I routinely aid my students in goal setting when they join my H2 Bio tuition classes. After setting those goals, I promise them celebrations if we hit the performance target.
Why goal setting is important for students
Throw any stones at any students on campus and you will most likely end up with one who wants to get good grades.
However, many are clueless as to how to achieve it.
Employing vague ideas such as studying harder and doing more work.
However, when they work harder and don’t get better grades, many give up thinking they don’t have the talent of the top scorers.
These top scorers are in reality just like any other average Joe/Jane.
In contrast, they just have better definitions of their goals and detailed steps on how to achieve it.
I’m writing this guide for goal setting so that you can learn from successful exam scorers.
Goal setting is like a light path
Many diligent students finish every bit of homework given without any complaints.
This is great until they realize that the teacher don’t mark the assignments.
One of my students recount to me how a classmate hand up an economics assignment instead of biology and the teacher still mark it as seen.
Despite that, students still continue to do the assignments anyway, and end up being teacher pleasers.
Doing this unfortunately will not make any difference for the final grade.
Because you don’t know where you went wrong. Not only that, you end up wasting precious time that you could have spent working on something that would have made a difference in the final grade!
By have a goal and working backwards, you end up doing exactly the things you need to effect positive grade changes.
Therefore, goal setting is like a guiding light for the student.
Goal setting: stretch goals
Begin the goal setting exercise by putting down stretch goals.
Many think they are humble by writing down modest grades.
If these grade goals are easily achievable then, there is no motivation to work towards it.
Setting tough goals encourage the students to clear one obstacle after another, and when they do so, they also begin to gain confidence and develop grit. And this increases the chances of them reaching those goals.
Goal setting: pain and how to deal with it
If goal setting includes stretch goals, it will mean that pain is around the corner.
Many students react to a bad way to pain.
The reflex action is to find a way out of the pain (skip the hard work) or fight the cause of the pain (switching off to the tutor during class).
Consequently, they don’t gain the skill of being nimble. That is, to find a way to break pass the pain barrier.
So everytime the same situation arise, the response is the same resulting in little to no progress in what they want to achieve.
Those who are likely to be successful first try to understand the pain.
For example like what are the causation factors, research (just as you are doing now), strategize and subsequently make small to-do steps.
The completion of which will break the pain barrier. This will therefore be seen as an improvement. And these students are onto the next level.
Learn from these successful students!
Goal setting: keeping up with the Jones
The youngest learners are frequently fearless, and they try even if they look dumb infront of everyone else.
In contrast the older students are more self-conscious. Consequently, they are continuously hiding their weaknesses.
Instead of working on the weaknesses and learning to turn them into strengths, they typically try to prove that they have the answers even when they don’t.
Therefore weaknesses remain as the same impediments to the progress.
Be fearless of looking stupid infront of everyone, because that results in a teachable heart.
More importantly, it helps you to achieve the goals in your goal setting exercise.
Goal setting: being accountable
We have seen this in our lives, there are some people (even ourselves) who when things go wrong blame everyone/everything else.
This unfortunately means we end up not being accountable to ourselves.
In addition, this means we do not reflect on our practices and our failures.
If there is no reflection, there is no appreciation of what we can do better to overcome our weaknesses and then the pain continues to be present so progress is never made and goals are never achieved.
In contrast, the student who fails each time and go on to reflect after each failure will become successful.
Goal setting: creating milestones
With all the above-mentioned points in mind, its time to now set milestones towards achievement of the goals.
Each milestone should be progressively harder than the next.
And it should be clear, concise and measurable.
For example with my students I have the following 4 milestones.
1 Reduce mistakes to 0
2 Correctly answer all direct recall questions
3 answer all explain/why questions
4 the go to persons for H2 biology in class
Notice I don’t have things like getting a better grade for small assessments leading up to the big exam.
This is because marks do not matter, skills do.
Because these skills are important towards exam taking.
And for the difficult A level exams Singaporean students take, no a single mark during in-course assessments will transfer into the final grade.
In addition, the great variability in script marking between different teachers in different schools further devalues the marks.
Goal setting: measure the milestones
Once the milestones are set, one can begin to measure the progress.
This will be the better if not the best measure of progress in contrast to grade improvements in small in-course assessments.
For my first milestone I set for my students, they will have to measure on a weekly basis of their magnitude of improvement.
This set of data they can then begin to use as a basis for tracking their milestones.
And a corresponding do-to list can be generated in preparation of hitting each milestone.
Goal setting: bottomline
Once everything is set in motion, I tell the students that if they achieve a target 100% A rate for H2 BIO, I will sponsor their trip to Tokyo, air ticket and accommodations included.
This will be the way we celebrate the hard but smart work we have all put in.
I want to do this for a 2 important reasons.
First, many see tutors as mercenaries. Making money off the desperation of students (in fact some do, charging exorbitant amounts or threatening students with seat lost should they fail to cough up the fees). And I want to turn the tide.
Second, I want my students to feel they are not alone. That everyone coming to work together would make a difference overall. It’s not one man/woman for himself/herself.
I want to prove that sitting in my class, students benefit from character development, camaraderie, grade improvement and potential upside. Win-win for both tutor and student.
Will my students achieve it and make history?
Finally, tell me if this has been useful.
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