Students Never Cease to Amaze Me

By Shawna Easton, Secondary Section, Prosper, TX:


Even after 13 years of teaching, students continue to astound me each year. When I approached the idea of goal setting with my students, I was surprised at their reaction. I thought it would be something like, “Ugh, why do we have to do this? This is dumb!” Instead, they really bought into the learning process.

Let me back up a little bit. In Texas, our teacher evaluation system (T-TESS) mandates that teachers set goals for themselves. During our conferences with our evaluator, we have to discuss what we are doing to meet those goals. In one such discussion with my administrator, I thought to myself, “Why aren’t the students doing this?” After my conference, I came up with a simple Goal Setting spreadsheet for my students to use to track their goals. I designated the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet for the different genres studied this year (poetry, expository, persuasion, fiction, etc.) and for writing.

I had students set SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. The reason I had students set SMART goals is because I knew I would have received goals like, “I want to read better.” OK, that’s a great goal, but when do you want to be a better reader? How would you track that progress? And there are many more questions that would need to be answered. I knew teaching students, even 8th graders, how to write a SMART goal would be difficult, but I walked them through the process of what exactly each piece of a SMART goal should look like, and I gave them examples of my own SMART goals.

First, I would have students analyze their data. This can be any kind of data you want them to look at to create a goal. I usually use some sort of assessment data (tests, benchmarks, semester exams, CFA, etc). I break it down for the students and communicate to them which question measures which standard. From there, they can use the information to start brainstorming.

The first time the students write a SMART goal, I take them through a step-by-step process. (I use this wonderful SMART goal graphic organizer from the gracious people at Scholastic.) This organizer helps so much and now the goals my students write are almost flawless.

After the students organize their thoughts and have a “formula” on how to write the SMART goal, I have them write a goal for every genre, as I mentioned. At this point in the year, all of my students have a goal in poetry, fiction, and expository. It can be a goal relating to anything in that genre.

At the beginning of the year, I had this grandiose idea that I would conference with every student about every goal they made every time they made a different goal. That was great in theory, but it didn’t pan out the way I had planned, so now I have the students take a few minutes every now and again to reflect on each goal. They have to ask themselves, “What have I done to reach this goal?” I also use their goals to conference with them, as sort of a “check-in”. I have the students add this information on their spreadsheet under the “Check-In Date” and “What have you done to achieve your goal?” columns.

Again, I’m surprised by their honesty and how much drive they have now that they’ve made goals for themselves. For example, I have a few students who made their poetry goal about writing more poetry. These aren’t necessarily students who are writers or poets, mind you, but now that they have this goal, they’ve been writing more and writing some pretty stellar poems.

And these aren’t even in-class assignments. This is purely 100% outside-of-class work or homework. How great is that? Students taking their goals and their achievement in their own hands! This is what we want as educators; we want students taking more ownership of their learning and being more engaged in the learning process. Goal setting is just one of the many ways we can make that happen.

Author Bio: Shawna Easton is an 8th grade English/Language Arts and Reading teacher at Rogers Middle School in Prosper ISD in Texas. She loves to help teachers transform and redefine their classroom while thinking of ways to keep school engaging and meaningful for students.