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“Learning Goals” versus “Performance Goals”

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I‘ve previously written about how I encourage my students to emphasis “learning goals” instead of “performance goals” and another study has come-out validating that approach.

First, I’ll reprint what I have said previously for some background, and then share information on the new study.

Here’s what I wrote In June:

Another study reinforced what I do in my classroom — having students primarily focus on setting “learning goals” (learning how to categorize information better, to work better in groups, be more disciplined about reading a book for a half-hour each night or to read a more challenging book), with a lesser priority (though we definitely include them) on “performance goals” (increased assessment scores). The study says that M.B.A. students who focused more on learning goals ultimately ended-up with a higher G.P.A. than those students who had only set a G.P.A. goal.

It’s similar to my community organizing experience. Our organizations were often more effective in building affordable housing than groups that just focused on affordable housing development and in getting people into jobs that paid a living wage with benefits than job training agencies. The primary reason for that success was that we were focused on helping people learn to become leaders, and then used housing and jobs campaigns as tools to help people develop leadership skills.

The idea is to help people become life-long learners, and then the performance outcomes will come. In our organizing campaigns, though we were more effective in the long-run, our ultimately very successful efforts did take what some might consider too long of a time to bear fruition. Our school emphasizes building life-long learners and not teaching to the test. We are making slow, but very steady, improvement. Nevertheless, we are in Program Improvement Status as defined by No Child Left Behind.

And now, for today’s study that reinforces this perspective:

Sarah D. Sparks writes over at Education Week about a review of 100 studies that determined that:

…two parallel motivations drive student achievement: “learning orientation,” the drive to improve your knowledge and competency; and “performance orientation,” the drive to prove that competency to others. Watkins found the highest-achieving students had a healthy dose of both types of motivation, but students who focused too heavily on performance ironically performed less well academically, thought less critically, and had a harder time overcoming failure.

No matter — let’s just keep focusing on those test results so that a local paper like the L.A. Times won’t label you as an ineffective teacher.

I’m adding this post to My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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