A useful way to begin a discussion on academic and personal student achievement, if you have a positive classroom culture, is to use a four corners routine. For this you simply need to establish meeting points in each corner of the classroom labelled A-D. Then project several reflective questions or statements onto your whiteboard or simply write them on your blackboard. These questions or statements should promote discussion among your students and have them engage in deep reflection on why they did or did not reach their set goals. You can make questions as general or specific as you see fit. For example, to open the reflective session you could ask:
“How Happy are you with your academic performance last semester?”
A. I exceeded my expectations.
B. I am happy with my performance but need to work hard to maintain it.
C. I did not meet my expectations and need assistance.
D. I am feeling lost academically.
Once students take up a position in one of the corners labelled A-D have them discuss why they have chosen that position. Guide their reflection by asking them to identify their next steps or goals. Use these to form the basis of setting new goals for this term (point 4). Feel free to make questions as specific as you feel you need them to be. Instead of general questions like this one, have students reflect on subject-specific performance or, ideally, ask questions that challenge them to think about interdisciplinary skills (point 4).
Use this same routine to reflect upon students’ personal goals. Challenge them to discuss practical examples of how they fulfilled their goals. I would highly recommend that you participate in this routine also. Show students that you have set personal goals and that you too are only human and find it a challenge to meet your targets. This models life-long learning for the students as it shows that personal and academic development is an ongoing process. For academic goal-setting I would recommend that you use student reflections at the end of each unit of work throughout the year and make space there for students to reflect on your performance as well. For example, when students reflect, ask “Imagine that you are the teacher, how would you improve this Unit for next year’s class?” You could use this feedback as the basis of your own academic goal-setting. It shows students that you listen to their feedback and are committed to their learning.
3. Look Forward: Setting Personal Goals
Linking the students’ personal goal-setting process to your school’s Mission Statement makes it more powerful. Because many of the students’ personal goals will be fulfilled outside of the classroom or school that link to the Mission Statement means that you are promoting the growth of productive future citizens but ones that bear the hallmarks of your unique school environment.
4. Look Forward: Setting Academic Goals
Secondly, by making the upcoming units, key learning objectives and assessments transparent on the first day back, you allow your students to design more meaningful academic objectives. When a student does not know what the upcoming term will look like academically then his ability to design personal academic goals is limited. If a student knows that he has difficulty with punctuation and sentence structure in essay writing and he knows that he will, as a formative assessment, have to write an essay in early February, for example, on Viking Settlements in Northern England then he will, on the first day of school, be able to set clear expectations for his performance on that essay. It allows him to identify those areas of concern he has and to interact with the teacher in advance of the assessment for extra tuition or feedback.
In every subject, especially at second level where students have multiple teachers, students will, through feedback with their teachers, come to identify subject-specific areas for academic improvement. Therefore you, as a homeroom teacher, may wish to have students use their three academic goals to take a more general view of their learning and have them identify and prioritise interdisciplinary skills that they are most concerned about, for example, report writing, which is crucial for Science, Geography or English among others; or graphing, which is essential for Geography, Science and Mathematics. By taking time on your first day back to speak to your students about identifying areas of academic challenge you allow them to set goals that can have a major impact on their academic performance across all subjects. In the case of a student who is struggling with graphing you could encourage him to hold meetings with his Mathematics and Geography teachers simultaneously to clarify issues with this. Students could set the goal “I will better understand what type of graph to use in the correct context by holding at least one lunchtime meeting with Mr. Math and Mr. Geo this term.”
5. Give Second Chances
Finally, it is just as important that all of your students know that they have a fresh start also. Though you may not hold any hard feelings towards an individual student you do not always know how you are perceived. As you welcome the students back from their holidays and you wish them a happy New Year take time to clearly articulate that everyone in your class is equally respected and that you are committed to helping them all reach their personal and academic goals. Take time to reflect on why you are all together in school. Tell them that you care about their personal development just as much as their academic development. Prove it to them by returning to the goals (point 3 and 4) regularly, showing interest, support and happiness when they achieve their goals.
Happy New Year and I wish you the best of luck for the school year ahead.