Helping Students Set Goals in Math

It has been said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). If you were to poll your students on their goals in math, most would probably say they want to make an A or just to pass for the year. While that’s a start, both are long-term goals focusing on grades. How do we help students set more specific goals in math, perhaps ones that are more short-term and focused on skills so that they can excel to their greatest personal level? 

  • Believe your students are capable learners: This should be a no-brainer for teachers. But if we’re honest, how often do we have preconceived ideas on the amount various students can learn based on their previous letter grades, what parents or other teachers have told us, or our own experiences with a child? We have to change our own mindset about a student’s potential before we can help them improve their own self-concept. Keep in mind the saying of a six-year old, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was – so I was.” 
  • Encourage students to believe they are capable learners: How we speak to our students is important. “I know you can do it,” or “It’s okay. Try again” are part of our typical teacher lingo. Students need to speak positively about their own capabilities too though. “This is hard, but I can do it.” “I don’t know how to do this yet.” The word yet is such a powerful word. It allows a person to recognize their current struggle but encourages them to strive towards their future goal. The Achievement Goal Theory focuses on the power of personal motivation in reaching goals. Another study demonstrates how a positive self-concept can be a major indicator of student achievement in math. So, encourage your students to speak and think positively.
  • Have students create goals for their own learning: Help students be aware of their own learning process. One way to assist with this is through self-reported grades. This can help students know where they are in math, how to improve on what they’re currently working on, and what they need to do to learn the next skill or concept.  For example, a student’s goal could say, “I will be able to correctly answer 10 subtraction problems in 2 minutes by the end of the month.” Here are some other examples to help with student goals. You can also search for “self-reported grading strategies elementary” to find a template for your students. 
  • Have students make a list of ways to practice the skills necessary to meet their goal: How much time do they plan to spend practicing their subtraction facts at home or if they have extra time in the classroom? Do they plan to use music, flashcards, an app on the phone or tablet, etc.? 
  • Use visual aids to track progress: Never underestimate the power of a sticker chart, even with your older students. There is something so rewarding about tracking your progress on a graph or chart. It helps for a student to be able to look back and see how far they’ve come. It also helps them look ahead to see how close they are to achieving their goal. Plus it can meet educational standards around understanding and representing data. 
  • Celebrate successes: Just as your student’s goal is their own, let them choose their own way to celebrate their successes for meeting their goal. If it’s a long-term goal, celebrate along the way, like when they master certain fact families. Of course, you may want to provide a pre-approved list for them to choose from because it is doubtful that you’re planning to give them a car for learning the seven multiplication fact family. Also, remember that a reward doesn’t always have to be tangible; it can be a privilege like playing a game, extra recess time or getting to sit in a special seat. 
  • Share a student’s goal with their parents: Many kids need one-on-one help to practice math skills, but time in the classroom is limited and you’re only one person. So enlist the help of parents to practice with their child at home. This also encourages family time. Additionally, parents can help with celebrating their child’s success in meeting their goals. 

Often student goals in math simply require practice. Our supplemental resources can help with that! Whether your students’ goals require intervention or enrichment, our resources complement any core curriculum and offer opportunities to extend core instruction to ensure every student succeeds, allowing them to develop skills, confidence, and a love of mathematics. 

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ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

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