in on time, and studying for tests.”) Their goal becomes, in
John Dewey’s words, “An idea with a future.”
Solicit thinking about
What was the Declaration of Independence?
declaring their independence from Britain, what did the founders of the United
States commit to?
One powerful thing we can do with the goals we just
wrote is to turn them into declarations. By beginning each goal with “I will…”
we declare to ourselves and the world what we’re going to do to make sure
our actions fulfill our purpose here. A declaration is a call to
What are you going to do to get there?
responses: My declaration…
I will improve my math skills this year by
focusing in class, completing all my work on time, and not procrastinating when
studying for a test; I will become a more creative writer by reading as many
interesting novels as I can and by copying the writing styles of the authors I
like; I will keep complete, precise notes in my science lab notebook; I will do
a research project on the Civil War and read novels set during the Great
Depression; I will block out time in the afternoon, before dinner, to complete
all my homework, and I will use abbreviations whenever possible while taking
Take a look at the goals you’ve just written. Let’s transform them
into declarations by explaining what you’ll do to meet your goals. Remember to
begin each declaration with “I will….”
5. Students Write and
Students approach the chart and sign their names on
it, thereby committing to action.
Example: Teacher has asked students to
create goals for reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and social
skills, and has prepared four distinct areas on a bulletin board in the
classroom to display them. Teacher passes four Post-it notes to each student.
Students transform their goals into declarations and write them on the Post-it
notes provided. Finally, they post the declarations on the bulletin board. When
all are displayed on the board, each is read while the class
6. Analyze the Consequences of Success
stop for a moment and analyze the consequences of success by visualizing
themselves in firm possession of the knowledge they want.
fast-forward to the end of the school year. Say, for instance, that we meet all
our goals. What will the payoffs be? How will each of us be different? What
impact will our new knowledge have on the world around us?
How are we
better as a result?
Sample student responses: By the end of the
school year, I see myself being able to understand and use algebra to solve
problems; I’ll be on my way to helping make the world a better place by seeing
what the effect of burned carbon really is; I’ll be able to communicate my
creative ideas more clearly, which will give the ideas I have an outlet; my life
will be better by next June because I’ll have a better understanding of what
makes US citizens unique; I’ll have developed much better habits of taking notes
and studying, which will allow me to learn more and forget less; by the end of
the year, I’ll have a lot more friends, which will make me much happier, both
here and outside of school.
Answers may be shared in pairs, with the
whole group, or kept private.
7. Teacher States Commitment to Guarding
Because you have successfully framed your
purposes for being here, created goals out of what you want for yourself, and
declared what you’ll do to get there this school year, your ideas now have a
future. There is nothing more important to me than helping your declarations
become realities. I promise to do everything I can to make sure you all have
every opportunity to achieve your goals.
With declarations in place,
teachers can move to the next step: developing a Social Contract that students
use to achieve their declarations.
We’re going to need some rules so
we make sure we fulfill our declarations.
Going through this process
carefully, step by step, at the beginning of the year, and perhaps renewing it
after the winter break, allows students to envision large, fulfilling goals for
the year and plan to do great things in life. It helps set a smooth path for the
year and creates the structure in which expectations and consequences for
behavior will be established. Remember, “Go slow to go fast!”
about Teacher Language
The language used by teachers throughout the
process of making declarations is paramount. How we talk to students-and whether
what we say encourages reflection among them-can define the type of relationship
we have with each student, can impact how clear they are about our expectations,
can determine whether they grow their capacity to think, and can affect their
own language use. Indeed, there’s probably no single more important aspect to
teaching than the language we choose to use when we’re with them.
are several moments during the school year when teachers need to be “hyperclear”
with students-when our message is particularly important to the learning
community-and this is the first such moment. Students must understand
intellectually and viscerally how committed the adults in their world are to
their success as students. If they feel it’s true as they hear it
said, it’s more likely to sink in. Take advantage of this moment!
Chris Hagedorn is a Developmental Designs consultant and
staff writer for Origins.
Published September 2008