Your child's academic motivation is coming, for the most part, from one source: you! While it is a tremendous responsibility, recognize that you also hold tremendous influence over your child's desire to learn.
For years now, studies have shown that children who participate in setting their own learning goals in the classroom are consistently more motivated and self-directed. They take learning more seriously, in part because they recognize the personal benefits of their efforts.
What if we, as parents, took that strategy a step further and helped our children identify some specific goals each school year?Why Set Goals?
In order to succeed in school and in life, our children need to develop the skill of self-determination. In other words, they need to be able to make their own decisions and guide their own behavior. Setting goals can facilitate this process because it helps kids make the connection between their own personal choices and the end results.
Personal Goals vs. Academic Standards
It's important to point out that there is a difference between external academic expectations and standards, which are set by the school or the teacher, and personal learning goals that are determined by the student. For children who do not easily conform to the expectations of the classroom, personal learning goals can be an extremely powerful tool. They enable the child to feel successful despite their standing in relation to the rest of the class. As parents, we can participate in this process simply by helping our kids think about and set a personal goal, and then encouraging them to work toward it.
The Power of Choice
Clearly, children who have a say in what they are learning are more motivated to succeed. Keep in mind that what matters is that your child sees himself or herself making progress. This is far more important than what that specific goal is. As best as you can, try to avoid the temptation to steer your child toward the goal you want him or her to achieve. Instead, trust that the experience of choosing a learning goal and making progress toward it will be a valuable growth experience for your child.
To Reward or Not to Reward
The purpose of this exercise is for your child to grasp the sense of personal achievement that is possible when we set and work toward our own goals. For this reason, try to avoid the temptation to promise financial or tangible rewards. Instead, allow your child's feelings of personal accomplishment to be its own reward.
Begin the discussion of goal-setting simply by asking your child what he or she hopes to accomplish or learn this year. While you might have a few suggestions in mind, you'll want to let this idea percolate for a few days. You might even be surprised to find that the expectations your child has for himself or herself are higher than you imagined!
Developing a Plan
Once your child picks a personal learning goal, you'll want to help him or her develop a plan for accomplishing it. This will most likely include defining the goal, setting a time frame, and making a list of steps necessary in working toward the goal. You'll also want to talk about how your child will realize that the goal has been accomplished.
Finally, make sure you acknowledge your child's progress along the way. Knowing that mom or dad noticed will increase your child's sense of accomplishment and fortify his or her self-determination.
1"Goal-Setting Exercise Leads to Targeted Results: Grades 1-12." Curriculum Review Mar. 2006: 10+.
2Holverstott, Jeanne. "Promote Self-Determination in Students." Intervention in School & Clinic 41.1 (2005): 39+.
3Madden, Lowell E. "Motivating Students to Learn Better Through Goal-Setting." Education 117.3 (1997): 411+.