Goal-setting for Adolescents, Part I

Goal-setting: it’s important, but how many of us know how to do it effectively? As adults, we reflect on our successes and our weaknesses more easily and more innately than teens do whether we are perfecting our golf swing, trying to write more often, or making more time for our families. But, how did we get to this point? Why do some set and reach goals more effectively than others do? What can we do to support our students as they become independent, life-long goal-setters?

When I reflect on the goal-setting instruction I had in high school, I recall isolated experiences during which I discussed my dreams for the future or said I would try harder to complete my homework. I remember goal-setting as an assignment, rather than as a meaningful process.

Goal-setting skills are crucial for adolescents to develop, and it is essential to take adolescents’ emotional, cognitive, social and even physical development into consideration when developing a method for goal-setting that will work for your classroom.

Since adolescent emotions are intensified, student perspectives on lessons and tasks are strong; as a result, attitudes towards a given task can negatively or positively affect student learning. At the same time, adolescents lack the self-regulation skills of adults and may react to situations inappropriately (9). If goal-setting is approached in the wrong way, or if students are not taught how to determine what the best goals are for them, their engagement in goal-setting may be isolated to a classroom experience rather than becoming relevant to their lives.

Studies show that adolescents are becoming more able to use metacognition to identify their strengths and areas of need; however, their abilities develop through practice (8). Adolescents are becoming independent critical thinkers, capable of developing their own strategies, but they need opportunities and support in creating their own approaches.

Goal-setting is an essential life skill, and as adults, we know it is usually impossible to reach goals without relying on others for advice and moral support. Imagine a classroom where students hold one another accountable for reaching their goals whether big or small. Adolescents undoubtedly benefit from the opportunity to practice social interaction. Knowing others’ goals and helping peers reach those goals merges two key skills adolescents need to develop: goal-setting and the opportunity to practice appropriate social behavior.

Teenagers are growing, maturing, and changing physically; such changes affect the ways in which they view themselves. Would setting goals, tracking progress towards those goals, and reaching those goals help them view themselves more positively?

So, taking into consideration the emotional, cognitive, social and physical development of adolescents, what can we do as teachers to support meaningful goal-setting? Post your ideas in the comments or tweet @MissCFPC. Stay tuned for a more practical approach to goal-setting in the classroom in a future blog post.

“A Vision of Literacy for the Adolescent Learner.” Literacy GAINS. Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2012. Web. 25 Aug. 2014.

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