Striving for goals, step by step

Some things are taken too much for granted. An article about Making
Kids Work on Goals
in the Wall Street Journal suggests that schools (and
parents?) are just beginning to realise the importance of setting not just big goals,
but realistic, incremental goals.

Work and Family writer Sue Shellenbarger notes that a Gallup
poll last year found that a majority of US students lack faith in their ability
to reach their goals. Only 42 per cent of nationally representative sample of
kids aged 10 to 18 surveyed said they were energetically pursuing their goals,
and only 35 per cent strongly believed they could find their way around

The Gallup surveys are the first broad look at goal-setting
at this age; students may struggle with this skill partly because schools tend
to focus more on raising test scores or lowering dropout rates. However, as
more states mandate career planning for all students, goal-setting is drawing
increasing attention.

This is how one school goes about it:

Students at the beginning of the year use their own test
scores to identify specific, measurable learning goals, such as achieving a
certain grade, and set a target date for achieving it. They break big goals
into smaller steps, write down the skills they will have to learn, and name
specific strategies and resources they will use to overcome obstacles, such as
more homework time. Teachers help them track their progress each quarter.

It works, and the results spill over into other areas of
endeavour, such as sport and the arts.

To help students remember the steps to effectively setting
goals, schools often use an acronym "Smart:" setting Specific,
Measurable, Attainable goals with clear Results in a set Time frame.

Children begin early to form beliefs about what they can and
cannot achieve, says a recent study in the Annual Review of Psychology. Before
they reach their teens, most kids have settled on certain goals and given up on

Aspiring to certain achievements without taking the steps to
get there leads to a sense of hopelessness. On the other hand, belief in one’s
ability to achieve goals boosts hopefulness, which experts say is a high
predictor of success in college.

Of course, kids are going to fail at some of the things they
want to do, even if they work at it systematically, and there is nothing wrong
with switching goals from making the soccer team to making the cross-country
team -- as one boy featured in this story did.

"If you aim to be No. 1—even if you can't achieve that
in everything—you're still going to do great," he says.

Tiger Mom should be very happy with all of this.


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