Today was a professional development day in the New York City public schools. My school staff made the long trek up to White Plains for a day of team building and focus on a new curriculum we will use for reading comprehension next year. Our last rotation for the day focused on goal-setting with our students and how we will try next year to implement a monthly goal-setting routine with our students where we work with them to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and next steps.
I’m sure this is something we all use at the beginning of the year, and many of us continue to set goals for and with our students along the way. I feel like I have overlooked in the past the value of setting goals at the end of the year, and I know that I will definitely be spending some time over the next three weeks setting goals and establishing frameworks with my current students for how to stay focused during the summer and into middle school, and how these goals connect to their longer-term hopes and dreams.
The next few weeks are filled with excitement for my fifth graders. We have our long-awaited senior trip, which is an overnight experience at a team-building camp in upstate New York, senior field day at Pelham Bay Park, prom, and graduation. My students are really excited (as am I!) for these special events, but I have found myself feeling uneasy this year about the seeming focus on these events as an END… not as the beginning of the next phase of learning. It is desperately important to me that I send my students off to middle school as prepared as possible to remain on the path to success they are clearly on right now, and I don’t want the end of the year to de-rail that route. One strategy I am using this year to try to prevent that from happening is connected to an end itself… summative assessments.
For most of my students, our summative assessments have yielded astounding growth and content mastery. At the same time, just on the skills level, there is usually room for improvement. None of my students achieved 100% mastery on ALL of ELA, Math, and Social Studies summative assessments, and none of my students is ready to write a weekly column for the New York Times. With that as a starting point, we established that there is always room for improvement and that knowing specifically what we still struggle with is the first step to moving past it. With that in mind, I worked with my students whole-class to write one goal based on ‘assessment skills.’ These were pretty cut and dried and included things like “I want to get better adding and subtracting decimals and fractions,” “I want to write longer sentences,” “I need to make more connections when I read,” and “I need to think about cause and effect when I read history books.”
These strictly academic standards-based goals are an excellent first step for my students. They are clear-cut and easy to develop a plan for. They are also easy to measure… at the end of the summer, my students will be able to look back and see if they got better at their goals or not. What is more difficult for my students is to reflect carefully on processes they are good at and not so good at so they can take responsibility for improving them. To figure these out, we brainstormed a list of things students must do to be successful in school. Things like listening, following directions, staying organized, paying attention to when you make a mistake, working in groups, asking for help, using the resources around you, and taking advice in a nice way all came out of the discussion. I asked my students to choose one of these and come up with a plan for how they could get better at it.
One of my students accurately pointed out during these exercises that you are never done learning and that nothing is ever ‘good enough’ in school. I want this forward-thinking spirit to drive my students through the summer and into middle school, and I feel like this goal-setting activity was a good start to encouraging this mindset in my students. As we near the end of the year, what steps are you taking with your students to ensure that the progress and learning they achieved with you is continuing into the summer and beyond? Please share your strategies and insights here!
You will be hearing from me on a different day next week due to our ‘Senior Trip’ on Thursday and Friday. I will be posting about de-certifying students from special education. If you have any suggestions or questions about this topic, feel free to post those as well!
**I left my camera at school yesterday… look later this weekend for some pictures of student work and ideas related to these goal-setting processes to use in your classroom!**