Goals and Goal-Shielding: On Success and Failure

Goals and Goal-Shielding: On Success and Failure

By Jennifer Serravallo

Jennifer Serravallo is a literacy consultant, speaker, and the author of the popular Heinemann titles The Reading Strategies Book, The Literacy Teacher’s Playbooks, Teaching Reading in Small Groups and Conferring with Readers (co-authored with Gravity Goldberg). She will be hosting a Study Series for The Educator Collaborative on March 31, 2016 titled “Supporting Readers with Strategic Instruction.” You can sign up to join the series here.

Happy New Year! This is the time of year when my social media feed is filled with ideas and advice for setting New Year’s resolutions, and finding ways to make them a priority. In essence, authors are tackling the question: “How do we find a goal, and then what are the conditions by which we stick the goal and are able to accomplish it?”

In one such article, I came upon the term “goal-shielding.” Goal shielding is the processes of protecting one’s focus on a goal by not allowing yourself to get distracted with others. When you have multiple goals, your brain will decide (most likely subconsciously) which goal is most important so that it can use its executive function to accomplish that one. Goal shielding helps us achieve important goals by protecting us against distractors. Shah, Friedman, & Kruglanski (2002)

In New Year’s Resolution terms, this means that if you say “I’m going to eat more veggies” and “I want to work out at the gym 4 days a week” and “I’m going to increase my water intake” and “I’ll turn off my cell phone by 7pm for better sleep” your brain will decide “Nope. Not doing all of that. Maybe just one” and it will shut down what it considers to be less important to allow the one, most important to shine.

Now, let’s take this to the reading classroom. Can you think of a student in your charge who could use help with more than one thing when it comes to reading? Maybe they could use a little help with fluency, but also with retelling. Maybe they run into some decoding hurdles, and you’re also noticing that main idea is something that they could use some support with. Or maybe you think, “You know what? I think everyone in my class could use more than one thing.”

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From The Reading Strategies Book

So, what’s a reading teacher to do? I think the best course is to focus on one thing at a time. I’ve created a hierarchy that may be of help to decide which one thing will you work on first. This is not a hierarchy of most important to least important, nor is it a hierarchy of basic to sophisticated. Instead, think of it as a hierarchy of action. My advice is to have your eye on all the possibilities for any one student. Find any and all areas that may be potential goal(s). If there are more than 2, chances are the student is in a text that’s too hard, and adjusting the text to something more accessible would be best. If you can’t find any goals, that means the texts the child is reading might be too easy and you can offer something more challenging to find a goal. When there are two goals, start with the goal that is closest to the top of the hierarchy and focus on that goal for 4-6 weeks. Support the student with strategies and feedback. Once the goal is accomplished, move on to the second goal.

Goal-setting and focusing feedback on those goals is a practice that is well-established by research to yield positive learning outcomes for students (Petty, 2006; Hattie, 2009). Knowing to focus on only one goal at a time may make a goal-setting practice even more game-changing.

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One comment

  1. Lisa L. Morrow says:

    This article was much needed and much appreciated! As an educator (reading coach) I see my colleagues overwhelmed by students’ needs, and share their concerns. Getting them in “just right” books is imperative. The hierarchy you provide is a great tool to help in planning, so that students have access to instruction much more efficiently. Thank you!

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