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Instructional Practices

6 Types of Learning Goals for Students

4 Min Read
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True motivation comes from within. It can be inspired, encouraged, and facilitated by outside forces, but the most powerful resolve is intrinsic. As teachers, we’re tasked with helping students find their own motivation, leading them to suitable student learning goals, and lighting the path to get there. This isn’t an easy task (particularly when you consider a classroom of twenty or more students) but knowing what kind of goals benefit students most is a step in the right direction.

Each student, from elementary to high school, has their own needs, strengths, and motivators. In order to improve everyone’s skills and really zero in on individual needs in your classroom, you can place more emphasis on personalized learning. Personalized learning is just that — personalized.

This is a tall order — where do we begin? A great place to start is with developing personal learning objectives. Once goals have been established, the steps to get there will be clearer. More importantly, students will know what their learning destination is and will be motivated to embark on their journey.

There are a few different types of learning goals for students. Some students may benefit from a mix of educational goals, perhaps some short and some long term, or maybe one main goal for each subject area. In this article, we’ll help you figure out what your students really need so you can maximize time for the quality learning that you strive to bring to your class.

Student Learning Goals Examples

1. Short-term goals

Short-term goals have the benefit of providing nearly instant gratification, unlike goals spread over a year or a few months. These small milestones can actually set the stage for accomplishing goals over a longer term or be used throughout the year as benchmarks. Short-term goals work well for younger students, but you shouldn’t discount their worth for older students — everyone loves the feeling of accomplishment. Plus, they are a great way to get the ball rolling and introduce goal setting to students.

For instance: An example of a short-term goal is wanting to read one chapter of a book each day for two weeks. Here, the idea is that accomplishing the goal will increase reading time, improve reading skills, and hopefully allow students to develop a habit of reading more frequently.

2. Long-term goals

For a more complex goal, you need to set your sights on the long term — a goal that is worked on throughout the school year or over a semester. These goals will involve multiple steps and require check-ins along the way to ensure that the student is still on track. As mentioned earlier, you can sometimes check off short-term goals along the way as they lead up to the main goal. Encouragement is key here, as well as simple reminders of both the goal and the required pacing.

For instance: A student may want to improve their science grade from a D to a B over the course of the school year. This is a long-term goal that requires a series of steps over time. When setting a goal such as this, teachers and students should work together to trace the best path for success.

3. Work-habit goals

Some goals of the learning process may depend less on what’s being worked on and more on how the student is working. If some students can improve work habits then this is an area for goal setting. Students of all grade levels can analyze their own work habits with guidance to identify areas for improvement.

For instance: Perhaps a student procrastinates, frequently waiting until the last minute to begin assignments. Consequently, they end up panicking and rushing to get the work done, which often results in a poor grade. A work habit goal may be set to decide on a timeline for each big assignment as soon as it’s assigned, setting aside a reasonable amount of time each day to complete the necessary work. This will likely result in better-quality work.

4. Subject-area goals

These goals are fairly straightforward in terms of their meaning: You and your student identify which subject requires the most extra attention and go from there. The steps involved in reaching a subject-area goal should be specific; the end goal is typically to improve a final grade, or to improve a series of grade marks. If grades are not an issue and a student still identifies a certain subject as one that they’d like to set goals for, they may be craving more extended or advanced learning in that particular area.

For instance: A student may be getting high marks in English but would like to learn more from the subject. Assisting that student in writing lengthier pieces, doing more creative research papers, participating in journalism activities, or starting (or joining) a book club might be some ways to help the student reach their subject-area goal.

5. Behavioral goals

Behavioral goals are those such as getting along better with classmates, practicing patience, being quiet when needed, etc. Depending on the nature of the behavior goal, these may be best set privately between teacher and student (with parental involvement, or other support staff). If the behavior goal applies to the whole class, it’s best to set the goal when all students are present. Talk to students about why it would be important to improve in these areas and be sure to give concrete examples.

For instance: Say your students as a whole have been struggling with transition times, such as moving from one task to the next. Perhaps when it’s time to switch from an art activity to silent reading it becomes chaotic in the classroom. A good approach would be to talk it out in a class meeting (why is it important to move quickly from one task to another?) and set a specific goal for growth (for example, using a stopwatch or other timer and sticking to a one-minute transition time.

6. Specific knowledge goals

A specific knowledge goal can be set in any class at any time. There is always more to know and improve on, so each student can choose something they want to learn more about, a skill to refine, or an entirely new concept to dive into. This goal pairs especially well with personalized learning initiatives.

Finding out what students really want to learn about is excellent information for a teacher to have. With this knowledge, you can tailor your lessons to student interests, plan extension activities around knowledge goals, and even give students the opportunity to teach their peers about what they’re learning. For that last point, you can set up a learning swap activity if it works in your classroom: Partner students with others to have mutual learning sessions, in which one student ‘expert’ shares their knowledge with the other, and vice versa.

For instance: If you have a student with a goal to improve their multiplication skills, be sure to set aside extra practice time or create fun arithmetic games. Have the student track their skill progression with a chart, and encourage them to set progressively more difficult or different goals as they improve.

Goals of the Learning Process

Personal learning goals for students provide an important boost to personal development. They allow students to take ownership of their learning and help teachers figure out where to focus extra attention. Goal setting brings about positive change and growth that’s good for everyone.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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