Every student is different. There are various external and internal factors that may affect the pace of a student’s learning.
Why then, do we expect all students to complete a certain amount of work by a certain date? And offer rewards like ice cream, when we know not all students are likely to reach the same goal?
Research around motivation can shed some light on best practices for inspiring the type of student engagement that will last beyond that ice cream cone and cultivate a lifetime love of learning. And there’s examples of educators from across the country who are implementing unique goal setting and tracking systems that enable all students to succeed.
Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom
Extrinsic motivation involves expecting a reward for completing a task. For example, every month a school offers a special breakfast for students with perfect attendance.
With intrinsic motivation, the reward is completing the task. It’s that rush of accomplishment and satisfaction of completing your goal.
That’s not to say that extrinsic rewards are all negative.
One study shows that when rewards were expected, intrinsic motivation decreased, but when they were unexpected, intrinsic motivation was unaffected. Incorporating some extrinsic rewards (for example, a surprise pizza party for students who achieve their goals), can complement the intrinsic rewards.
How to Engage Students Through Goal Setting
These educators show us not only how differentiating goals for many levels of students is possible, but also how they’ve increased student engagement without the use of expected extrinsic rewards.
Custom goals can be specific to the class or specific to the individual student.
Take this goal chain from educators Kristen Ramsdale and Melissa Bate at Pickerington Local School District in Pickerington, Ohio. When a student meets a goal, they get to add a paper to the chain. When the chain hits the floor the class gets a reward and starts another chain.
Students are working on individual goals while working toward a class goal, so each student can work at their own pace and contribute to the class goal.
Custom goals can focus on the journey, rather than the destination.
Second grade teacher Suzanne Hill from Walnut Hill Elementary in Woodbury, New Jersey, created an inspiring bulletin board that showcases the journey JiJi the penguin (from software program ST Math) takes as students complete their goals in the program.
“I set weekly goals for the class to increase their ST Math progress by a certain percentage. This week it was 10% and last week it was 5%. That way everyone has a chance to be successful. Everyone progresses at a different pace, so I have seen more success when I make it more personalized. I increased the goal by 5% to make it more challenging for my class because the majority of the class had well over 5% progress the previous week.” - Ms. Cooper from Parkade Elementary in Columbia, OH.
Custom goals give an opportunity to celebrate instances of perseverance or learning from mistakes, rather than just completion of tasks.
University Prep in Denver, Colorado, gives out a perseverance penguin to a scholar who demonstrates perseverance. The student gets to keep the penguin on their desk all week!