The reality of setting goals…..

reachstar     We all are familiar with the Browning quote “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp…” but Browning is referring to heaven, and not academic realities.  If we are to ask our students to strive to reach goals way beyond their developmental capabilities, we best be there to breakdown, model, and support each attempt at meeting goals that are set too high for students to attain independently. Even so, if the goals are set far beyond the students perception of his/her capabilities, we are promoting a design for academic failure. So we must also be there to break down unrealistic goals into manageable parts, and let them “reset” during the learning process.  The CCSS are standards, that can be shaped into manageable and realistic goals; no one said we had to swallow them whole, just focus on what can be done!

From day one studying self regulation was attractive to me because it had a reset button!


In all of my years of schooling, no one ever mentioned to me that if goals were set too high I could reset my goals, breaking the larger down into more manageable and attainable steps.  As young students, the teacher set the goals, wrote the objectives and we either met them, or as in my case, fell below. I recall my most dreaded math class, geometry.  The only sentence I recall was “This will be on the Regents!”.  If the goal was to pass the geometry regents that was way beyond my reach and grasp, if it was to learn geometry, that did not happen either.  However, if someone had set proximal and realistic goals to learn the mathematical strategies required to pass the Regents, I do believe I would have loved the course.

geo regents

We need to review the research that deals with setting realistic goals for our students and come to the realization that if the goal is not attainable from the learner’s perception, it will be a source of discouragement and not motivation. If Mrs. S had just once worked with me to set goals that I could actually reach, my self-efficacy (when it came to math) would not have suffered for years to come.

Dale H. Schunk (1990), a leading researcher and scholar in SR has a readily available article online (courtesy of Taylor and Francis),  Goal Setting and Self Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning.   He states, “When students perceive satisfactory goal progress, they feel capable of improving their skills; coupled with high self-efficacy, this leads students to set new and challenging goals.” The article supports the reasoning behind teaching parents, teachers, and future teachers that goal setting and self-efficacy are important self-regulatory processes and close attention should be paid to whether or not each and every student is reaching too far beyond his or her grasp.

Standards do not determine how we set our goals; they guide our curriculum, and we can in turn reset goals that appear to be unattainable. Now that the state (NY) has lifted the mandate that connected high stakes testing with teacher evaluations (for the moment) we need to shift our goals to learning how to be a self regulated learner.  Linking learning to test performance as the only measurable outcome is way beyond anyone’s reach or grasp.  If we set proximal goals for sharpening strategies, or skills, then we are encouraging our students to grow as learners.  If we set goals to do well on the exams associated with the CCSS our students might become great at prepping for tests, but not independent learners.



Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist,
25, 71-86. Retrieved from

( Star Graphic from


If I look too far ahead…….

subway stairs I have learned one thing about going down stairs in the NYC subways.  First, don’t look too far ahead, especially because I don’t like heights and the image of the bottom with all the steps in between is just a bit overwhelming.  So, I first glance at the distance, and then immediately focus my attention on getting down one section at a time – and if it is too steep I find that when I focus on the next several steps, and not the far far away bottom, I move quickly and without stress. I was reminded of this early today, as I made my way down to the subway train station methodically while others who do this everyday flew past me without any hesitation.  How quickly their feet moved past mine, but not one of them was focused on the end, only the stairs they were stepping on. Whether going up or down, one can make progress a few steps at a time, no matter our personal limitations.


Self-regulation begins with setting proximal goals.  Goals that can be attained, within reach, and not too far off.  Goals, that when accomplished, will increase self-efficacy and motivate students to keep going! We need to examine the common core and the staircase of complexity (which moves upwards in skill attainment) and how we can help our students set attainable goals.  Goal setting beyond one’s abilities only produce frustration and diminish self efficacy.  Looking at the common core as a whole will overwhelm the best teachers and learners; we need to address the common core one step at a time.

Yes we want to challenge our students, but at the very least the goals should be manageable, and the steps to attaining them made very clear.  If, when I entered the stairwell, all I saw was the drop from the top to the bottom, I would have turned away confused and wondering how to get to the subway.  However, I looked further and focused on the levels! Although intimidating, by taking the steps six to ten at a time, I eventually made it to the subway platform.   That was my strategy, and after only one practice I know I can do it again!

The modeling dilemma…what’s the observer doing?


“If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it………” might seem to be a silly comparison to, “if a model demonstrates a skill and no one is observing….. ” —- but in reality a model requires a trained observer, or little is being communicated by the model.

Self-regulation drawn from social cognitive theory has very distinct requirements for the role of the model in teaching and learning, and equally important requirements for the role of the observer.  The OBSERVER must be paying close attention to the actions of the model (teacher, parent, more experienced peer) or we cannot call what is commonly referred to as “modeling”  the real thing….

The term “modeling” is clearly overused and under representative of what we are actually doing when we say “I modeled …..” in order to introduce a new skill or strategy.  Last week I decided to actually model a strategy doing a think aloud without interruptions from my class.  How did I know they were attending to my demonstration if I did not call on them to make sure they had not wandered away from observing my actions?  Actually, that is the job of the model, to produce actions (and not too many of them) that engage the attention of the observer without checking for understanding until the entire sequence of behaviors have been observed. Many educators think that stopping and asking questions to check for understanding during a modeling sequence increases the observer’s understanding of the behavior, when in reality, it interrupts the flow of learning from observing.

Observational learning requires specific skills that are not emphasized but are a significant factor when addressing how educators are going to shape core ready learners. Researchers agree that if students are to learn from observing the behaviors of a teacher, the demonstration must go beyond actions.  Teaching a new strategy must include thinking aloud and revealing the mental processes while performing the skill.  However, if we think aloud to untrained observers we are not modeling, we are just talking.

We need to teach our students how to learn from observing before we begin to “model” – and we need to learn more about modeling as a teaching strategy. The child who has learned to push the chair over to the counter to reach the cookie jar observed an adult use the chair to obtain out of reach objects multiple times before he/she attempted to reproduce the behavior. As instructors we need to invest more time in training observers to pay attention, and in order to do that we need to become more effective models. Directing attention is a prerequisite to observational learning, and future blogs will include strategies to help our student prepare to observe.


Linking Creativity to the Common Core Through Odyssey of the Mind

odysseyThere is a group of elementary age students in Massapequa and throughout Long Island who are core ready, and they don’t even know it! Without the stress and focus on high stakes testing, educators have been teaching problem solving through participation in Odyssey of the MindIt can be done! Creativity and the common core quest for problem solving, cooperative and independent learning, writing from sources, and shifting to academic vocabulary are already part of some school programs, and should be available to all students to enjoy becoming core ready! 

logo ody

This was all new to me until this past school year when my 10 year old grand daughter became part of this international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Mackenzie explained to me yesterday (on the way home from the competition) how her school begins this competition at the fifth grade and when she became a fifth grader she was invited (with her team members) to apply their creativity to solve problems by presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. She proudly stated, “Nana, the kids do all the work!” This is very true, it is kid-centered all the way. The teacher is a facilitator, and parents are warned to not help in any way.  Many of the meetings for my grand daughter took place early in the mornings before school, and after school.  The problems solved are not only literature based, but can be science, technology, engineering or mathematical. However, creativity and problem solving is the common core of this learning experience.

problem solving

I learned later that the teams that took first place compete at the state, and then the World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.

I thought, while we are focusing on the common core and standards to compete in the future world workplace, why aren’t we better represented on the world stage in Odyssey of the Mind?

Becoming core ready is not only about standards, it is about learning to be problem solvers using critical thinking skills.  Participation in programs like Odyssey of the Mind should be linked to the earliest elementary school years, so children can become familiar with the fun side of learning while spiraling up the staircase of complexity.

Below is the website for Odyssey of the Mind I hope you find it as interesting as I did.  My goal is to learn more about Odyssey of the Mind because I can see the strong links to becoming self regulated independent learners, and core ready at the same time!


Link to Odyssey of the Mind: