Lesson 1: Setting Short and Long Term Goals

Click for introductory video for Lesson 1.

Goals are specific objectives that help us to plan our activities and strategies. We shall consider how goals can be utilized by providing examples based on Maria, the case study of the talented student who was failing algebra.

A short term goal is a goal that only takes a few days or weeks to achieve, for example, to complete daily homework assignments or to spend more time on daily homework assignments and complete better quality work.

A long term goal takes several weeks, months, or even a full school semester of year, to achieve. An example would be to improve a grade by the end of the semester.

The following series of questions (from Heacox, 1991) is designed to guide you through an interview with a student. The questions will help your student (and Maria) successfully set goals:

1. What is one area of my school performance I want to improve? This goal should be long term, reasonable, attainable, and stated in a positive way. (In Maria's case, she decided to bring her algebra grade up to a B by the end of the second semester.)

2. What is one thing I can do to accomplish my long term goal? This short term goal should also be reasonable and reachable, but should also include a way to measure your progress. (In Maria's case it may be to stay after school one day a week with her algebra teacher for extra help or to arrange a study group with two of her friends to begin her homework in school. Maria might make a commitment to spend a half hour each day on her algebra work).

3. How can this short term goal be broken down into a step-by-step plan? Students could make a list of steps so they can check off each step when it is completed. (In Maria's case, she employs the following strategies. She sets two times a day for 15 minutes each time that she will work on her algebra homework. She also arranges two sessions a week that she works with a study group in school. She also arranges one day each week for after school help. She spends time each day going over her notes after class.)

4. What is good about doing this? What are the benefits to me? If you are only doing this to please someone other than yourself, then you are not as likely to reach your goal. (Maria begins to understand more of the concepts and is no longer upset about feeling stupid for the first time in her life. She gets better quiz grades and begins to feel better about being in the class.)

5. What are the things that might get in my way as I work toward my goal? By identifying possible obstacles, you can plan ahead, and think of ways to get around the obstacles. (Maria has a quick temper and a very low tolerance for frustration. She has never had any academic difficulties before and she begins to feel frustrated and panicked. When she encounters new challenging material, she can slip back into a panic mode so she has to prepare in advance for what she might experience. She may use self-talk, she may discuss this feelings of frustration with her teacher, she may confide in her parents or in a friend and by talking about the situation, choose some strategies to help her overcome her fear of failure.)

6. What special materials or help will I need to reach my goal? Make a list of books, materials, and people you may need for help. (Maria makes a point to do homework a couple of days each week with her best friend who is very good in math and is a calming influence on her.)

7. How will I reward myself when I achieve my goal? State your reward in a positive way, and try to make your incentives activities that you enjoy rather than money or things. (Maria rewards herself each time she gets through her homework without panicking or losing her temper by letting herself watch an extra half hour of television. She makes this agreement with her parents before she starts the process.)

8. How will I check on my progress and make sure that my plan is working? Write down people you need to check with and specific dates for your checkpoints (at least once a week is recommended) and have your plan signed and dated by the people you are working with. (Maria discusses this plan with her mother, her teacher and her best friend and they all agree to help her meet this goal.)

9. How will I remind myself of my goal? Write your goal on a piece of paper and put it somewhere obvious (e.g., inside your locker, on your bedroom mirror, inside your homework book) to remind you regularly (Maria gets a big white board and writes herself daily notes to be more positive about algebra and to stick with it when it gets tough. She also makes a point of making sure she keeps all of her promises to get the help she needs.)

10. How is my plan working? Is it working well? If not, why not? (If Maria's grades are not improving, she continues to reflect on what else she can do. Does she need to go twice a week for help? Does she need to find a math tutor? Will another ten minutes of homework a day help her?

11. Does my plan need to be revised? Is the goal still necessary, important, appropriate? Is the incentive right? Is the plan working? Have I reached my goal? If Maria's plan is working, that is great. If it is not, Maria will revise it. If she wants to be a successful student, she will continue to reflect on how she can achieve at higher levels.