The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

From the Head of Senior School

Help Students Reflect and Set Goals for Powerful Learning

I recently read an article linking the benefits of reflection and goal setting and, with the new Academic Year just around the corner, I thought it timely to share some of the important considerations. The article described reflection as "the stickiest glue for the brain" and stated "When students take time to consider what they have learned and how they have grown, the learning is longer lasting and much more impactful". As John Dewey wrote, "We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience." In addition to this, goal setting was identified as equally as powerful in improving performance. People who set goals achieve more in life, in work and in school. Goals refine a learner's focus, putting energies into just a few outcomes, channelling their work and sharpening its influence. In effect when we combine reflection and goal setting one has an effective pairing that supports and improves learning.

Start with reflection

This year we have asked students in Years 9 and 12 to complete reflections on their performance as a part of the ongoing feedback trial. The aim was to have students reflect on the process involved in preparing for an assessment, their performance in the assessment and the feedback provided, then ask themselves, what are the necessary steps I need to take to improve my performance? Learning to reflect is, in itself, a new skill for some of our students, especially when being asked to record their reflection and it being visible to their teachers and parents. Learning areas have chosen some very simple prompting questions to help the boys produce a response with the aim that this will become more advanced as the skill progresses.

Move to goal setting

When setting goals, think 'the Goldilocks rule.' Not too broad, not too specific; just right. One way to give a structure to setting goals is to make them SMART. That is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Specific – what do you want to achieve? The more specific the description the bigger the chance you will achieve exactly what you aim for.

Measurable – identify exactly what it is you will see when you achieve your goal. Break the goal down into measurable components so you can track your progress.

Attainable – is the goal acceptable to you? Do you have the time, work ethic and requisite abilities? How big of a priority is it actually to you and what sacrifices are you willing to make?

Relevant - the main question is, why do you want to reach this goal? What is the objective behind the goal and will this goal really achieve that?

Timely - keep the timeline realistic and flexible; that way you can keep morale high. Prioritise and remain consistent in your application to ensure timelines are kept realistic.

Make a plan

"A goal without a plan is just a wish," according to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince. Therefore, you have chosen a goal (or two or three) and need to plan out how you will reach those goals. Some ideas on how to make a plan are:

  • List what you know you need to still learn in order to reach your goal.
  • What strengths and knowledge do you already have that will help you reach the goal? How do you plan on using this?
  • Who can help you reach this goal? Specifically, what will you need from him or her?

Reflect on the goals and the plan often

This step is crucial in making the reflection-goal pairing successful. As often as possible, you should revisit the goals you have set. In other words, bookend learning experiences and assessment results with reflection on goals and plans. A few ideas that can help build intentions when reflecting:

  • What can I do today that will help me work toward my goal?
  • What feedback do I need in my work toward my goal?
  • Study the plan. What adjustments can be made to customise the plan with all I have learned and done thus far?
  • How am I doing in working toward my goal and what can I do differently?

This reflection work can be done individually, in partnerships or in small groups. Just remember that it is imperative to keep the iterative approach; that is, switching between reflection and goals and making adjustments to support your process.

Mr Dean Shadgett
Head of Senior School