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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Setting academic goals to boost student achievement

By Stacy Morris

 Special to CSMS Magazine

Success in school can only be measured by academic progress. To reach academic altitude, however, parents and teachers need to create achievable goals that cater the needs of a student. To set a goal, one first has to break the big picture down into parts and then allow students to have some control over how and when they meet the goal. Students can thus set achievable goals and then celebrate their progress. This process builds confidence and gets results.

Goals are often written in terms that make a deal: “When you do X, then the reward will be Y.” For example, when you do your homework, you will have free time. There are some tasks that we must do even if we are not all that thrilled to do them. However, by giving students something to look forward to after an unexciting task, we [educators] entice them to push through the tough stuff. The reward they receive can be intrinsic or extrinsic, depending on the individual and the situation.


Identify the expected task or behavior. Some examples include trying to answer a question independently before asking the teacher, staying on task during class, avoiding side conversation, avoiding sharpening a pencil at a wrong time, keeping hands to oneself, handling in homework, making revisions to a piece of writing, talking respectfully to adults even when angry, and so on.


Identify the reward will follow completion or consistent evidence of the expected task or behavior. Sometimes there is no need to give an extrinsic reward. The self-fulfillment and celebration of completing the goal are sufficient. Students need to have a clear sense of why they are setting the goal, and they need to be part of the process to feel in control over their learning and success. Connecting this sense of control to success will allow students to experience long-term motivation.

Time frame

Define the time parameters. Is this a one-time task? Does the behavior need to be seen consistently over a period of time? Decide how long the student has to complete the task or change his or her behavior. Time is important because part of making this goal work includes breaking it down into specifics so that the students believe this is possible.

Check-in date

Set a time and day that you will check in with the student about the effectiveness of the deal or the goal. These are checkpoints, or the written reflections or verbal conversations, for gathering formative feedback. These data include reviewing the goal and the effectiveness of the strategies. A target date and time motivate the learner to meet time frames for accomplishing goals and assignments.

Note: Stacy Morris teaches strategic planning at Jacksonville University (JU). She wrote this piece, especially for CSMS Magazine.

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