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January 3, 2019

Developing Knowledge and Skills Through Personalized Goals

Jamie Stewart, Head of School, AltSchool Brooklyn Heights

Personalized Learning at AltSchool
A student shares his work with Head of School Jamie Stewart at a Learning Exhibition.

AltSchool Brooklyn Heights Head of School Jamie Stewart (@jamiestewartjs) shares how Individualized goal-setting helps make learning personalized and relevant to each learner.

As educators, we want our students to graduate to high school not only armed with practical knowledge, but with a better understanding of themselves as learners and as people. One important mechanism for ensuring that happens at AltSchool is by setting personalized goals for every learner. Just like adults, children are motivated when their goals are tailored to their needs and interests.

“The positive effects of goal-setting are backed by science,” AltSchool’s Senior Manager of Learning Design Joanna Libby explains. “Goal-setting significantly improves some of the more traditional metrics of student success like attendance and work completion. More profoundly, goal-setting has been shown to significantly reduce stress, increase engagement, and promote general health.”

Educators share how goal-setting drives student agency.

So far this year at AltSchool Brooklyn Heights, our 42 pre-K through 4th grade students have set 389 individual goals.Even the youngest learners participate in setting goals, capturing evidence of their progress, and reporting on their results to their peers, educators, and family. Because student goals are visible to our entire teaching team through the AltSchool platform, our educators are able to work collaboratively to tag evidence of student progress toward their goals.

Setting Goals and Working to Meet Them


Personalized Learning at AltSchool
Educator David Eardley checks in with his students regularly to document progress and provide support as they work toward their learning goals.

I see the impact of this type of personalized learning in all of our classrooms. Upper Elementary educator David Eardley’s students combine work on their personal goals with progress on science milestones common to the entire class. Similarly, Upper and Lower Elementary educator Jenny Hartman’s learners work on writing milestones aligned to common core standards as well as personal goals based on their own reflection and planning. “My goals are mainly about common issues I have in the class, like participating in group activities,” explains fourth-grader Nicky. “We also have goals about things we are working on. Sometimes a teacher sets a goal for you about what you are working on with the class. For example, Jenny has a writing goal for me.”

Student Goal-Setting Example
A sample student goal with educator assessments and photos of progress attached.

Goals create a clear roadmap for students to follow on their path to mastering specific skills. But what has really motivated students is setting personal goals. “Having goals is really helpful because it is basically something that allows me to see my progress,” Nicky adds. “Most of the goals that I set are problems I have, like cooperating with my partners. When I meet that goal, then when my partner and I have a problem we will be able to work it out on our own. My teachers give feedback and it is really helpful. I would tell my old school that they should create goals, too.”

AltSchool’s VP of Learning Colleen Broderick shares how we make learning personalized, contextualized, and relevant.
Project-Based Learning
Students are encouraged to work independently and together to complete projects and work on their goals.

Personalized goal-setting applies to our lower elementary students as well. “My most important goal is about writing stories and showing why they’re good stories because when I grow up I want to write a lot of books,” second-grader Alice says. “Jenny set my writing goal. We learned about commas and doing drafts and doing it better each time.”

Colleen Broderick discusses how technology amplifies goal-setting.

The same practice happens in other subjects as well. Educator Beth Buehlman has been practicing goal-setting with groups of first- and second-graders in our music program. Beth started by creating a menu of goals based on our social-emotional learning milestones for students like Alice to reflect on and choose from. She noticed that every student demonstrated a high level of self-awareness by picking the same goals she would have also selected for them on their own. “Another goal I have is to get one or less reminders about following directions in music class,” Alice shares about working with Beth. “I picked that goal because that is something challenging for me, not just in music class.”

Documenting and Assessing Progress as a Community

Socially-Embedded Learning Example
A student shares work toward her writing goal with her parent at a publishing party.

Alice has been working toward her writing and music goals, and collecting writing samples and other evidence of her progress, along with receiving educator and peer feedback. To increase accountability, motivation, and make connections with classmates and build community, learners shared their goals with the rest of the music group. Alice reflected that having clear goals was pivotal to understanding how she is doing. “I asked other kids in my class about how to do different parts. It is helpful to meeting my goals when I work with other people because they help you and then you get better,” she says. “I will know my goal is done when every time I write, everyone can read it.”

Read more about Our Vision for Lab Schools.

Students are on track to meet the majority of their goals by the end of December, when they will summatively assess progress and create their new goals for the new year. On average, about five formative or summative assessments are added to each student goal by several educators who are helping students track their progress. With access to goal cards, parents can follow along and watch in real-time as their child progresses.

This Is Personalized Learning  

Individualized goal-setting works hand-in-hand with educator-led group learning as students work to meet common core standards.

Personalized learning is a widely used term in education today. There are a lot of different approaches, a lot of hopes, and a lot of misconceptions. At AltSchool Brooklyn Heights, personalized goal-setting is just one of many ways that our educators make learning personalized, relevant, and contextualized for each learner. What personalized learning doesn’t mean is that students solely work on what they want to work on, or that the learning process is delegated to an algorithm or a screen. In fact, you’ll rarely see a Brooklyn Heights learner alone in front of a device.

A Student’s Story: Setting Goals and Learning Through Teaching

What you will see are educators who know all of our learners deeply. You’ll see learners who increasingly know themselves, what they are capable of, where they need to get better, and how to get there. Alice reflects on her experience, “It’s good for kids to know their goals because then they do it. If they don’t know their goals, then they might not be able to do things.”

Learn more about our lab schools and our partner school program.

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