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Reflecting on iNACOL 2016: Setting Goals to Empower Students and Meet Individual Needs

Monday, November 14, 2016 -- Shannon LaBree

Last month, a group of us from the Edmentum team had the opportunity to attend the iNACOL 2016 Blended and Online Learning Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. With every conference I attend, I walk away with a renewed appreciation for the struggle educators face on a daily basis, as well as all the innovative ideas and creative solutions making a difference in classrooms across the country and around the world.

A key take-away that I returned to with each session I attended and every attendee I spoke with is the importance of identifying and meeting the unique needs of each learner. One session related to this topic, Student Drivers: Creating Classrooms for Student Voice and Choice, particularly resonated with me. It got me thinking—how can educators get students more involved in setting classroom and individual goals at the start of the year, and make sure they continue to be involved in monitoring progress towards those goals throughout the rest of the year?

Of course, as an educator you have specific objectives you’re being held accountable to. But, by involving your students in setting goals to meet those objectives, you can make sure you’re all engaged and invested in working towards the same things. You’ll empower your students by letting them know that their opinions are valued, and you’ll probably pick up some great outside-the-box ideas for classroom lessons yourself. Get started with these tips!  

At the start of the year

At the beginning of the year, make time to sit down with each of your students one-on-one, and work with them on setting individual goals for the year to come. Ask them about the subjects they like and don’t like, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re really interested in. Find out how they prefer to learn—for example, do they love to read, complete projects, or watch films? Work together to map out several things each student hopes to accomplish during the year, and how you will partner with them to do so. Encourage your students to take ownership over their education so they stay engaged in and excited about learning. This process will provide you with a great foundation to tailor your curriculum and instruction to meet students’ needs and facilitate personalized learning experiences throughout the year.

In the middle of the year

At one or more points during the middle of the school year, it’s important to follow-up with students and evaluate the progress they’ve made toward reaching the goals you set together at the start of the year. Review what they have already accomplished, and if needed, rework remaining goals to fit with that progress. Make a game plan for what both you and your students will do during the remainder of the year to make sure they achieve all the goals they have set. This mid-year review is a great time to explore what is and isn’t working in the classroom, and find out first-hand from your students what they’re getting the most benefit from so that you can more effectively meet their needs.

At the end of year

The end of the year is a time to reflect and evaluate what was most effective—and what wasn’t. During this time, sit down a final time with each of your students and talk through the goals they originally set, showing each student where they started and where they are finishing at. Help them use this information to gain insight as to what type of learner they are, and what they need to focus on in their academic career going forward (whether or not they’ll have you as their teacher again). Be sure to recognize and celebrate all that they accomplished during the year, and how you’ve watched them grow as a learner. You’ll be left with valuable insights to incorporate in your teaching going forward, and your students will leave your classroom with a greater sense of ownership over their own academic journeys!

Looking for more strategies to support student agency and personalized learning in your classroom? Check out this blog post on 10 Steps to Creating Personalized Learning Plans for Students!