Reading Goals as a Means to Practice Goal Setting

Meg O’Donnell, Shelburne Community School

Starting out this year as a new team, with new teammates and new (to me) students, we had the opportunity and challenge of establishing our structure and organization systems, not the least of which was the goal setting process. We knew we wanted students to set personal goals that promote personalization in their learning. But with students, teachers and families coming from a variety of experiences in this realm, creating cohesive systems and strategies to support this was overwhelming. We needed time to get to know one another and our processes first.

For teachers who might have only had students set goals within their content area, setting goals for habits of learning, or a goal outside of a teacher’s discipline might seem daunting. Questions such as, How will I coach students on a goal area that I am not as familiar with? How will I know they are making progress if I only see them for a short amount of time each day? are legitimate questions, and required our team of teachers working together to set up manageable systems to support everyone in the process of setting goals, making progress on those goals and collecting evidence, to eventually celebrate learning with families.

It made sense for our team to start small, and so we focused on practicing goal setting for independent reading. We started with gathering evidence first, a step typically saved once a goal was established. Each day, students recorded data on either the number of pages read or the number of minutes read, their choice. This step put students in the driver’s seat, and required them to manage the process by recording daily progress. A table required them to write the date, the title of their book, and the number of pages/minutes read. A graph allowed them to visualize their progress. Teachers and students reminded one another of remembering to record each day, even on weekends. Our short but important prime group each day set aside time for this purpose. After two weeks, we asked students to reflect on their results, and based on their findings, craft a long term goal related to reading.

Some students have opted to continue monitoring the number of minutes or pages read, having realized that sometimes just tracking their progress was a motivator in and of itself. I had one student comment that reading became a habit because he was collecting the data; he’d already read more books this year than all of last year. Now reading is more enjoyable because he feels successful at it.

An additional element added to monitoring reading progress was to introduce students to a social identity audit of the authors and the characters they read. This not only allowed us to introduce the topic of social identities (a key part of our identity unit) but allowed students to reflect on the types of characters and authors they tend to read. A self-audit allows them to consider other possibilities. Since our book reviews at the start of the year offered a diverse collection of authors and characters, students who choose this goal to pursue have several books to consider adding to their independent reading list.

Process for practicing goal setting: (Reading Mini-goal)

  • Collect evidence:
    • Look for patterns in the area you are focusing on - what do you notice?
    • Give yourself enough time to notice patterns, with specific systems in place to collect that evidence
  • Reflect on Evidence
    • What patterns do you notice about your reading habits? What factors contributed to your results?
    • What surprised you?
    • Do you think this two week data collection accurately portrays your reading habits? Why or why not?
  • Based on Evidence, Set New Goal

We are now in the middle of our student led conferences where students are sharing highlights of their learning thus far this year; for many the mini-reading goal was a highlight. They are set up to establish a personal goal, meaningful to them, and have a model to follow for collecting evidence and reflecting on progress.