October 21st, 2010

Learning Goals for Students


As Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson point out in their venerable book on grading (now available in a revised 2nd edition) goals can motivate students. Unfortunately, too often they are motivated only by the goal of getting grades and getting courses out of the way. Walvoord and Anderson suggest you tell student you know they have these goals but that you are (and they should) also be interested in what they want to learn in the course. Here are some of Walvoord’s and Anderson’s good ideas for making learning goals a part of the learning experience in a course.

  • At the beginning of the course have students write down their learning goals. If you need to, make it an assignment and offer a few points for doing so.
  • Discuss their goals in class. Students can share them in small groups or with the whole class. In class have students pass their goals to someone else and keep passing the goals until no knows whose goal they have. Then ask some students to read that goal. If you’re up for a bit of fun and modest mayhem, have students ball up the paper with their goal and toss it to someone else. Encourage students to toss these papers around the room for a bit. Then they can uncrumple the paper and read the goal out loud. The idea is to give students a sense of each other’s goals.
  • After hearing the students’ goals, collect them, prepare a summary, and discuss how their goals will or will not be addressed in the course. If you haven’t already, this can be a very effective time to distribute and discuss the syllabus.
  • Then you might want to have students revise their goals, preserving them in a prominent place in their course notebooks. Some faculty (with small classes) use discussion of these individual goals as the basis of a short getting-to-know-you conversation with students. This option is viable only if class sizes are small, although maybe individual goals could be commented on in an email.
  • If the goals are preserved in students’ notebooks, they can be revisited during the course. Have any of the goals been achieved? Are we making progress with others? Or, when presenting content you might mention its relevance to certain goals.
  • A review of these goals makes a great end-of-course activity. Were the goals achieved? How? Were the goals important? Do they make it more likely that content will be remembered? Is having a learning goal a good idea? Why? What did the teacher and fellow classmates contribute to the accomplishment of the learning goals?

Reference: Walvoord, B. E. and Anderson, V. J. (2010). Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment. 2nd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2010.