Helping Readers Set Goals

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by Jeff Barger

One of the most popular terms in education right now is student agency. What this means is, instead of students passively receiving content from a teacher, they have choice and input into their learning. An example of this could be setting reading goals. As a teacher, I could assign a goal of reading so many books in a month. Some students would meet the goal easily, but it would be more compliance than engagement. Others might struggle and be disinterested. They didn’t have any ownership in the goal, and it may not meet their current needs. So how can we help readers set goals so they can succeed and move towards more independence?


  • Build relationships with your readers.

    It might be easier to teach whole class or in small groups, but one-on-one conferences should not be ignored. It is essential to shaping a rich reading environment. As you get to know students better, they will provide insight as to what they like to read and how they approach a text. This will be valuable information as you help them set goals and become more independent.

  • Model goal-setting.

    Students need to see adults as active readers. Share with them the goals you have set for yourself. For instance, one of my goals as a reader of current events is to determine the author’s purpose.

  • Goals do not have to be numbers.

    Readers might be working on a particular skill such as stopping to ask questions as they read. It could be as simple as “Did I ask questions as I read today?” Sometimes attaching a number can cause distress and more focus on the number than improving the skill.

  • Provide choice.

    Make sure students have ownership in setting the goal. If they have difficulty in choosing a goal, furnish a list of possible goals and let them choose from the list.

  • Give specific and timely feedback.

    One of the attractions of video games is the amount and immediacy of feedback players receive. They know their score and other pieces of information that are important to playing the game. In like manner, students need timely feedback about how they are doing with their goals. The feedback needs to be specific, as opposed to remarks like “Great job!” or “Way to go!” Positive affirmation is nice, but tell the student exactly what they did that was great. Also, make sure goals do not collect dust. Do quick check-ins to revisit goals every one to two weeks.


Goal setting is a great way to teach students to persist and build independence in their learning.


Jeff Barger is a K-5 literacy specialist in North Carolina. He is the creator of the NC Teacher Stuff blog and has written three nonfiction books for children.

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