A tool for improving goal setting

I have just begun taking an online course from the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) offered this spring and summer titled “Effective Teaching Practices”. It is way better than I thought it would be and it offers many techniques to help students learn including the ones listed below:

Increase intrinsic motivation

  • Offer choice when appropriate (group projects, assignments, assessments) 
  • Provide tools for targeted improvement (rubrics, checklists, writing samples)
  • Offer specific and timely feedback
  • Offer opportunities to use feedback for revision
  • Connect learning to career or other long-term goals
  • Foster a sense of belonging to an online course community 

Demonstrate the connection between increased effort and improved performance

  • Communicate how increased effort leads to improved performance
  • Praise students for effort as opposed to natural ability
  • Offer specific praise connected to effort
  • Use grades to communicate progress
  • Use grades to diagnose what students know and what they need to work on
  • Provide time management strategies and regular reminders 
  • Send messages of encouragement and support.”

Most of us practice these quite intentionally.  For example, I have been using weekly goal setting and reflection in my E100 and E300classes the past two school years alongside their semester-long research paper.  My plan has been to get them to “plan their work and work their plan”.  That motto is from a previous lifetime when I owned a chimney-cleaning business. If I hadn’t followed that motto, I would not have been able to make ends meet.  The truth in it is nothing new, but I found that students did not know how to set goals for long-term projects.  And what I learned in those two years was two-fold:  (1). I had a hard time teaching them how to set those goals and (2) they had a hard time working those limited plans.

Fast forward to Spring 2019 and my ACUE course.  I ran into a tool there that would help me with both teaching how to plan and with my students learning how to work their plans.  It has a silly acronym, DAPPS. Here’s a site where you can read the ACUE document https://nowcomment.com/documents/133206  (and comment if you wish).

Most of the research that I have read in this course argues that motivation comes with the success of doing the work in small steps.  That is the opposite of the usual, ‘rahrahrah’ line that suggests we have to motivate first, then find success.  I have found that the motivation comes from making promises to yourself that you keep.  (Ready-fire-aim not ready-aim-fire.)  What DAPPS does is allow you to fine tune your goals into manageable pieces by demanding that they be time specific, task specific, personal, positive (as in what you want not what you don’t want), and achievable. 

Student goals are none of these at first.  This is a model that has to be taught and it has to be followed throughout the semester.  That is what I failed to do in previous semesters.  I gave up on the work plans and their weekly reflections after a while. I just thought they got it.  At the end their writings showed me they hadn’t. 

Here’s is what I am doing now with the addition of DAPPS.

  1. I use the work plan as a way to generate topics
  2. Next, I ask them to create research questions from those topics
  3. Then, we begin to seek answers to those questions through a wide-ranging research process (online and face-to-face)
  4. This is when I apply the DAPPS format so that their research is focussed as noted above
  5. I ask them to reflect on their research plans each Sunday
  6. Lastly, they create a new work plan on Monday using DAPPS as their rubric.
  7. Wash-rinse-repeat.

Before Spring Break we began to apply this model much more rigorously.  I created a work plan for myself that we applied the DAPPS format to in class.  I used their suggestions to create a revised work plan that is way more useful.  The amazing thing was that it really was better.  I think they helped me see improvements that might have been in my blind spot.  I have attached the before and after files so that you can see the difference.

Original work plan:

Revised work plan:

I am marking up my student’s plans even now and I hope they have discovered what a handy tool this is.

Final note: the final exam in this class will be to write a summative essay on the process they followed to create their research project. This will come directly from the reflections they have done every Sunday in response to their weekly work plans. I really am looking forward to this big reflection.

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