Elliott Seif

Philadelphia, PA

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 2 Years ago
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Part 7: Effective Teaching and Goal Setting

In the first six parts of this ASCD Edge commentary series, I have attempted to present a picture of teacher effectiveness by analyzing the challenges, complexities and key qualities of teaching. The titles and links to the first six parts are the following:

Part 1: Effective Teaching: An Overview   http://bit.ly/22kHVwN,

Part 2: Teaching “Flow”   http://bit.ly/22kI2IC,

Part 3: Effective Teaching in a 21st Century World   http://bit.ly/1RnOgE1

Part 4: Teacher Effectiveness and the Curriculum  http://bit.ly/1T6MFSP

Part 5: Effectively Managing Classroom Environments  http://bit.ly/1UiZbwW

Part 6: Teacher Effectiveness and Assessment   http://bit.ly/1nGLCMU 

This post focuses on another key quality of effective teachers – the ability to focus teaching around key, meaningful goals and use them as a framework for instruction.

Effective teachers think a lot about what they are doing and why. They are goal driven. They know what they want their students to learn. They have a passion for what they think is important. They do more than “go through the motions” of teaching because they care about what they are teaching and what students are learning.

Examples of what teachers focus on as their broad, general goals for students include the following:

        •Becoming interested in and enjoying reading

        •Learning to think through writing

        •Learning how to do science and understanding why science is so important

        •Understanding key historical events and examining how they affect the present and future

        •Developing positive feelings about learning and school

        •Promoting “deep thinking” and “deep learning”

        •Becoming independent self-directed learners

        •Learning entrepreneurial skills

Here are ten points to consider when setting teaching-learning goals:

  • Take the time to develop clear, meaningful goals. Too many teachers are unclear about their own goals. They teach from someone else’s goals (standards, etc), and therefore don’t develop a clear picture of what they think is important. They don’t develop a passion for what they are teaching. To counter this, create a set of goals that you own. Think about what’s important for students to learn. Ask yourself: What matters? What should count the most? What will help students the most? Then use your answers to clarify your learning focus.
  • Think broadly about goals. Consider knowledge and understanding, skills, habits of mind. Consider your students’ needs. Young children will have very different goals from middle and high school students. High school at-risk students with low reading skills and a history of school failure will generally have very different needs than high school students who live in high wealth districts and come from highly educated homes.  
  • Don’t have too many goals that make it difficult to concentrate on what’s important.  Limit goals to those that are central and key. Too many teachers have so many goals (for example, too many discrete knowledge objectives) that they make teaching and student learning confusing and even not doable.  Too many varied, discrete goals make it impossible to focus learning.
  • Create goals that challenge students.  Goals designed to get students to build reading habits, think more clearly, understand a subject better, become better skilled, build better habits of mind can be very challenging. The challenges should be worth the time and energy on the part of both teacher and students. At the same time, they should not be so “pie in the sky” as to be unreachable. It is often difficult to strike a balance between important, challenging goals and those that can actually be attained.
  • Find your goals from many useful sources, such as other teachers, important elements of a subject, a quality curriculum, experts in the field. State standards, on-line links that provoke ideas. A major source of quality goals comes from an analysis of student needs and interests.
  • Develop both long and short-term goals. Long-term goals create a focus for half the year or even the entire year! They may be tied to the larger goals of the school and of other teachers. Daily, weekly, even unit goals should be a subset of these larger long-term goals and help students reach long-term goals.  Remember: “ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
  • Write goals in your own words. Make them understandable for you and your students. Write them to emphasize what students will learn, learn how to do, learn to be. Write them in a behavioral objective format only to help you to determine how you will measure success. In general, behavioral objectives are written in “educator” language, for educators, not for educating. If you must write your goals as behavioral objectives, use them for yourself, to judge your success, to do planning. Students do not get “turned on” to learning through behavioral objectives. But if you must share behavioral objectives with students, use them as a vehicle to explain to students what is expected of them and how they will be assessed. Better yet, translate your goals into a language that they can understand and relate to, or into essential questions designed to get students interested in what they are to learn (see below).
  • Share your goals with students in a language that they will understand, in a format that motivates students and is designed to engage students in learning.  There are many ways to do this, but one significant way is to translate your key goals into “essential” questions that stimulate interest and inquiry. Two examples with a focus on improving writing skills: What writing is worth reading? What is quality writing?.
  • Share and keep working on your goals. Goals and programs change over time. Revise goals as necessary, as you get feedback on your teaching and student learning. Continually work on ways to share goals with students in a way that makes sense to them, helps them understand what is expected of them, and excites them about what they are being asked to do. Share your goals with other teachers and adults. Get feedback from many sources to help you further think about, develop, and deepen your goals.
  • It’s hard to develop clear, meaningful goals, but it is even harder is to build a coherent, engaging program around goals. Even more complicated: goals can be student-centered, giving students the freedom to create their own goals!  Effective teachers work hard to develop a coherent program over time around what they think is important. They carefully structure their program around core goals. They make learning happen!

Thoughtful goal setting is an important dimension of effective teaching. Part of professional development and supervision needs to focus on helping teachers think about and build meaningful and significant short and long range goals for their students.


Elliott Seif is a long time educator: social studies teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. He currently continues to write about educational issues and volunteers his time in the Philadelphia School District. His many commentaries can be found on ASCD Edge and more of his thoughts and ideas can be found at www.era3learning.org.

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