Updated: Feb 16
By Lauren Price, M.Ed
Have you ever just done something because you do it and haven’t wondered if it was the most effective or productive way of doing it? For example, exercise, does it happen for you? Why or why not? Have you tried different times of the day or types of exercise to see what would be best? No, you do what you do because that is what you do. This can be true too about teaching. Do you analyze students’ results and associate them with how you taught or monitored engagement? We, like our students, often go through the motions without awareness.
Twice in my 18-year educational career have I been blown away by a concept that is life-changing for my students. The introduction of self-regulated learning was one of those times. I started my career eighteen years ago teaching a summer study skills course at The Kinkaid School. These strategies were great, so why did the students in the class not find a huge benefit when school started? Some could be due to memory; it was in June when I taught the course, and school didn’t start until August. Therefore, I thought we should offer a refresher in August next school year. However, we had about the same results. Some students used the strategies and took away a nugget or two, but life-changing it wasn’t.
A handful of years later, I had a two-year-old and a baby on the way while I was now tutoring math, history, and general study skills part-time. I decided it was a perfect time to go back to school to get a master’s in educational psychology. Why not? I already wasn’t sleeping; I may as well give myself some reading to do while I am up. I noticed in my math and history students that, for the most part, it wasn’t a concept issue but more of study one. However, telling them to do a strategy didn’t give them the buy-in to do it and do it spaced out.
I entered the program excited to learn and desired to help my students with motivation and buy into the great strategies I was selling. My advisor, Dr. Christopher Wolters, encouraged me to take the Ph.D. level course on self-regulated learning he was teaching. At the time, I had no clue what it was. This would soon change, as the course was to dive into every research study done at the time on self-regulated learning. I was so excited; as I read this research, students I was working with would stick out, and I would try the methods on them with great success! I couldn’t believe it; this was the missing link and got the students engaged and owning it. As the course progressed, we were to synthesize all the research and develop a self-regulated learning cycle of our own. I chose G.A.M.E. I thought this acronym summarized the process in a way that would be easy for students to remember. G – Goal Setting, A – Action, M – Monitor, and E – Evaluate.
An important thing to notice about this is it’s a cycle; there is no true beginning and end. However, we will start with G – Goal Setting for this newsletter and, in the future, I will cover the other steps in our self-regulated learning cycle. Goal setting sets the intention or purpose. Even for students that aren’t goal-oriented, it can still be rewarding to accomplish small wins and feel a sense of accomplishment. Goal setting is the first step in this cycle. However, without visiting where you have been, it is hard to determine where you need to go.
Once your students have thought through their past, they are ready not to repeat the same mistakes and to set some realistic goals. It is not about being the perfect student; it is about continuously improving and finding the right strategies to help achieve academic independence. To start this process, I like to ask students if they set goals, and frequently they tell me, yes, but when I ask if they have written them down, they say no. To me, a goal not written is a wish. Once committed to paper, it makes it real. It is incredible to me in my life when I set an intention, write it down with a plan, I am way more likely to achieve it. As you go through this cycle and all the steps, you can do it with your students, setting your own goals, actions and monitoring and evaluating yourself. We as humans should always be striving and learning from our past to affect our futures.
As we begin to set goals, some like to use the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely). However, I can shorten that (big win shorter has to be better ), and all you need to remember is that they need to be D.O.able (Detailed and Obtainable). We can put them in the planner and honestly tell if it is complete. I like to approach goals by looking at challenges that will get in the way of achieving each goal. It will help set action steps by setting steps to overcome each challenge.
For example, say I want to improve engagement in my last period. The challenge is that I have students that are zoned out, as my class is at the end of the school day. The action to overcome this is to try a lot of opportunities for them to get up and engage with others (stand up, pair up, and games). Another example could be a student who wants to increase their engagement in their last-period class. The student’s challenge is missing significant pieces of the lecture because they space out. Their action steps to overcome this could be to keep a sticky note on their desk and tally their zone-outs. The awareness’ will help them reduce the behavior. Another action will be to boost their dopamine right before this class by walking the campus, increasing movement right before class, and having water on them to drink.
The next step would be not just to set it and forget it like the old rotisserie chicken (for those old enough to remember this infomercial). The idea is to develop specific action steps into your weekly plan. The problem with most goals is that we set them and then don’t return to them. My suggestion would be to revisit each week and set a weekly proximal goal to help follow up on that bigger course goal, so you are always working towards the bigger goal.
Finally, having an accountability partner is huge too for some people. This person isn’t the catalyst for achieving the goal but is that person that could meet weekly to see if there is progress being made or accomplishing those proximal goals. This could be a friend from class or a colleague or partner in your case. I serve as this person for many of my students; it is fun to see their progress and excitement in sharing their wins with me.
Attached we include our goal setting sheet with do with our students. I challenge you this new year to do this activity with your students. The intent is lost at times without the goal, so set your intention. In the following newsletter, we will discuss some specific actions to help students, and you accomplish more effective strategies. Then, we will dive into monitoring and evaluating progress.