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January 2021 Question of the Month: How Can I Help My Advanced Learner Set and Achieve Goals?

01/25/2021 8:42 AM | Anonymous

How Can I Help My Advanced Learner Set and Achieve Goals?

With January “New Year’s Resolutions,” we set goals for the coming year. As we do so, we think about what relationships and personal characteristics that we would like to improve, make plans for meeting challenges, and develop long and short term objectives for self-improvement. Making and keeping resolutions is a great way to steer ourselves toward a productive year. 

One valuable “new year’s resolution” that educators and parents should consider is to transfer this power of “goal setting” to our children. All children, including advanced learners, face challenges in school and in life, so they need tools to forge ahead and overcome obstacles. One way to provide direction for success and to empower our children is to teach them how to set goals for themselves. Here are five tips for parents to help your child to set and achieve goals in school this year:

1). Help your child to reflect and take ownership of his or her goals.

It may be easy for teachers and parents to see where children are struggling in school and could benefit from goal setting. It is often clear to adults to recognize when children need to focus on areas such as organization, building friendships, or mastering certain academic subject areas. Yet, however we may be tempted, we must be careful not to set goals for our children, but with our children. 

Take time to reflect with your child about the status quo, and help your child to recognize what goals may be appropriate, understand why they are important, and care about their goals. The following questions may help:

  • What are some areas in school that are going well? Why do you think they are going well?
  • What is not going so well that you might want to improve?
  • What kinds of help might you need to make things better?
  • What are one or two things you think you might be able to do to make things better?

Sometimes, children can identify where they are struggling, but may not know what to do. At that point, brainstorming a list of potential solutions (no matter how far-fetched), is a great way to start. Then, you can discuss this list with your child and choose a couple practical ideas. If strategies are still not available, you can look for resources together or consult with your child’s teacher to help gain some ideas. 

2). Start small.

Even with the best intentions and for experienced goal-setters, it can be difficult to stick with long-range goals. In fact, research shows that most people give up their New Year’s resolutions by February. Try setting a goal for the day, such as learning three vocabulary words, practicing an instrument for 15 minutes, or remembering one’s backpack without a reminder. Then, after short term successes are reached, move to longer time frames and larger goals.

3). Help your child set goals that are within your child’s control.

Your child may be tempted to set goals such as “Getting an A” in mathematics or “being captain of the soccer team.” While these may be well-deserved, and even likely results of hard work, such goals are often not immediately within your child’s control. 

For children, especially those who are new to goal setting, try focusing on learning or mastery goals such as: “I will remember to turn in my homework”; or “I will ask the teacher when I have a question,” or “I will check my work to and mark where I explain each step of my reasoning before I turn it in,” or “I will practice my soccer drills for 15-minutes per day.” These types of goals are measurable, and progress can be easily tracked and celebrated.

4). Set a time to revisit goals.

As a teacher, one of my favorite “goal setting” forms for elementary students read as follows:

My goal: ___________________

What my parent can do to help me reach my goal: __________

What my teacher can do to help me reach my goal: ________________

What I can do to help myself reach my goal: ___________________

My parent/teacher will check in with me on: ________________

When we will meet again to discuss my progress: __________________

This form clearly states the responsibilities of all parties who have impact on success. Moreover, it set a time when goals will be reviewed. Setting a time to review is very important for a few reasons:

  • It maintains accountability for all parties to prevent goals from being abandoned.
  • It helps to prevent a sense of “nagging” because parents have set times to focus on the issue with children and children recognize at the outset that they will be accountable to discuss their progress at given time intervals.
  • It allows for reflection, adjustments and extra support/independence to be given as the child works toward his/her goal.

5). Celebrate incremental success.

It takes time to develop new habits, and sometimes goal mastery does not happen right away. Children may have a day when goals are not met, and/or when set-backs occur. Help keep your child motivated by celebrating incremental progress and success. Recognize when children make an independent effort to achieve their goals or make partial progress. 

When we empower children to set their own, meaningful and realistic goals, we engage them as learners and help support skills that can help bring them success in the coming year. More importantly, it will provide them with an essential skill for seeing through their own resolutions and pursuing their dreams throughout their lifetimes.

-Patricia Steinmeyer, Executive Director, IAGC

For more information on goal setting, check out the following articles and resources:

Cash, R.M. (January 4, 2018). Smart Goals for Gifted Children. Free Spirit Publishing Blog.

Morin, A. (September 17, 2020). How to Set Goals for Your Child This School Year. VeryWell Family. 

Siegle, D. and McCoach, B. Promoting a positive achievement attitude with gifted and talented students. Excerpted from: The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know?, pp. 6-7, 29-30. Prufrock Press. (retrieved from Davidson Institute Database)


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