goals · reflections · writing workshop

Students and Goal Setting: My Choice, My Growth, My Responsibility

As a kindergarten and first-grade teacher goal setting by the student was always tricky. I looked back at a post I wrote when I was teaching kindergarten and noticed the way I communicate goals and hold students accountable hasn’t changed a whole lot. In my early elementary classes, we would often select goals as a group and make decisions about what we could try and improve. I then often created a visual that was tailored to most students and then tweaked some for those individuals who were slightly above the goal or not quite ready for the goal. I have always had a strong belief in the power of visuals for students. With third graders, I wanted to put the ball in their court even more. Here are the steps I took to get students owning their goals, how I am supporting them, and how I am holding them accountable.

Day One

Step One:

Looking at my copy of Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins, I pulled out the student narrative sample of third-grade writing that details all the great things the writer did throughout the piece. I covered all these up. We looked at the story and discussed what we thought the writer had done really well. I made notes all around the story. I then revealed what the Writing Pathways book said the writer did well and we looked to see if we missed anything or noticed something additional. We also looked at the language used and talked about how “bit-by-bit” was the same thing as “telling a story piece by piece.”

Day Two

Step Two:

I typed up a chart for students basically organizing the information from our note taking the day before when we analyzed the third-grade writing piece. This then went directly into their writing binders inside a page protector.


Step Three:

I asked students to analyze their own writing. “Look at this list we came up with. What are you doing well and what are you missing? What seems like a manageable skill for you that you might be able to improve this week?”

Step Four:

Students chose one or two skills/strategies from the chart we co-created (above). They quickly wrote their goal(s) on a sticky note and placed it on our goals chart located on the wall.



Step Five:

I jotted the goals on a mini-chart for myself that I can carry around while conferring with students. As I meet up with a student I am able to ask how it’s going, what changes have been made to work toward the goal, what’s working, what isn’t working? I then help by creating some visuals that might guide the student closer to the goal.

This student set two goals, wanting to set up his story with setting details as well as add dialogue to his story.


This student wanted to add dialogue to her story as well. She had bits and pieces of conversation throughout but no punctuation. I made a small example for her to show her how to punctuate correctly.

Day Three and Beyond

Step Six:

Every day, ten to fifteen minutes before the workshop is complete, I do a check-in. I ask that every student, with their goal in mind, search their writing to see evidence of growth. If they don’t see it, they are able to focus on this task in isolation for a few minutes, making changes where needed.

Step Seven:

Each week we are re-evaluating our goals to see if they still match our needs. When I am conferring with students I am able to coach and guide students in their decision making. This is one more way I can give students a choice within workshop with support. It is also another opportunity for students to be thoughtful and reflective within their process, a skill that carries far beyond writing.

My Next Step

I’m hoping at some point I might be able to create some “goal groups.” Students who choose similar goals could meet up at a specific time outside of their partnerships to chat and share how their progress is going.

Something else to think about…

When I began this process I went into it knowing that students would pick goals that might not match what I would choose. I went into it knowing that they might pick something and then not improve in that area because maybe they wouldn’t be ready or maybe they just didn’t quite have the ability to reflect and change quite yet. I was quite okay with these anticipated problems. To me, the idea of goal setting is BIG! My goal the first few weeks for goal setting was to build it into our routine. Teach them what a workshop check-in would feel like. Help them shift gears a bit from writing to reflecting and looking for something specific. This whole idea I have presented is a process, like anything else we do as teachers. As I confer and have small group conversations with students I hope to help them see what next steps might be of value to them and nudge them toward choosing goals that match. I truly value that it is a process and I am so looking forward to watching students grow in their independence as reflective thinkers and writers.

9 thoughts on “Students and Goal Setting: My Choice, My Growth, My Responsibility

  1. I love the way you describe the steps you took to get your students setting and monitoring their goals. We just went through a goal setting cycle with our students in all academic areas. This post would have definitely helped with that. Saving it for the next time we revise our goals as a class.


  2. Love this post! I am a literacy coach for 5 elementary schools and we are in year 2 of the Writing Units of Study. I am constantly using the phrase/mindset, “But let’s think about ‘who is doing the work’ in this scenario?” I’ll be using your blog post for some upcoming professional development. Thank you!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. I can’t wait to share this with teachers who I work with who are also implementing similar strategies. This is an example of true partnership between teacher/student.


  4. Betsy,
    Such an important post in so many ways. Love that the students did the work of identifying what they would see and then chose their own goals. And then this , . .

    “When I began this process I went into it knowing that students would pick goals that might not match what I would choose. I went into it knowing that they might pick something and then not improve in that area because maybe they wouldn’t be ready or maybe they just didn’t quite have the ability to reflect and change quite yet. I was quite okay with these anticipated problems.”

    I love how you anticipated / readied yourself for the fact that goal-setting was a big deal and you were in it for the long term!!! ❤


    1. Thanks, Fran. I thought it was important to note this. It is like anything we try. Just because the chart is pretty doesn’t mean it is going to work at first. Working in stages and building things like routines/expectations around the idea of goal setting, I knew and know that we will eventually be in a place where the actual purpose of all of it begins to take shape. Some students are already being extremely thoughtful while others are putting something on the note because I asked them to do it. These are the students that are going to benefit from conferring and small groups. The light bulbs will keep brightening as we move forward.

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  5. I love everything about this! This is a fantastic idea that I will implement in my classroom. You should consider doing a PD workshop on this topic because I think you’ve come up with something really important. One thing to extend the agency this offers students is to have kids who met their goal offer to teach others who sign up for a “workshop”.


    1. It’s as though you read my mind! Melanie’s post a while back (https://twowritingteachers.org/2016/09/19/small-group-instruction/) inspired me to think how I could motivate and encourage students to work toward a goal, becoming an expert. I’m hopeful that I can try to run an EdCamp style day with students. (Maybe a little planned ahead of time). Set up “workshops” like you said, run by students, using their samples, their process, showing their progress and talking about how they got there. It is definitely taking it to the next level and I think would afford students with an amazing experience.


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