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Are You Applying Goal-Setting Theory to Students in Your Schools?

applying goal-setting theory to students

From annual evaluations to New Year’s resolutions, we all set goals at various points. Achieving goals, or at least setting them, is simply part of the human experience. It’s one of the ways we acknowledge that things could be better and determining how we’d like to see things change – and this is certainly important in the field of education.

If you’ve ever had someone create a goal for you, you know that it doesn’t mean as much as when you create your own personal goals. Well, your students feel the same way!

So, when you create your Student Learning Objectives, do you consider having your students set some of their own goals? If not, this might be worth considering because the effects can be far-reaching when students create their own goals: better performance, commitment, and motivation in the classroom.

Closing Achievement Gaps by Applying Goal-Setting Theory to Students

For educators, one of the biggest challenges is that each student has their own starting point, learning style, and growth curve. It can be very challenging to create a single lesson that fits the needs of each student in the classroom. You don’t want a lesson that is too advanced for your struggling students, but you also don’t want a simpler one that causes your advanced students to become bored.

If we could close the gap between high-achieving and struggling students, teaching would be so much easier!

A study of first-year college students found that by applying goal-setting theory, the academic achievement gender gap closed by 98% within one year, and by the end of the second year, the gap by ethnicity for academic achievement closed by 93%. Now, because of differences in age groups, we can’t directly apply this to K-12 education, but it does pose some highly promising implications.

It’s important to note that the most effective goals have certain traits in common. Telling your class “Our goal this year is for everyone to get a better grade than they did last year” is not an effective strategy. The goals need to be meaningful to the individual and have a clear plan for achieving improvement. So, how do we set better goals?

goal setting programs for students

How to Set Challenging Goals

When it comes to goal setting, a commonly used acronym helps us create better goals. By creating SMART goals, the goal-setting process stimulates greater self-reflection and creates goals that are achievable.

  • Specific: Clearly defined criteria, such as “Increase GPA by 0.5 points,” are typically more effective than vague ones like “Get better grades.” Having a narrower target can help to maintain focus.

  • Measurable: Progress must be trackable. An example of this would be using weekly GPA monitoring, instead of waiting until the end of the semester to see if grades improve. The upside to tracking measurable data along the way is the ability to make adjustments, when necessary.

  • Attainable: A goal must be challenging, but not impossible. For instance, zero absences may not be an achievable target, due to things outside of your students’ control. Missing, let’s say, only three days, however, might be more realistic.

  • Relevant: Goals must be meaningful to the relevant domain and connect to a larger picture. As an example, your students’ GPA metrics likely corelate to graduation or college acceptance rates. Anchoring a goal to a bigger sense of purpose is inspiring and helps maintain motivation.

  • Timebound: SMART goals have pre-established time limits. A good aspect in the field of education is that school years have natural time limits built into them. Quarters, trimesters, semesters, and the school year itself are a few clear examples of this.

In the study mentioned earlier, students also publicly stated their goals to add social pressure to help them achieve their targets, which has been shown to be effective for struggling students.

For students in your classrooms, it can be a worthwhile exercise to examine their weakest areas and work with them to create SMART goals so they can improve. No matter what they want to work toward, having them make their goals SMART will teach the pupils how to set and plan goals more effectively. And these techniques can help them far beyond school.

As educators, there is value in creating classroom-wide goals to achieve better student performance. This is undoubtedly already part of your process through Student Learning Objectives.

Unfortunately, goal setting and tracking can be a very time-consuming process, and much like New Year’s resolutions, if we lose sight of our goals, we have almost no chance of achieving them.

Goal-Setting Programs for Students

If you spend all your time manually tracking and measuring progress, then you’ll have no time to actually help your classroom work toward achieving their goals. Wouldn’t it be great if the tracking was automatic, and all you had to do was run a report to easily measure your progress?

At Eidex, we are staffed by educators who have been where you are, and we know the challenges you face. Our team has created systems to help you easily create effective goals and track progress toward your objectives.

Specific and timebound student performance goals are easy to create in Eidex PRISM, and with the data you’re already collecting, you can measure progress with informative and revelatory graphs.

Using Eidex FOCUS, you can compare your data to peer school districts, so you can know that your goals are relevant and attainable in the context of schools in your state.

For instance, in Eidex PRISM, you can identify achievement gaps, create goals for addressing them, and measure your progress towards closing the gaps. Even better, this doesn’t require hours of data input and analysis; the software module takes data you’re already collecting and compiles it all for you. SMART goals and measurable effectiveness, all just a few clicks away.

Schedule a Free Demo to See How Eidex Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Goal setting is an incredible tool for increasing motivation and enhancing academic performance. Automating your goal setting and tracking means you can be more effective without wasting precious time. Are you ready to see how Eidex can help you create SMART goals and improve your educational effectiveness?

We’d love to give you a free demonstration to show you how PRISM and FOCUS can transform your data into achievement-oriented goals. To schedule your demo, just use Calendly on this linked page. (Haven’t used Calendly yet? Don’t worry, it’s super easy!)

If you have any other questions, please let us know by calling 844-512-3282 or filling out our contact form. We’re here to make education better – just let us know how we can help!


Michaela, S. (2015, June 9). A scalable goal-setting intervention closes both the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap. London, UK: Palgrave Communications. Retrieved from

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