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From Resolution to Reality: Making and Keeping Academic Goals

Now is the perfect time to set specific, achievable academic goals that promote student motivation, confidence, and success through deliberate short- and long-term planning.

As the semester is still fresh, it’s a perfect time for students to think about their academic resolutions. What goals do they have for the remainder of the school year? What kinds of academic achievements are they working towards?

Research shows that deliberate goal-setting is linked to greater motivation, confidence, and independence—and, therefore, success. Consciously setting goals also puts students in charge of their own learning. This self-regulation is a crucial skill, as it heightens students’ motivation to learn and helps them feel like more of a stakeholder in their own education.

When guiding students towards making their own goals, there are several things to keep in mind:

Achievable and Specific Goals:

Goals, especially academic resolutions, should be achievable and specific. When asked about their school year goals, many students will begin with something like “good grades.” While understandable—good grades are good, after all—this goal is too vague to be helpful. You can guide students towards greater clarity by helping them focus on concrete actions. What will help your student achieve good grades? Is it making sure to read 30 pages a night, or reviewing trigonometric functions three times a week? This kind of specificity is crucial.

Scaffolding:

Academic achievement always comes in stages, and smaller goals are inherently more achievable. By having specific, achievable goals, students can better visualize how their actions will bring them closer to accomplishing both their short- and long-term goals. You can promote this scaffolding by encouraging students to think small-scale, breaking their larger goals down into specific accomplishments.

Timelines:

Your students may be thinking of their semester-long academic resolutions, or their overall school year goals, but you may want to encourage them to work down to the smallest timeframe. By thinking in terms of daily or weekly accomplishments, students will have a much easier time making their goals achievable and concrete.

Writing/Visualizing Goals:

By writing out or otherwise visualizing their school year goals, students can better conceive of, and contribute more positively to, their own growth. The same applies for visualizing how large-scale goals can be divided into more manageable, achievable chunks.

Routines:

Routinizing the actions they’ll take towards their goals, or incorporating those actions into a pre-existing routine, will help ensure that students continually make progress towards their goals.

Emphasizing Self-Advocacy and Support:

Support is crucial to achieving one’s goals, and it’s crucial that students not feel they are alone on their journey. Ask your students how others around them—teachers, counselors, mentors, peers, or others—can support them in achieving the academic goals they’ve set for themselves. This support can be social, emotional, academic, or otherwise.

Checking In:

It’s important to check in on your students’ progress regularly. Some helpful ways to check in include asking what kinds of improvement the student feels they made and celebrating their successes, along with asking about potential areas for further improvement. When short-term goals are met, inquiring about the next steps can help maintain and nourish your students’ growth mindset.

 

Conclusion

Setting achievable academic goals is primarily a matter of thinking about the small concrete steps that add up to major accomplishments.

In this time of academic resolutions and school year goal-setting, you can support your students by encouraging them to think and work at the small scale to make steps towards academic achievement. By helping students create and follow their own actionable goals, they will feel more motivated and independent, and most importantly, they will feel a sense of ownership over their own education.

Locke, E. A., and G.P. Latham. 2006. “New directions in goal-setting theory.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 15(5), 265-268.

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