Goal Setting, Planning (and Monitoring) Skills Part 2: How To Avoid Becoming A One Trick Pony

Pardon the mini essay tone of this blog post: I think I wrote this as much for me as for you!

Photo VIU License for Thinkstock photos
Photo VIU License for Thinkstock photos

Goal setting and planning skills are used for everything from planning an event, to planning finances, to planning a lesson.  Teachers across the campus set goals (called learning outcomes) for their courses as well as make plans for assessment to see if their teaching strategies and their students learning strategies are on track to actually reach those learning outcomes. We educators also make plans to set up the learning environment and create assignments to hopefully enable students to meet those stated learning outcomes. But goal setting and planning skill is not the exclusive domain of educators.  Students who learn goal setting, planning and monitoring skills become what we call self-regulated learners.  This is also of central concern when we examine the notion of metacognition.

Metacognition is when we think about how we think.  Inducing students to reflect on their thinking is to induce metacognition. A self-regulated learner regulates her own cognitive activities. This self-regulation includes setting one’s own goals and planning activities, self-monitoring progress, as well as allocating attention and so on.   Self-regulated learners spend time planning how they will spend their time in the learning task. These kinds of learners are confident learners and may or may not be consciously competent in knowing how to learn. These “high performing students have created, consciously or unconsciously, strategies for success.  Beyond the requisite skills and information of a given discipline, they are aware of how they are learning and thinking, and they are self-regulating how they approach any process. This higher awareness and self-regulating behavior is called metacognition and it can be taught” (Flavell, 1976).

Students need goal setting and planning skills as well as self-assessment and monitoring skills in order to adjust their learning strategies.  Often, students who did relatively well in high school, with their one tried and true method for earning good marks, simply cannot study longer and harder when they hit university and meet the mark.  Simply working harder often just does not work. Students who learn to examine their learning strategies, and who also learn to switch them up for more effective strategies depending on the task, become what we call self-regulated learners. They also learn how to not become a one trick pony!

Students’ own beliefs about learning, whether they have a growth or fixed mind set (Lovett, 2008) will play into whether a student becomes a self regulated learner or not.  Students with a growth, versus a fixed mindset seem to naturally roll up their sleeves, perhaps even smack their lips and exclaim: “ I love a challenge” (Dweck, 2008).  Students with a fixed mindset are more likely to give up (and save face) when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  Many times, even amongst the “best and the brightest”, it takes many attempts and adjustments in learning/study strategies to solve a difficult problem, understand a difficult reading or complex concept, or produce a quality “A+” assignment that meets the criteria at an “excellent” level.  Students who believe they can improve their learning strategies and that their talent is not fixed, will be more focused on goals that are process oriented or oriented towards mastery.  Those with a fixed mind set are more fixated on their performance or the results of the exam or assignment, not what was learned during the process.

Self-regulated learners focus on the process of how to improve their learning skills and the quality of their learning rather than appearing “competent or better than others”. To help a student move toward improvement in their learning skills, consider encouraging them to cultivate a growth mindset: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoR-E2nWPlE  As well, consider emphasizing the process of learning and how to improve learning strategies in addition to the requisite skills and information of the discipline.   Also, check out Scot Crisp’s nice summary in “Teaching How To Learn” for some strategies to accomplish this: http://faculty.academyart.edu/export/sites/faculty/assets/faculty/TeachingHowToLearn2013.pdf

There are also these specific strategies that Crisp mentions that one can use before and after lectures, exams and assignments to help students regulate their behavior.  These strategies are called wrappers.  I especially like them, so I will elaborate on a couple of them here:

Exam wrappers direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) with an eye toward adapting their future learning.  When a teacher provides an exam wrapper, students can focus on more than just their grade but also on the following:

  • Identifying their own individual areas of strength and weakness to guide further study;
  • Reflecting on the adequacy of their preparation time and the appropriateness of their study strategies; and
  • Characterizing the nature of their errors to find any recurring patterns that could be addressed. http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/examwrappers/

Lecture wrappers help students to figure out what to focus on when listening to a lecture thereby hopefully capturing the lecturer’s intended main points.  “Prior to beginning the day’s lecture, the instructor gives students some tips on active listening. In particular, students are encouraged to think about the key points of the lecture as they listen and take notes. At the end of the lecture, students write what they think the three most important ideas of the lecture were on an index card. After they hand those in, the instructor reveals the three most important ideas from the lecture. This immediate feedback allows students to monitor their active listening strategies.” http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/metacognition/teaching_metacognition.html

Marsha Lovett (2008) summarizes what is important for teachers to keep in mind when teaching Metacognition.  She notes the following three critical steps:

1. Teach students that their ability to learn is mutable

2. Teach planning and goal-setting

3. Give students ample opportunities to practice monitoring their learning and adapting as necessary

From: Marsha Lovett’s presentation at the 2008 Educause Learning Initiative conference  http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/metacognition/teaching_metacognition.html

So the big question here is “can educators assist ALL students to gain these goal setting, planning and self-monitoring skills”?  My optimistic self screams “Yes!”

When we pay attention to teaching goal setting and planning skills, talk about various strategies to accomplish the learning task and provide practice monitoring learning and adapting as necessary, then yes, I believe we can teach students “How To Avoid Becoming a One Trick Pony”.

International Education Creates Value-Added Opportunities For Faculty and Students

VIU Photo via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/vancouverislanduniversity/8159224792/in/set-72157631937512077
VIU Photo via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/vancouverislanduniversity/8159224792/in/set-72157631937512077

I feel ever so lucky to be able to work at Vancouver Island University where international students are welcomed and international experiences for students and faculty alike are encouraged as well as supported.  And NEW! Starting in fall 2013, students going on a VIU exchange program for one or two semesters will receive the IE Exchange Award of $2200 (international students will only be eligible for this funding under certain conditions): http://www2.viu.ca/educationabroad/   If that is not an encouragement for education abroad, I am not sure what is!  AND this up-coming July, through Vancouver Island University’s relationship with Seoul Women’s College, I am one of the lucky, successful applicants chosen to travel to Korea this summer to participate in Bahrom International Program 2014: http://www2.viu.ca/educationabroad/bip.asp

I am a believer from way back in developing intercultural communication and understanding through travel.  My first big travel experience was when I was in grade 10 – I travelled with a “Rep” band to Japan; this was my first and most influential travel experience.  We stayed in a hotel but once, while the rest of our experiences entailed staying with homestay families across the country.  We not only shared our music, but also food, culture (like traditional tea service and flower arranging), school, watching television in Japanese and games, like playing baseball with the youth we met in our travels.

I was so taken by this experience that I saved every penny I earned from that point forward to go toward my European travels when I spent three months, camping and travelling around Europe through England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Greece with two of my best buddies.  I enjoyed meeting people such as the fishermen and restaurateurs in Greece, older people on treks from town to town in the Swiss Alps (we young Canadians travelled at their walking pace!), other celebrants at cultural events such as Oktoberfest and art students who came to enjoy the art and architecture, particularly in France and Italy.  My international travels ended once I started university and did not begin again until I began my employment with VIU, then Malaspina College.

In my first year teaching, during the initial years of the Co-op program, students went out on work experience during the months of January to April, which meant that my vacation time was in winter and my chosen destination was to the sun of Australia and Malaysia.  I spent a month in Australia travelling north with a friend along the west coast from Sydney up to Queensland where everyone we met truly knew how to relax and enjoy themselves; the laid back ways of the Aussie were so warm and endearing.  When travelling in Malaysia, I made sure to bring long skirts to cover my ankles and long sleeve shirts that buttoned up high, which I wore, despite the heat, because my homework indicated I needed to dress very conservatively to blend in with the cultural norms for women in that country; this was particularly important to me as I was travelling alone there.  I had such fun meeting and getting to know people as I explored the different and distinct cultural zones of Malaysia.

My last major international trip prior to the birth of our first child was to Belize for an Eco-tourism Conference, which was highly educational.  After the conference I stayed on to travel with some people I met at the conference.  One of our day trips took us to Guatemala where we explored the Mayan ruins and had supper with a local family in Guatemala on our drive back from the ruins to Belize. The chicken we saw running around the yard where our driver stopped on the way to the pyramids to arrange our supper was no longer in the yard upon our return; we had chicken on our plates at supper though!

My next trip took my youngest son and I on a 2-week trip to build two houses and outhouses for an extended family in Tacate, Mexico.  It was an eye opener for him to see life in another country in North America with such humbler living conditions compared to those we take for granted here in Canada, even in our “low rent” districts. Since that time, we have taken our family on a cruise that landed us in ports on the west side of Mexico where this son of mine and my other two were able to experience a different side of Mexico; exploring those differences was also an educational experience.

My own personal and professional gains from my travel experiences make me a strong proponent of international travel and the alternate cultural lens one can gain from such experiences. I am always eager to encourage VIU students to take advantage of the many and varied education abroad opportunities our school makes available to its students through Study Abroad and International Field Schools: http://www2.viu.ca/educationabroad/

This year I have seen a surge of interest in Korea as a study abroad destination among the VIU students I chatted with, so I am extra pleased that VIU is affording me the opportunity to gain some first-hand knowledge of this country through the Bahrom International Program (BIP).  I believe I will be better able to promote student interest in Korea as a study abroad destination after my own travel experiences in that country.

I have travelled extensively myself and my life has been enriched by my travel experiences so I know first-hand how personally and professionally rewarding travel can be.  Moreover, in my faculty position in the department of Recreation and Tourism I regularly work with international students and I believe my varied cultural experiences help me to be a more culturally sensitive listener.

My opinion is that all of our students and faculty should take advantage of at least one international experience, if only to know what it is like to be the “foreigner” and in the minority let alone for the many additional advantages and insights international travel can afford.  Fortunately, we educators and students alike at VIU are in the enviable position of having an international department that is set up to facilitate these kinds of experiences for both faculty members and students.  At this point, they are optional, value added, opportunities.

If it were up to me, however, I think I would make an international experience a mandatory component of every student’s education at VIU.