Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 14/14.2.2

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Setting Goals in the Classroom[edit]

by Natalie Varnell a very wise girl

Learning Targets

Readers will be able to develop an effective goal by understanding the important components of goal making as a process.

Readers will be able to identify strategies in which enable students or individuals to visualize their goal.

Readers will know that self-confidence and the power to actually believe in personal achievement is critical in any goal.

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” ~ Fitzhugh Dodson (Goal Setting Guide 2008)


Success does not happen randomly, but ultimately it is the result of a goal that has been achieved. Goals are arguably the most important step in obtaining success. There are thousands upon thousands of books that are written on creating and achieving goals, and that’s not including all the self-help diet books which are essentially the same concept except the goal is specified. It is no secret that the “secret of success” is envisioning a goal, and then developing a plan to achieve it. As educators it is important to set goals not only for our class as a whole but also for students on an individual level. Furthermore, it is important to guide and allow students in creating their own goals and aspirations.

If goals have been known and accepted to stimulate success, then why are so many people unsuccessful? Every January people make a New Year’s Resolution, but statistically 97% of all New Year’s Resolutions are never achieved (York 2005). Although making the goal is important, there are ways to move beyond the idea of the goal and into making progress towards the goal. Michael York author of Uncommon Goals and motivational speaker states,

“Effective goals are more than just thinking or stating a “wish” out loud but actually taking a pen and paper and beginning the process. Promoting his case that success in any endeavor has substantial evidence that it is a PROCESS. The getting from point A to point B.” (York 2005)

Commit to Paper

He argues that the goal needs to be physically written down to make it concrete (York 2005). The same principle applies to classroom goals. All goals within the class should be written down in some form or another. One activity that a teacher could conduct in her classroom that would implement physically writing down the goals is splitting the class into groups with the objective of creating motivational posters to serve as physical reminders of what their classroom goals are. The posters could have a catchy slogan or just a picture of the goal being accomplished.

Tailor Made

Another important component in developing effective goals is to make the goal personal and specific (Snyder 2003 pp389). All too often teachers focus on overall goals for the class and neglect helping students develop their own specific individual goals. Goals are more effective if they are what YOU desire and tailored to YOUR needs(Snyder 2003 pp389). Teachers should help guide students in figuring out exactly what they wish to accomplish in the class. The first step in determining what goals to pursue, is one must have an understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses(Snyder 2003 pp 389). One way to help students assess their areas of improvement is to have them fill out a KWL chart. A KWL chart is a chart that consists of three columns. The first column is titled “K” which is in reference to “what I know”. The second column is “W” in reference to “what I want to learn” and the final column “L” is a reflection column for “what I have learned.” This chart is very simple and is typically used on a specific subject contents such as math and reading. For bigger and broader goals, self-assessment would be better in a different format. Teachers could easily develop their own assessment sheets to give students with questions that would invoke reflection on areas in need of improvement.

Break It Down

After goals have been set in place it is important that students follow through with steps to work towards the goal. Most often students set long-term goals which can be overwhelming without breaking the goal down into smaller sub goals(Inspiring Teachers 2009). For example, a popular goal students often set is to make the honor roll. The goal becomes much more attainable when broken down into smaller goals such as improving one whole letter grade on the next Science test, or getting a perfect score on the next reading quiz. Students are able to focus better when big goals are broken down and they receive more motivation towards the big goal with each success of the mini-goals. Teachers could also facilitate visual tools such as “Goal Ladders” and Calendars to help demonstrate the steps necessary for the goal (Inspiring Teachers 2009). A goal ladder is a picture of a ladder with the goal written at top and at each “Step” of the ladder a mini-goal is written. Each time a mini-goal is achieved the student will then color in a step in the ladder. This is an excellent way to teach goals as a process, and to help students see their success.

Careful Goal Development

Another common mistake teacher’s make when setting goals for students is focusing primarily on grades (Inspiring Teachers 2009). It is important to set the majority of goals outside receiving an “A” on the next test. When goals are centered on grades, students become fixated on their grades and not what they are learning (Inspiring Teachers 2009). Students will begin to scrutinize and compare grades with their peers which may not be beneficial to either student. For example, a teacher promises a pizza party to her class if no one fails their Algebra test then if one student did fail he would be open to negative criticism from the other passing classmates, or he might experience unnecessary guilt and low self-esteem afterwards. It can also cause test taking anxieties (Snyder 2003 pp 390). A better goal for the same class would be a pizza party would be rewarded if every student made improvements with the next test. This goal allows students to individually improve from their last test which is not a specific grade requirement, but more a general improvement requirement. This goal is more equally challenging for every student while also being equally attainable. An example of a goal that is completely non-grade oriented would be a student’s goal to read five books a month, or be chosen to represent the school in a spelling bee.

Got to Have Faith

Aside from actually deciding upon the goal, it is absolutely most important that students believe they can achieve their goals. Neither a goal nor its plan is anything without the faith in oneself to achieve it(Addison 2009). Teachers need to help students realize their potential and foster positive self-esteem. It is also critical that a teacher instills the perseverance in their students when they fall short of their goal. Students need to understand that it is “ok” if they didn’t make their goal and to continue to try.

“The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach" ~ Benjamin Mays (Goal Setting Guide 2008)

In Conclusion

Setting goals is important for success both inside and outside the classroom. Teachers need to help students develop their own individual goals which are tailored to their specific interests and needs. Classroom goals should be agreed upon by both the teacher and students. The teacher should help the student break their goals down into smaller sub goals and then develop an action plan to get there. It is also helpful if students write down their goals as well as keeping track of their progress on paper to better visualize the goal. The ultimate goal is learning and growth, not a grade. Goals require self-belief which teachers should model and encourage. People who set goals, make a plan, and believe they can achieve always succeed. Teaching students to develop goals, is a skill they will benefit from their entire life.


1) When developing goals it is important to ________?

a. Write your goals down

b. Tell an accountability partner

c. Make them far-fetched

d. Read a self-help book

2) Mr. Hanson wants to create a class goal and reward achievement with an ice cream social. What would be the BEST goal to set from the following choices:

a. If all students have perfect attendance

b. If all students do their reading homework

c. If all students have improved upon their last Math test

d. If all students pass their science test

3) One way to help students visualize and track their own progress of achieving their goal is

a. Report cards

b. KWL charts

c. Goal Ladders

d. Teacher’s feedback

4) Sarah made a goal to be chosen in the upcoming play. She planned to practice lines every night. She knew that she has never been in a play before and there are other peers who are better acting than her. Sarah ultimately did not make the cut. What is the most likely reason as to why she fell short of her goal.

a. Her goal was unrealistic

b. She did not possess star quality

c. She did not make a plan to achieve her goal

d. She essentially did not believe she would make it.


A, C, C, D


Addison, penny (2006) “Student learning journal: goal setting. Thomas carr college.” March 22, 2009

C. R. Snyder, Shane J. Lopez. (2003) Positive Psychology pp 389–390

Goal Setting Guide. (2008). "A Collection of Inspirational Goal Quotes"

Inspiring Teachers. (2009). “Tips teaching students to set goals”. March 22. 2009

York Michael. (2005). “New Years Resolutions: why don’t they work”. March 22, 2009

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