Writing Skills and Expectations Before Goal Setting

Making writing goals is a common activity at the beginning of the school year. But it is essential that students understand the range of skills they could be working on if they are going to make skills which are both effective and achievable.

Before students can make thoughtful and useful writing goals, they need to know what is expected of them, what good writing looks like, and what skills they need to master to create their own good writing.

 
Writing skills and expectations before goal setting. Don't jump straight into making writing goals with your students. Take a moment to make sure they understand what is expected of them and how they can achieve that. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

When we ask students to make goals at the beginning of the year, we often ask them to be clear in what they would like to achieve. But are we making sure they have a clear understanding of what they should be aiming for?

When adults make goals, we usually have an idea of what we are specifically aiming for. If we want to become a better runner, we may do some research on what a good (and achievable) time looks like for different distances. If we’re striving to have a cleaner house, we may read articles on what household jobs need to be done or watch documentaries on decluttering our houses.

Having an understanding of what a successful outcome looks like, helps us make more informed goals - goals we’re more likely to meet. The same goes for our students - when they know what they should be aiming for, they’re more likely to create goals which are effective and achievable.

In the classroom, students have writing outcomes which come from the curriculum. But curriculums tend to be written for teachers - education professionals who understand specific terms. They are often hard to read without background knowledge so we rarely put them in front of our students.

One way we can overcome this is by pulling out the most important elements to present to our students or by rewriting them for our students to understand them. Students can explore these easier-to-read versions of the outcomes before they start making writing goals - they can make them a subject of discussion; look at how they might work to achieve these outcomes, what skills are involved to achieve them or how they can become specific achievable goals.

 
 

Before we ask students to set writing goals, they should first reflect on where they’re working from. But it is also essential for students to have an idea of what they’re aiming for in their writing - both generally and broken down into specific skills to master.

By exploring the writing of others, students can identify what writing skills they want to work on during the school year to make their own writing better.

1. Explore published writing

You can share a range of good writing - from picture books to articles to poetry - from the first day of school. This can be done by reading aloud, but you should also make a wide range of good writing accessible for students to read on their own every day.

Before writing goals are set, you can share pieces of writing which support different outcomes. As you read these with the students, you can identify the skills the writers have used to create effective writing, creating a list of skills which students may wish to work on during the year.

2. Model writing yourself

Writing in front of your students can be daunting, but it can also be incredibly valuable for you and them. Students can see how more experienced writers work to think about their writing, how they work to improve their writing while they write and how they apply skills they have been working on.

Demonstrating writing in the first weeks of school, before setting writing goals, allows you to highlight certain skills which you might like students to master. Students are able to watch how you work on those skills and what working on those skills actually looks like and can add those to a list of things they may wish to focus on.

3. Assess writing together

Use a piece of your own writing or a professional piece of writing to examine in-depth. You may wish to use your list of skills which you’ve put together from the outcomes or from other pieces of writing and assess whether the author has shown these skills well - and how they have done that.

Students can then use this assessment to determine how they might work on improving those skills.

For example, students may be focusing on how to use sentences of different lengths to create effective narratives. By examining the sentences in Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, students can see how the author puts together sentences to draw the attention of the reader. Students can then make a goal to vary their sentences when they are writing and to revisit those sentences when they are editing to see if they make the writing more effective.

By taking a closer look at what good writing can look like, what skills they need to master and what outcomes they are trying to achieve, students can be better informed when they make their writing goals - ensuring that the goals are more thoughtful, more achievable and more relevant to them as writers.

 
 

Don't Make Writing Goals with Blank Pages - Creating Writing to Make Writing Goals

It was hot and stuffy in the classroom, the anticipation of the new school year still hanging thick in the air. Miss West had places a worksheet on everyone’s desk and had returned to the front of the room.

“Today we’ll make our writing goals for the year,” she said, holding up a space sheet. “I need you to think about how you’d like to improve your writing this year.”

Bayley wrinkled his nose. He tried to remember some of the writing he’d done last year. He remembered that some of it was really good, but he couldn’t remember what he was really good at. And what did he need to improve?

 
Don’t Make Writing Goals with Blank Pages - Creating Writing to Make Writing Goals. A blog post looking at what students need when they are setting goals at the beginning of the school year. Perfect for back to school.
 

When we ask our students to make writing goals at the beginning of the school year, it can be tempting to jump straight into the goal making process. But many of our students are stepping back into their ‘writing shoes’ for the first time after weeks or months since they last engaged in the writing process.

When the first thing these students are asked to do is ‘make writing goals’, students are working from a blank page. They may end up making writing goals, but it’s highly likely that these goals will just be surface goals which don’t really identify where students can effectively grow and achieve in the year to come.

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As the students tumbled into the room on the first day of school Mr Evans asked them to put their piles of new books at the front of the room.

“Just grab a pen and a regular notebook,” he called out, “and find somewhere comfortable to sit.”

As the students settled around the room, Mr Evans found a piece of music. “I want you to listen to this,” he said, “and write me something. It might be about how the music makes you feel. It might be about your holiday. Or you might write me a brand new story. Just blow the cobwebs away and write.”

He gave the students fifteen minutes of writing time, before asking them to stop their work. “I guess we’d better do the organisational stuff then,” he joked.

What would happen if our students started writing from the very beginning of the first day of school? What message would this send to our students? And how can we use that writing.

By using prompts - questions, quotes, pictures or music - we can give our students something to write about in those early days of school. By repeating this daily over the first week or two, we’re showing them that writing is valued in our classrooms, that it’s something we just do.

We’re also able to use the writing they produce. It can be used as formative assessment in writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation. By writing daily, we get to see how students change and improve, how they approach different prompts or styles of writing, and students get a portfolio of writing to use as they set their writing goals.

Are your students looking through their writing? Grab this free reflection resource 

 
 

Joey put the three pieces of writing down in front of her and smiled at Ruby. “I’ve read through these now, and I think they’re really funny. I’m using the same words a lot, though.”

“Maybe you can put that on your list,” Ruby suggested, “You could try to use a better range of words?”

“I like that,” Joey wrote it down. “I think I’ll do that and work on stronger sentences. Let’s look at your writing now.”

Once students have three or four pieces of writing, even short pieces of writing, they’ll have a starting place for goal setting. Students can sit down and read through their work - whether it’s on their own, with a partner or with the teacher - to determine what they’re doing well and where they’d like to improve. Having the writing there in front of them gives them a solid starting place - a concrete example of what kind of writers they are so they can create goals to become the writers they want to be.

Get Back to School and Writing resources here

 
 

Helping Our Students With Goal Setting

Setting goals can help students take charge of their own learning and move them towards being more independent learners. It's also something which fits in nicely with back to school or new year activities - giving students a chance to make a fresh start. So, how can we help them set effective goals?

 
 

Talk With Our Students About What Goals Are

When we talk about goals and goal setting, it can become easy for our students to fall onto vague wishes or desires - to be a sports star or to 'do better'. Learning about what a goal is - and what it isn't - can help students to become more thoughtful and focused when they're setting their goals.

Goals are specific things to work towards, often with deadlines and objectives to reach. They can be big things - working towards getting top marks in all subjects - or smaller things - working towards learning certain mathematical facts. They can be aspirational, but should be realistic - for example, most Australian kids can't aim to be the President of the United States since they were not born there!

Encourage Reflection

It's easier to set effective goals when we know where we have strengths and where we can show improvement. Asking students to reflect on their own learning and their past experiences can help them have better success with goal setting. They can look at which subjects they'd like to improve in, but they could also look at their learning habits or how they go with challenging situations. Knowing more about themselves will also allow them to see improvement in the future - to be able to measure how successful their goal setting has been.

Model Goal Setting

There will always be students who learn better when they see what they should be doing. Set goals in front of your students. Go through the processes you might go through to set goals. Make the goals real and achievable - you might want to read certain books through the year or learn more about a specific topic. Allow students to check back in with your goals, let them know if you've been actively working on them or if you think you'll need to alter your goals. The more they see goals being set by other people, the easier it will be for them to set their own goals.

Brainstorm Ideas for Achieving Goals

Don't stop at just setting the goals - help students develop the skills they need to achieve them! I know I've set lots of goals that just end up as pretty little statements hidden in notebooks or tucked away on nice pieces of paper, but that doesn't help me achieve them! Goals are living things which often need feeding and watering to survive! 

Students can work together to brainstorm how they are going to achieve their goals and what steps they'll need to take to get there. Often working on goals can become a little boring or monotonous, so they might like to brainstorm strategies to deal with that as well. The more prepared they are, the easier it will be to achieve those goals.

Revisit Goals

Allow students time to come back on their goals. Show them that goals can be altered if they need to be or that students can come up with new ideas to approach them. Give them time to reflect on what has and hasn't worked as they try to achieve their goal and to think about whether they were too ambitious or not ambitious enough.

By revisiting goals, we also show students that goals don't have to be perfect to work for us. We show students how we can work on them, make them better, learn from our past experiences and grow into better goal setters.

 

By giving our students tools, time and examples, we can help them become better goal setters - a skill which will serve them well beyond their time at school.

 

Looking at goal setting at the beginning of the school year? The Back to School Goal Setting Kit from Galarious Goods is perfect for Grade 5 and 6 students - allowing them to set goals across multiple subject areas.