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.
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.
Day Three and Beyond
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.
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.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.