Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below gives some good suggestions on how to inspire students to set and to achieve challenging goals. It is IDEA Item #15 by Todd Zakrajsek, Central Michigan University, and is from POD-IDEA Center Notes on Instruction series. Michael Theall, Youngston State University, series editor. POD is the Professional and Organizational Development Network [http://www.podnetwork.org/] and the IDEA Center is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve colleges and universities committed to improving learning, teaching, and leadership performance.[http://www.theideacenter.org/] July, 2004. ©2005 The IDEA Center. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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How to Inspire Students to Set and Achieve Goals Which Really Challenge Them
Researchers who focus on student ratings have documented the relationship between setting challenging goals and student achievement (1). In other areas, both laboratory and field studies have consistently demonstrated that setting specific and challenging goals leads to enhanced performance (2). In addition to immediate student achievement resulting from setting goals, completing challenging goals is also closely related to increased self-esteem and self-efficacy (3).
Although there is ample evidence that setting challenging goals has a number of positive outcomes, do keep in mind that not all students come to your class with a desire to be challenged. As faculty, we must find ways to not only develop challenging learning environments for our students, but to create learning environments whereby students set goals that challenge themselves. Inspiring students to set and achieve challenging goals is highly correlated with most IDEA items, although it is most strongly related to items #2 (helped students answer their own questions), #7 (explained reasons for criticisms), and #8 (stimulated intellectual effort). These items pertain to motivating students to take some responsibility for their own learning and to giving a rationale for feedback provided to the student. Interestingly, item #15 does not correlate with items #33 (amount of reading) and #35 (difficulty of the subject), and it correlates only weakly with item #34 (amount of course work). This suggests difficulty and amount of reading do not result in students setting challenging goals for themselves, and that course work may not be a critical factor. The inspiration to set and achieve goals must come from the students. This is an intrinsic factor, but the teacher can help by demonstrating that course objectives and assignments are reasonable, relevant, and achievable. Research (4) has shown that when students value the time they spend preparing for class, they are more involved and more positive in their attitudes.
There are a few things you can do in your course to inspire students to set and to achieve challenging goals. A primary factor is to demonstrate to the students the importance of the subject matter covered in the course. Everyone is more willing to work longer and harder when there is value to the task to be completed. There are many ways to show the direct application of the material in the class: problem-based learning, cases, scenarios, application problems, web quests, or even service- learning projects. Find a way to show students that the material learned can be used to directly help individuals or to solve pervasive issues in society.
A second way to inspire students to set challenging goals is to have them assist you on the first day of class in developing the course syllabus. I have asked my introductory psychology course to do this on a number of occasions with solid success. The only requirements I present to the class are that I need to be able to assign them a grade that reflects their mastery of the material, and they need to be cognizant that within the class there exist multiple learning styles. The students decide on the number of examinations, the days of examinations, types of papers to be written, and other aspects of the course. I can make adjustments to maintain standards, but overall I have found that I will end up with a syllabus and course that students are more invested in because they have helped to create it and have assisted in setting course goals and assessment measures. Student \"ownership\" of the goals will result in more consistent effort and better performance.
Make students accountable for their work and display it for external audiences. For example, if students know that their final projects will be published on the web, they will challenge themselves to complete more extensive projects (5). In order to realize success, students need to have prompt and informative feedback as they complete their projects. It is also important that students develop an understanding or awareness of their own level of performance. Metacognition, or knowing what one knows, is an important skill for students to develop in meeting challenging goals. Evidence suggests that when students are taught to develop improved metacognitive skills, they are more likely to meet goals and achievement improves (6).
A final method to inspire students to set challenging goals is to have them contract for grades. Grade contracts have been reported to reduce the anxiety level of the student by having them focus on tasks, instead of worrying about specific grades on specific assignments. Research has demonstrated that grade contracting results in enhanced student learning and will often result in students setting challenging goals in the course by contracting for a high grade at the beginning of the semester (7). Overall, your \"goal\" is to help students to understand the importance of the content of your course and then to design methods to help them to meet challenging goals. It is well accepted that expectations of high levels of work will result in higher level of work. This turns into a wonderful self- fulfilling prophecy when challenging goals are encouraged, supported, and realized.
In any area of goal setting, determining the extent to which the goals have been accomplished is essential. This not only justifies the rationale for setting goals, but also demonstrates to the students the learning realized by setting and achieving challenging goals. The easiest way to assess the value of setting goals is to document when goals have been accomplished. For this, it is important to state goals in ways that are specific and measurable. Another way to assess the impact of setting challenging goals is to look at work turned in with this method, versus methods in the past where goals were not set. Compare final projects with projects completed in the same course the previous year. Finally, you could use any of a number of classroom assessment techniques to determine whether setting challenging goals results in deeper learning or more critical thinking: focused listing, minute paper, concept maps, and directed paraphrasing (8). Learning is facilitated when individuals set reasonable, yet challenging goals, and then are supported in reaching those goals.
References and Resources
(1) Feldman, K.A. (1997). Identifying exemplary teachers and teaching: Evidence from student ratings. In J.C. Smart & R.P. Perry (Eds.), Effective teaching in higher education: Research and practice. New York: Agathon Press.
(2) Locke, E.A., Shaw, K.N., Sarri, L.M., & Latham, G.P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969 - 1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90(1),125- 152.
(3) Light, R.J. (2001). Making the most of college: Students speak their minds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
(4) Franklin, J., & Theall, M. (1995). The relationship of disciplinary differences and the value of class preparation time to student ratings of teaching. In N. Hativa & M. Marincovich (Eds.), \"Disciplinary differences in teaching and learning: Implications for practice.\" New directions for teaching and learning, 64. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
(5) Chickering, A.W., & Ehrman, S.C. (1996). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as Lever. AAHE Bulletin, October, 3-6.
(6) Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
(7) Dougherty, R.C. (1997). Grade/study- performance contracts, enhanced communication, cooperative learning, and student performance in undergraduate organic chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 74(6), 722-727.
(8) Angelo, T.A., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. See pp. 126, 148, 197, & 232.
IDEA Paper No. 1: Motivating Students, Cashin
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