(Also, check out The Best Video Clips On Goal-Setting — Help Me Find More)

Students ‘Take Ownership of Their Learning’ Through Goal-Setting is the headline of one of my Education Week Teacher column.  It’s the last post of a four-part series on goal-setting in the classroom.

An article in Wall Street Journal about weight-loss prompted me to write this post.

The Power of a Gentle Nudge: Phone Calls, Even Voice Recordings, Can Get People to Go to the Gym talks about a successful experiment where they had people and/or computers call people regularly to remind them to follow-through on their commitments to exercise. Those that received both the human and computerized reminders did a much better job (the human calls did the best) than those who did not get the calls.

It reminded me why I have my students choose “buddies” with whom they check-in weekly on the progress they are making with the goals they set for themselves.

Since I wanted to use this Wall Street Journal article, I thought it would be a good opportunity to collect all my posts on student goal-setting in one place.

You might also be interested in My Best Posts On “Motivating” Students and The Best Ways To Help Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Succeed.

Here are My Best Posts On Students Setting Goals:

Student Goal-Setting Lesson I’m Trying Out On Monday

Report On How Goal-Setting Lesson Went

“What Can You Do To Finish The Year Strong?”

What Does A Study On Voter Turn-Out Have To Do With Working With Students?

Making Goals Public

Intriguing Study On Self-Control

“Will we succeed? The science of self-motivation”

More Info On Asking If You Can Achieve Your Goals (Instead of Just Setting Them)

Avoiding Goal-Setting Problems — In The Classroom & In Education Policy

“Learning Goals” versus “Performance Goals”

“Can setting goals make you happier?”

“Making Kids Work on Goals (And Not Just In Soccer)”

Students & Visualization

Research shows that feelings of powerlessness makes you less likely to be able to plan and focus on achieving your goals. I’m adding this info to this list and it’s certainly related to New Study Says Freedom & Autonomy More Important Than Money (& Classroom Incentives?).

Easy to Visualize Goal Is Powerful Motivator to Finish a Race or a Task is a report on a study that found it’s effective for people to actually see that they are making progress towards making their goal. I think that reinforces the importance of having students regularly reflect on how they are doing, and to, as the researchers suggest, even consider writing or drawing some kind of graph showing their progress. I’m not talking about some big public achievement chart and gold stars here — just one that students keep for themselves.

I recently found a video clip that I’m wondering if it might be a helpful addition to that lesson plan. In this clip from Cinderella Man (which is a great movie), James Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) is almost knocked-out, but then he flashes back to the reason why he returned to the rink – to win and make money to support his family (he sees images from his family and their hardships). He then becomes re-energized and wins the fight.

The movie is rated PG-13, and the clip is pretty bloody (boys will love it for sure). I’m thinking of showing it and then asking students why they think he came back to win the fight, and then talk about how in the face of adversity having goals and remembering them can help keep us focused. Check out the clip and let me know if you think it would be effective or not.

If YouTube is blocked at your site, you can also find it at Movie Clips.

A new study finds that a common goal with others increases the motivation people have to be successful. It’s not a brilliant revelation, but it did get me thinking a bit about one thing I do with student goal-setting. After students choose their goals, I also let them choose their own “buddies” to support each other. I wonder if I should be a little more strategic about that and encourage them to choose a partner who has a similar goal?

If You Plan, Then You’ll Do… But It Helps to Have a Friend
is another report on what I believe is the same study.

The Folly of Stretch Goals is from The Harvard Business Review and discusses the dangers of making unrealistic goals.

The Downside of Planning is by Art Markman. It provides evidence for what most of us probably know already — that we have a much better chance of succeeding in goals if we focus on fewer of them at a time.

Another goal-related study found that:

“When people have set for themselves targets about how much they should engage in a behavior (say, if the behavior is how much to exercise per week), asking them to predict whether they will exercise in the next week makes them think about what they think they should do,” write authors Pierre Chandon (INSEAD), Ronn J. Smith (University of Arkansas), Vicki G. Morwitz (New York University), Eric R. Spangenberg, and David E. Sprott (both Washington State University). “This reduces the chances that they will simply repeat their past behavior and hence breaks their habits.”

This research re-emphasizes, I think, the importance of having students regularly review goals and plan what they are going to do the following week, which is what we do in our classroom.

Sticking to our goals: What’s the best approach for success? reports on another study that showed evidence for another thing most of us know — setting short-term goals (in other words, small “wins”) that lead towards bigger long-term goals increases one’s chance of success.

Student Goal-Setting Form I’m Using This Month

Student Reflection Form On Goals & Joy

Here’s The Latest Reflection/Goal-Setting Sheet I’m Using With Students

Here’s A Goal-Tracking Sheet I’m Giving To Students

10 Things You Should Know About Goals is a good summary of research on goal-setting, and is from Neuronarrative.

Supporting School-Wide Social Emotional Learning

Ways To Support Students Setting Goals

Thinking of quitting smoking? Mondays may be your day is a report in USA Today about a new study that found people were more likely to initiate efforts to quit smoking on a Monday. It seems to me that this reinforces an idea that I’ve always thought — that having students review their weekly goals at the beginning of the week was a good practice. As the article says:

The researchers are not surprised. “People see Mondays as a fresh start, a chance to get their acts together,” says Morgan Johnson, research director for The Monday Campaigns, a not-for-profit organization that leads public health efforts such as Meatless Mondays. The group, based in New York, sponsored the new study after finding that calls to smokers’ quit lines and visits to the federal government’s Smokefree.gov website also peaked on Mondays.

“The Problem With Goal-Setting”

Quote Of The Day: “Temporal Landmarks” & Goal-Setting

Here’s The End-of-Year Goal-Setting Activity I’ve Done With English Language Learners – Including Worksheet & Video

Goal-Setting Lesson Plan

Character Lab has unveiled a free goal-setting program and materials called WHOOP. I think the process they recommend — teachers doing it one-on-one with students for twenty-minutes each — is wildly unrealistic for most teachers, but the downloadable packet is useful and I think could be used class-wide.

Characteristics of Learners with Mastery Versus Performance Goals

Here are three academic papers that I have found particularly useful:

New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory

Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation

Goal Setting and Student Achievement: A Longitudinal Study

New Study Shows Goal-Setting – With Some Twists – Can Have Big Impact On Student Achievement

New Study Suggests That A Classroom Motivational Poster Might Be Effective

Feel free to your own student goal-setting strategies in the comments section of this post.

Statistic Of The Day: Documenting Progress Towards Goals & Making It Public Helps To Achieve Them

Increasing Motivation Through Students Setting Goals is the title of my new Teaching English – British Council post. Portions of it come from our upcoming book, Navigating The Common Core With English Language Learners.

A Tool to Help You Reach Your Goals in 4 Steps is from The Harvard Business Review.

Michael Jordan Story On Goal-Setting

Great Piece On Setting Goals Like An Olympian

Don’t Set Too Many Goals for Yourself is from The Harvard Business Review.

Goal-setting with Students (including FREE worksheet!) is from The Best Ticher.

Here Are Two Activities I’ll Be Doing With My ELL Students The Day We Come Back From Break

Now This Is A Student Goal-Setting Strategy That May Actually Work

Michelle Obama Just Explained How to Be Successful in 6 Short Words is from Inc (“Focus on what you can control.”).

Goal Setting with ELLs is by Valentina Gonzalez.

Study Finds That Making Goals Increases Effort

Why modest goals are so appealing is from Science Daily.




This is an important quote from The Adults Who Treat Reading Like Homework:

Attainable reading goals can be motivating and improve the experience of reading, according to Neil Lewis Jr., a professor of psychology at Cornell University who studies motivation and goal pursuit. But “if the goal is unrealistic (given the realities of the person’s life) then it could actually be demotivating,” he told me in an email. “When people set goals like this, we often forget to take into account the other things that usually occupy our time and get in the way … If you have not been reading as much as you would like, it is probably because you are doing other things instead; are you willing to scale back on some of those things to make time for more reading?”


Share your goals — but be careful whom you tell is from Science Daily.

Why We Often Fail to Reach Our Goals is from Psychology Today.

A strategic mindset: An orientation toward strategic behavior during goal pursuit is a new paper co-authored by Carol Dweck.

Motivate Your High Performers to Share Their Knowledge is from the Harvard Business Review. It’s a really interesting article about a cool goal-setting strategy that’s very adaptable to schools. You can find the form they used as an appendix at the end of this paper. I will definitely be using this with my students, though I may wait until we get back into the physical classroom.


This is an interesting idea, and could be used for a lesson related to goals: Why Melinda Gates selects a ‘word of the year’ and not a New Year’s resolution.


This Two-Minute Morning Practice Will Make Your Day Better is from The Harvard Business Review.

The 3 Science-Backed Strategies That Can Help You Achieve Your Post-Pandemic Goals appeared in TIME.

5 steps to finally making changes in your life is from Fast Company.

6 Activities That Inspire A Goal-Setting Mindset In Students is from Edutopia.


Using Weekly Goals to Help Students Finish the School Year Strong is from Edutopia.

I Have Tried To Help Students Facing Challenges With This Goal Sheet & Have Had A Little Success

This May Sound A Little Off The Beaten Track, But I Really Like This Series Of Lessons About Mantras & Want To Try It Next Year

The Simplest Strategy To Boost Motivation is from PsyBlog.

Study Demonstrates That Student Goal-Setting Can Work In Language-Learning Classroom

Study reveals goal-oriented rewards as key factors in decision-making is from Science Daily.

Trouble achieving goals? Why your brain needs reminders. is from The Washington Post.


Goal setting in winter: Prioritize conversations with students is from Teach Learn Grow.



The Secret to Accomplishing Big Goals Lies in Breaking Them into Flexible, Bite-Size Chunks is from Scientific American.

How to get back on track with your New Year’s resolutions is from NBC News.

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