Goal setting provides important benefits to students’ academic and social-emotional growth, and that’s not likely to change for students learning from home this school year. In fact, it may be extra important because, as was true in the fall, goals can provide focus when things get chaotic. Here are three ideas for how to set meaningful goals for students, even during virtual learning.

1. Start with a conversation
In talking with dozens of teachers about how they set goals with students, I’ve learned nothing is more important than one-on-one conversations with kids about what they hope to accomplish and why. When teachers talk with students, they can start by reflecting on all they were able to accomplish in 2020, despite the many hardships of the year. Next, be sure to review evidence of their learning, talk about their aspirations, and set concrete goals and action steps.

2. Find new, independent activities to build and measure skills
Many of the structures of the traditional school day don’t work online, and this period has reminded us of the importance of finding multiple, diverse modalities to meet the varied needs of students. Well-chosen digital tools can be an invaluable source of formative assessment information that provides you with ongoing feedback on each student’s learning progress while empowering them to be more independent in their learning. The insight will make it easier to pair students with the exact content that’s most appropriate for their current learning so they can build their skills.

3. Practice patience and grace
Virtual learning requires us to pause and consider what types of learning are meaningful and realistic for every student. As learning understandably slows during this period, students also appear to be receiving more failing grades than before. But a failing grade is the end of a learning conversation; it communicates that a student can’t master an area of knowledge and shouldn’t bother continuing to try. Under the present circumstances, that judgment is not only harsh, but also premature. Whenever possible, shift the focus from letter grades to learning goals. This will put the learning we seek from students in context and provide an opportunity to get back on the horse even after a temporary misstep.

Setting goals with the future in mind
The hardest part of working with goals is often not setting them, but maintaining the motivation and persistence to follow through. The tips I’ve shared can strengthen your student’s motivation to learn—this year and throughout their academic career. We’re seeing proof of student learning in classrooms across the country every day and in research on learning during COVID-19, so we know it’s not all for naught.


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