Learner goal-setting in the literacy classroom

The lip-biting looks of anguish that can accompany frustrated students of any age can be a literacy teacher’s worst nightmare. How can we help our students feel that they are getting exactly what they need from our lesson? One possible solution to this problem is giving learners greater autonomy over their goal-setting.

Learner autonomy vs teacher responsibility


When teaching literacy, I find that the balance between targeted and explicit teaching and creating alearner-centered  environment is tricky. On the one hand, as teachers, it’s our responsibility to construct lessons that will enable students to develop literacy skills and knowledge.

On the other hand, students struggling with literacy, either in their own language or a second language, will absolutely come to class with questions, problemsand frustrations that their teachers’ may not yet have identified as a learning need.

Empowering learners


Putting learners iliteracy goalsn the driver’s seat does not mean that teachers are shirking their responsibility. But by encouraging students to take an active role in determining what they learn, we enable them to:

  • reflect on their own knowledge and skills,
  • identify weaknesses they would like to improve on, and
  • practice the goal-setting that will create lifelong learners long after they have left our classrooms.

The teacher’s challenge then becomes not “what is most important to teach?” but, “how can I best get my students to where they want to be?”

Worth the shift?


Literacy goal settingThe World Literacy Foundation advocates empowerment through literacy learning, and so should we. Of course, creating student-centered learning based on learners’ goals is rarely as simple as asking students: “What do you want to learn?”

Goal-setting is a skill like any other literacy skill, and it takes time, practice and strategies. But the pay-off is 21st Century learners with the agency over their own education and skills.  Learners with the ability to take the driver’s seat in and beyond the classroom.

To get started, a variety of resources can be found on the Community Literacy of Ontario website (http://literacybasics.ca/learner-retention/goal-setting/) and Personalized Learning LLC blog (http://www.personalizelearning.com/2016/09/the-personal-learner-profile-goal.html)


By: Ashley Emmerton