What do you plan to do next year? Lose weight? Save money? Travel someplace amazing? Start learning a new language? Everyone knows setting goals is important, and language class is no exception. Not terribly long ago someone emailed me or left a comment -I can’t remember which- and asked me to “comment more on setting class goals. How do you arrive at them, how often you change them, and anything else you think is important.”
Let’s tackle this in order.
How to set goals
Setting goals has almost nothing to do with the age or grade of your students. In fact, I can only think of a few factors here.
Setting goals is almost entirely a proficiency question. Regardless of what grade or language you teach, when deciding what your goals will be, the answer is simple: start at the beginning, and move forward. The students I teach right now are at various stages of intermediate, so my goals should be aligned with intermediate proficiency benchmarks from good standards documents. A helpful way to quickly think about this is that novices should be learning to talk about themselves and intermediates should be learning to talk about their community. If you’re fortunate enough to have advanced students (which does occasionally happen!), they should be learning to talk about more global issues (that is, their world).
Okay, so some goals do have to do with age or grade of students, and this is a question of motivation. When I am teaching 2-year-olds, we don’t practice dialogues. We explore stories. And when I’m teaching sophomores, we don’t do a farm unit. They’d look at me like I’d gone crazy (“The cow says moo? Yeah, so?”). So some goals, particularly in unit themes, have to do with age or grade level. Assessment goals, however, are always a proficiency question.
You may have to tweak or divide your goals if you have a high concentration of heritage speakers in your class. For more tips on addressing the linguistic needs of heritage speakers, see the summary of the #langchat on that topic.
How many goals
My best advice here is to be focused and I wrote a blog post on that issue. I think the biggest mistake language teachers are making across the country is trying to accomplish too much too fast.
When to change
When do you change your goals?
1) When students have accomplished the current ones (but that’s not an excuse to not keep practicing them – so I suppose it’s not that you change them, but rather that you build on them.
2) When your goals aren’t working.
Last year I had a Spanish 3 class with unusually low proficiency. My theory was they had just come off of back-to-back-to-back first-year teachers. We struggled valiantly together through my Spanish 3 curriculum and eventually, far later than it should have been, around January I figured out that I needed to change my goals to meet their proficiency, not the other way around.
If I had to come down to the two most important concepts to remember when setting goals, it would be these: 1) make it a proficiency question, and 2) go for quality over quantity.
What’s your process for setting goals?