Personal learning goals are the behaviours, knowledge or understandings that students identify as important to their own learning. They may relate to general work habits, specific subjects, domains of learning, or a combination of these.
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The information below includes a definition of personal learning goals and their importance along with an overview of the stages of developing personal learning goals.
What are personal learning goals and why are they important?
Personal learning goals are about improving students’ learning and achievement and building students’ capacity to learn.
They are about students becoming active participants in the learning process, empowering them to become independent learners, and motivating them to achieve their full potential.
Previous research into the motivation and efficiency of students has indicated that students who set their own working goals tend to achieve more than when working on goals set for them by the teacher.
Students who set their own learning goals have more confidence to take on more challenging tasks, regardless of their ability. Their motivation to improve and master a task is improved and their self-esteem remains strong, even in the case of failure.
When students are assisted to delve into their own thinking and learning processes, they are drawn to think about the effectiveness of the strategies they used to achieve the learning goals they set. Planning what to do, monitoring progress towards achieving it and evaluating the outcome can help students take more control over their thinking and learning processes and equip them with learning to learn skills.
The stages of developing personal learning goals
The development of personal learning goals involves the stages of:
- identifying personal learning goals (and strategies to achieve them)
- monitoring progress
- reporting on progress made
- refining or developing new goals.
Developing, monitoring and reporting on personal learning goals
All stages of the cycle are important, and in practice they overlap. As the diagram above demonstrates, the process is ongoing and cyclical. The teacher’s role is pivotal throughout the process, not just at the development and reporting stages.
Schools will decide the best way to manage the development, monitoring and reporting of student personal learning goals. This will vary and depend how the school is organised. As with most initiatives, developing, monitoring and reporting on learning goals will generally work best when the process is clear and common across the school.
The process of developing, monitoring and reporting on a student’s personal learning goals involves conversations about learning between the student and the teacher. Planning for such conversations to occur in a productive and purposeful manner is at the core of this process. These conversations should be carried out in a spirit of openness and cooperation and should allow for student diversity.
Conversations about learning encourage students to think about:
- their own learning and thinking processes and challenge them to articulate the way they have gone about learning
- what their next steps might be
- how they are going to proceed with those next steps
- how they are going to know they have achieved success
- whether or not the method of learning was effective
- what they need more help to understand
- how they might achieve better understanding.
Before working with students to develop their personal learning goals, it is important for teachers to work together to discuss and define what learning goals are, and then consider examples of appropriate learning goals, and goals that are inappropriate (e.g. too grand, too small, too vague, too many, too hard).
Developing a common understanding of learning goals gives staff a common language to use in the classroom. Setting goals, taking personal responsibility for learning, and self-evaluation can then become part of normal classroom discussion.