Getting into Goals – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today, my students set their first reading goal of the year. I can hear your gasps. It’s October 15! One tenth of the year has gone by, goal-less! What were you thinking (I can hear you ask.)?

No, I did not fall and hit my head, nor was I abducted by aliens for the first month of school. One of the things I’ve learned over my many years of setting goals with kids is the importance of going slow to go fast. We have been very busy building reading stamina, getting to know each other as mathematicians and increasing our writing fluency. And we have gathered data. All of that work came together today to help my students write thoughtful, achievable and important goals in reading.

Here’s what happened in my classroom today. I hope that some of this vignette is useful to you, so I’ll be pretty detailed, and also let you in on my teacher moves.

As the kids came back from recess, I asked them to grab their data binders and a pencil and gather on the rug. During the first month of school we had already organized the tabs in the binders and students had tracked their reading with the Weekly Reading Record and their Quick Writes with the Writing Fluency Graph. Today, my goal was to have students look at the data they had already gathered and use that to inform their goal. Starting with the data helps students know their strengths and challenges, so they are more likely to write achievable and meaningful goals.

As the students gathered, I showed them a copy of the Book Shelf Recording form from my Student Data Binder resource (grab it on TPT today!) Immediately they connected it to the class bulletin board where we have been collecting book spines all month. Yippee! I’m always delighted when my students make connections. Makes me look like I know what I’m doing. 🙂 (I created our class bulletin board using the spines from this so-cute bulletin board resource by Lotts of Learning.)

I let the kids know that they were going to be creating their own personal Book Shelves to record their reading for the year, and I gave them copies, including the My Bookshelf Key. Then, the magic started to happen. Kids were moving around the room, checking the bulletin board, checking their reading logs on EPIC books, looking through their data binders at their Weekly Reading Records. Conversations sprung up.

“Is Ada Twist, Scientist a Science Fiction book?”

“What about Loser? It is Realistic Fiction?”

“Where would I put this book about Theodore Roosevelt?”

All the work we have done with genre was coming together in the focused buzz from every corner of the room and kids were talking about BOOKS!

Then I asked them to leave the data binders behind but bring their brain to the rug. And I said, “Has anyone ever talked to you about setting goals?” Of course, they all nodded and some kids piped up with examples from school and sports.

So, then I asked, “And, did the goals work? Did you improve?” This time the responses were mixed. Some kids said yes, and others said no.

Finally, I asked them what they knew about New Year’s Resolutions. One of my boys explained what they were, and then another boy blurted out, “But most people don’t keep them! My mom always says she is going to start going to the gym, and she never does!” I promise I didn’t ask him to say that, but it was too, too perfect!

“Well, they say a goal without a plan is just a wish,” I replied. “So, today, we are going to learn how to set meaningful goals and achieve them!” I then asked them what they thought might make a good goal area for Reading. They came up with this list:

  1. Number of books read in a year
  2. Speed
  3. Trying new Genre/Wide Reading
  4. Minutes spent reading

Not one kid said they thought they should make a goal about their reading level. Of course they didn’t! Reading levels are for teachers, not kids! (For more on that, be sure to check out this blog post.) Then we had a conversation about how many books they read last year. Five books seemed to be the general consensus. I told them that smart people who studied education had learned that about 40 books is the right number to help a student be ready for the next grade level. I was very clear. Thirty-five books is good, sixty is also good. And if they only read 5 last year, then 10 as also good! The goal should be based on their data, including number of books read last year and number of books read so far this year.

Next, we focused on genre. One girl said she thought she could read 5 books in each genre category. There are 15 categories, so we did some math and decided that was too much! She decided to read one book from each genre category, and then choose two favorite genre to read more widely. She then broke the goal down by month, and decided that in the month of October she would read at least three different genre.

Finally, we talked about a goal based on minutes. The kids agreed that would be easy to track on the Weekly Reading Record. As for fluency, no one wanted to set a goal around that because we decided that you might reach a maximum speed and not be able to go any faster, no matter how much you practiced. The last 15 minutes before lunch, you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom. Kids were moving their pencils, flipping the pages of their data binder and THINKING!

The students are really taking their goals seriously, and I couldn’t be more proud of them! I said at the beginning of this blog post that it’s important to go slow to go fast. We certainly have rolled out the goal setting slowly. Next week I will continue to move slowly through the data tracking process, and we will revisit the goals at least once a week. In November, my students will take their data binders home for their first student-led conference. It will probably be January before they are setting and tracking goals in all the academic areas. I have learned over many years of experimenting with goal setting that the slower I go in the beginning, the more ownership the kids develop and the faster they will go in the end.

I hope this post has helped you think about a few things to try in your classroom. Goal setting is so powerful, and if you roll it out carefully and thoughtfully, your kids will soar.

Happy teaching!

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