Goal Setting Made Realistic
Sylvia Ramirez, Noncredit ESL

A Collection of Gifts, Issue 2, Fall 2006
Reprinted with permission

A Collection of GIFTs is a collaborative effort of MiraCosta's Writing Center and Teaching Academy.

Recent research on learner persistence emphasizes the importance of working with students to set short and long term goals. In ESL we ask our students, “Why are you coming to school?” and they inevitably answer “to learn English.” However, this answer does not help them focus on specific steps they need to achieve that nebulous desire. Goal setting helps students identify realistic goals that are achievable within a certain period of time. Then students can move step-by-step through the activities to achieve the goals. They own the process and the results.

I use a Goal Form developed by Ron Fujijara at Long Beach Adult School. (To learn more about what Ron’s goal-setting process, go to <http://www.m-z.biz/goals/goals.htm>) In my class, I take digital photos of all the students and help them complete the Goal Form. I work together with students to perform the following:

  1. Brainstorm realistic and attainable goal statements. For example: “to learn English” is too general, and “to learn 5 vocabulary words” is too specific
  2. Complete the Goal Form, and after revisions, type the information and insert the digital picture
  3. Present the Goal Form information to the class, sign the form, and post it on the classroom wall
  4. Review Goal Forms periodically and make changes as needed

At the end of the term, students are required to report their progress towards the attainment of their selected goals. They respond in writing to the following questions:

  • What were your two goals for this term?
  • What was your plan to meet these goals?
  • In your plan, which activities did you do well? Why?
  • Which activities were difficult? Why?
  • Did you accomplish your goals? Why or why not?

I provide my students with sample answers and a model paragraph to assist them in developing their individual progress reports. During the last week of the term, students read their individual reports to the class.

My experience has shown me that students are often very insightful about their progress. One student wrote that he didn’t complete all assignments because he missed too many classes. He realized that he had to make school a priority in order to learn more English. Another student wrote that it was impossible to write in English for 20 minutes every day. In the future, she plans to set a more realistic goal of 5 minutes every day. A third student told the class he couldn’t watch TV in his native language with English subtitles because his television didn’t have that capability. He is now looking for a newer TV that displays subtitles. They also reported many success stories. A young woman wrote she would try to only speak English with her husband, a native born English speaker. She said it was extremely difficult in the beginning, but they have made progress. He now understands he has an important role in helping her learn her new language. An older man said his goal was to read English better. He read English stories to his grandsons every week. They loved the extra time with their grandpa, and he says he now feels more comfortable reading in English.

I believe creating a plan with specific goals is powerful for students. Because they identified their own goals and constantly reviewed and revised them, the process allowed them to think critically about what they needed to do in order to learn English. It promoted responsibility and documented progress. They were so proud to read their initial Goal Forms and, then, report their progress through their final paragraphs. An example of a student goal form from my class can be found at <http://www.miracosta.edu/home/sramirez/2LeeC.pdf>.

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