Teaching Kids to Reflect and to Set GoalsSmarty’s class was preparing for the first parent-teacher conference of the year for several weeks, and I was impressed how students were led on a difficult journey of self-evaluation and setting goals. Each child was given a “reflections” worksheet where she or he was asked several questions – What are the best moments of school day, what do you remember as highlights of your school year so far, what are your favorite subjects, what is difficult for you, and where do you think you can improve. The students were also asked to pick an academic goal and a personal goal for the next quarter and they were explained a concept of measurable goals. Smarty’s school is participating in Accelerated Reader program, and Smarty’s teacher is big on AR goals, because they are so easily measurable. However, Smarty is a “voracious reader” (that’s a quote from her report card write-up), and she already has 400+ AR points. She still picked an AR-related academic goal to take AR tests on 5 books of non-fiction or historical fiction genre as she made almost all these points on fantasy books.
Discussing a Report CardWe are in a district that does not give grades in elementary school. Instead, Smarty's report card is a big list of skills, and the students can get from N/A to 4 in each skill. N/A means that the skill was not formally taught yet, which is annoying, because even when Smarty knows the skill, she cannot get anything but N/A in it. 1 means that the student is below required grade level in given skill, 2 means adequate understanding, 3 is mastery, and 4 is above grade. Non-academic skills (i.e. listening to instruction, focus, respect for others and property) is a letter scale with I for needs improvement and O for outstanding. Smarty is mostly 3 and 4 in all skills that were taught and assessed, but, as usual, she was given I for her organizational skills. Her desk and folders are a frightful mess, and she picked improving organization as her personal goal for the next term. She also had to write a plan on how she was going to work on this skill. She said that she would write a checklist on how her desk and folders should look like and would check her desk every day in the end of the day against this checklist. We’ve done something like this at home recently.
Smarty was asked to read a teacher’s write up aloud. It was mostly complimentary. We were somewhat surprised to learn that our daughter enjoys working in small groups and that she displays leadership skills in these activities. We were not surprised to learn that she is an outstanding mathematician or that she enjoys writing. All things considered, Smarty does thrive in school environment, rises to all challenges, and enjoys her friends. We can harp endlessly on what can be done better, but sometimes we need to slow down and appreciate the efforts – the efforts of a teacher to guide her ship with a very academically diverse crew through the storms of the fourth grade and the efforts of our daughter to stay with less interesting activities and to plunge enthusiastically into new areas, such as a very interesting unit on Native Americans of California.
Following a Child’s LeadI really appreciate seeing that Smarty is encouraged to take more control of her school life. Autonomy is extremely important in intrinsic motivation, and it’s good to see that she has some choices during her school day and also choices in her goals. Yes, I know that she could have chosen more ambitious goals for herself, but her mental health and well being is more important to me than speed of her progress and even her grades. Overall, I feel that we are in a good place at the moment, but it does not mean that we will stop advocating for her if needed.
Your TurnDo your children set their own academic goals? Do you think they are shooting too high or too low?
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