Frustrating to many middle school educators are student attitudes that their education is the school’s responsibility, not their own, that meeting state standards is the school’s problem, not their own.
One strategy for getting adolescents more invested in their own learning is to have them take charge by setting their own learning goals. Some schools are even putting assessment data in students’ hands so that they can take the lead in making progress to reach standards. In the student-involved assessment model of instruction, students learn about the skills and concepts underlying academic standards and use data in monitoring their progress.
But how do students feel about their experiences with “academic self-regulation?” asks a recent study in Reading Improvement. “Because so little information currently exists about students’ experiences with student-involved assessment and academic self-regulation in school settings, we conducted an exploratory investigation with the primary purpose of documenting students’ experiences with goal-setting processes,” the authors write.
The researchers report that the 54 8th graders in their study responded “very positively,” and strongly endorsed the goal-setting experience. They reported enjoying their independence and said they felt gratified seeing the progress toward their goals.
Student-participants were in literacy classes taught by one of the researchers. They were asked to set goals (daily and weekly), monitor their progress and to take an active part in determining what assistance they needed to meet their goals.
They were given assessment data about their proficiency levels in Colorado statewide standards in literacy at the beginning of the year and periodic updates on their performance levels. They were encouraged to work to meet those standards.
Just because they enjoyed their independence doesn’t mean students in the study don’t want help from their teachers. Students said they needed support in choosing goals and in selecting options for assistance especially if there were many choices.
“Early adolescence is a transitional period for motivational beliefs,” write the authors. “Having previously seen hard work as the primary factor in accomplishments, youngsters increasingly view schoolwork as requiring a complex blend of ability, effort, and strategy.
“Success on tasks is no longer guaranteed during this stage in their lives, and depending on their academic history and related self-perceptions, adolescents may become either hopeful or discouraged about their future.”
The 54 students ranged in age from 13.4 to 17.1 years with a mean age of 14.3 years; 30 were male and 24 female. Most students were of European American descent; 8 were Hispanic American, 1 was African American and 1 was Native American. There was no control group used in this study. The following instruments were used to evaluate students and their response to academic self-regulation:
- The Scholastic Reading Inventory Lexiles were taken online by students at the beginning and ending of the academic year to assist with instructional planning and goal setting. Lexile scores are designed to indicate the level of reading that individual students can reach with moderate success.
- Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) is a well-validated self-report instrument of motivation and learning strategies originally developed for college students.
The 37-item questionnaire asks students to rate themselves on 5 scales:
- time and study environment management;
- metacognitive self-regulation;
- self-efficacy for learning and performance;
- effort regulation; and
- test anxiety
Students rate themselves on goal setting, judging adequacy of one’s understanding, adjusting behavior to improve performance, making effective use of study time and finding a good location for concentrating. They also evaluate themselves on minimizing distractions and keeping up motivation, forming expectations for academic success, appraising one’s ability to do tasks and feeling worry and negative emotions about taking tests. Students received a mean score for their responses on each of the 5 scales in the questionnaire, which was administered early in the year.
- Making Progress in Reading Questionnaire is a 14-item questionnaire on reading designed by the research team to obtain students’ ratings of their experiences in the goal-setting process. Items focus on the importance of reading in students’ lives, students’ satisfaction and confidence with reading performance, self-assessments of abilities in reading and use of this information in directing reading activities and evaluation of instructional services. Students completed the questionnaires during the spring term after they had gained experience with goal setting.
- Your Experience with Reading Goals: In Your Own Words Questionnaire. Students answered four open-ended questions about their experiences in setting their own reading goals. Students answered questions about what they liked most about setting their own goals and choosing learning activities, the difficulties they faced in setting goals and choosing activities, what they learned from the goal-setting process and the kind of help they needed.
Below are sample student responses to the 4 open-ended questions asked in this questionnaire. A small percentage of students reported not liking their academic self-regulation experiences, but the great majority reported having beneficial experiences.
What do you like most about setting your own weekly learning goals and choosing learning activities to meet these goals?
“I like that I have a choice.”
“I like being able to do what I want and read what I want.”
“That you actually decide what you want to practice on.”
“I like that by setting these goals, I can accomplish them and improve my reading.”
“I like being able to see that I can reach my goals if I work at it.”
What kinds of difficulties do you face while setting goals and choosing learning activities?
“It is hard to decide which things will challenge me or be way too hard.”
“The kinds of difficulties I have faced, I was trying not to pick really easy goals and to pick goals that would make me think.”
“Sticking with that goal.”
“What is hard for me doesn’t just automatically come easy after giving me a worksheet or two.”
What have you learned from the process of setting weekly learning goals and choosing learning activities?
“I learned that I can set my own goals and achieve them.”
“I have learned what I need to work on and how goal setting can help me concentrate on that.”
“I have learned that if you set goals you can be more successful and the activities give you a better chance.”
“It helps me to get a better grade.”
What kinds of help do you need now to meet your learning goals?
“A guideline on what things are going to be too hard, and just an idea of what activities will do me good.”
“I need more time to work on my goals.”
“I need to know more on what to set as a goal.”
Among the most frequently cited challenges were deciding on an optimal level of difficulty and persevering with goals.
“These Are My Goals: Academic Self-Regulation in Reading by Middle-School Students,” by Teresa McDevitt et al., Reading Improvement, Volume 45, Number 3, Fall 2008, pp. 115-38.