Formative Assessment (Part 4): Student Goal Setting

This is part four in my series on formative assessment where I blog my journey through Dylan Wiliams’  book, Embedded Formative Assessment and share my school’s change journey.

At the beginning of 2015, we asked our teachers to consider how they might introduce individual goal setting based on the continuum into their teaching programs. We’d already plotted our students on the continuums (read about that here) but it wasn’t enough merely to work out where students were ‘at’. We needed to work out the steps that would continue to move their learning forward. The continuums are excellent tools for this as they break skills down into a hierarchy, making the next steps very clear.

Two of our Year One teachers seized upon the idea of goal setting enthusiastically and decided set up to three goals for each student. Examples include: ‘Use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence’, or ‘Leave a space between each word’. They are simple, specific and easily observed. Each student has their learning goal displayed on their desk to remind them of what they are working towards. As the teacher moves amongst the students, they can refer to each child’s goal and provide immediate feedback as to whether they are achieving it. The process is motivating for our students and helps them to focus their efforts. As the goals are small and simple, students quickly experience success. Our teachers track these successes as they happen, and set new goals to continually move the learning forward.

In my own case, I’ve found the process has already achieved great success with my support students in Years 3-6. Once a week I work with a small group of Year 4 and 5 students who require additional support in literacy. The gap between their current ability and the desired level of proficiency is quite overwhelming. Setting specific goals helps us to focus, and makes learning seem much more achievable.

In our first session, I gave the students copies of the writing aspect of the continuum, re-written in child friendly language. We used it as a checklist, working across the continuum, ticking off all the markers they felt they had achieved. When we arrived at Cluster 5, which included the ability to write 4 or 5 sentences about a topic of interest, my students stopped. They had assessed themselves honestly, as none of them were currently demonstrating that skill. They also identified a few other markers they needed to work on in that cluster, such as re-reading their work to ensure it makes sense.

For each student, I made a goal sheet with the 2-3 goals they had selected written in child friendly language. It included check boxes where they could tick each time they demonstrated they had met that criteria. They would bring their writing book to our weekly sessions with the goal sheet pasted inside the cover. If things were going well, we’d reflect on what helped them to meet their goal. If they were not achieving, we’d reflect on what changes might need to be made to help them succeed. While I provided some explicit teaching focused on their goals, my role started to become closer to that of a coach than a teacher.

My students loved having their explicit goals. They enjoyed having a visual reminder to help them focus. They loved showing their teacher their writing and receiving a tick each time they demonstrated they had met the required standard. They proudly showed me the evidence of success each week in their books. They engaged well with my lessons, worked hard, and within 3 weeks were already consistently demonstrating success. They are now working towards a new set of slightly more challenging goals.

In his book, ‘Open’ David Price writes about the value of sharing our practice and work with others. By doing this, we continually add value and improve as a whole community. The great improvements I am already seeing at my school, in just five weeks, are a result of being a part of an open, sharing community.

Last year, I took a team of teachers to visit  Mount Pritchard East Public School in South Western Sydney. Much of what we are bringing into our school is inspired by the practices we saw there. Our first data wall, for example, was modelled on the data wall that they are using to track their students across the Literacy continuum, and some of the goal setting practices that I describe here, also grew out of what we saw in place there.

Our child friendly goals were also developed by other teachers. I found them on this amazing website, curated by Shellie Tancred, a teacher with the NSW Department of Education and Communities.  The website itself is a collection of resources created by teams of teachers from many schools.

Other posts in this series:

Formative Assessment (Part 3): Data Walls for Collaboration and Dialogue

Formative Assessment (Part 2) and a case for differentiated instruction

Formative Assessment (Part 1) Introduction


2 thoughts on “Formative Assessment (Part 4): Student Goal Setting

  1. I love ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ by Dylan William. I often think about what Kohn said, as cited by William: Kohn says: “If you specify in detail what students are to achieve, then they may well achieve it, but that is probably all they will be able to do.” This is an important thing to remember when goal setting, not to be too limiting.

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