Writing Goals for the Classroom

We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.

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I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.

This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.

“A long, long time ago…”

Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.

What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?

When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.

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8th Grade student’s goal sheet from the first six weeks of school – 2015 school year

The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.

The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.

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Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.

Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.

Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”

I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?

At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.

  • “There were too many entries.”
  • “I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
  • “I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
  • “We should get to choose how many entries we want.”

These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.

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7th grade writing goals for the 4th six weeks — 2016 school year

As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.

Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.

  1. Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
  2. Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
  3. Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)

Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.

Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.

Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.

Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”

Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.

Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.

  • “The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
  • “I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
  • “I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
  • “The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”

I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.

Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.

I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.

front and back

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Writing Ideas list to put under the foldable

As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.

I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.

What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?

I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.

On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.

There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.

For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.

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These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.

  • Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
  • Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
  • Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
  • Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
  • Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.

“In the future when all’s well…”

School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.

The first few weeks —  During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.

Student-Teacher Conferences —  One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.

photo from Corbett Harrison’s website

Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.

  1. What are two things I’m doing well?
  2. Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
  3. What is one thing that I don’t understand?
  4. Do I have any other questions?

Foreseeable Problems —  Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.

Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.

All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.

What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.

Resources

I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.

Corbett Harrison

Jeff Goins

Other Sites

The Wonderful World of Writer’s Notebooks

Teaching writing to middle school students has taught me many things, but one lesson screams the loudest: writer’s need to write.

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I already knew this, right? I’m also a writer, so I had to already have known this. Of course I did, but it was never more true for me as a writer as it is now that I’m a writing teacher.

The one thing that writers need (whether they are students or not) is the freedom to write. This is where writer’s notebooks come in. They offer that freedom and so much more.

What is a writer’s notebook?

A writer’s notebook is a blank book waiting for a chance to hold your imagination within its pages. It can come in many different styles and can serve many different purposes. Some writers decide to have multiple notebooks: each serving a separate purpose.

For students and writers alike, a writer’s notebook offers a sort of playground for the mind.

  • Store your ideas
  • Build on your ideas
  • Collect new ideas and mentor pieces
  • Learn and practice new skills
  • Play with ideas
  • Model proper writing for others

A writer’s notebook is not a journal or diary. Diaries are a great place to look for ideas to add to your writer’s notebook, but it’s important to know that they’re not the same thing. Those are for writing about your day, usually in the order it happens. Writer’s notebooks are not as neatly organized: they tend to be quite chaotic.

How do I start a writer’s notebook?

Do you want to start a writer’s notebook? Are you wondering where to start? Before I give you my seven steps for starting your own, let me tell you something first: there is not only one way to start one or keep one. These are the steps I use and the steps I teach my students:

  1. Choose your purpose
    • Why are you starting this notebook? Is it for poetry, a novel you’re working on, a collection of ideas, or something else?
    • Determining your purpose can help you decide what kind of notebook to get.
  2. Choose a notebook
    • Maybe you want a smaller notebook for poetry, or a larger one for your novel, or something that is durable to hold all of your ideas.
    • Look around at different stores and figure out what will work for you. There are spirals (I don’t recommend since they fall apart easily), composition notebooks (my students use these), and many other options (I’m currently using a hardcover journal).img_5288
  3. Take ownership of it
    • This is probably the most important step. This is the personalization step: make it yours. Why? You are more inclined to write in it if you feel a personal connection to it.
    • One way you can do this is to decorate it (which is what you see in the photo above – and which I ask of my students to differentiate their notebooks in class).
  4. Create an “Idea Pocket”
    • This is a pocket in the back that you can use to store clippings until you use them.img_5319.jpg
  5. Create an index
    • An index will help you in the future when you are hunting down an idea you had in the past.
    • I’m reformatting the index we use in our notebooks in class in order to incorporate a modified version of the “Bucket System” by Jeff Goins.
    • An index is in the back of your notebook and works from the last page forward. In my opinion it is better than a table of contents because you do not have to save any pages; therefore, you will not waste any space.img_52811.jpg
  6. Create writing goals
    • Writing goals – these change so often that we’re never sure what our current goal is, right? That’s not true. You should create achievable writing goals every so often (weekly, monthly, etc.) in order to achieve whatever writing tasks you have set for yourself.
    • Setting goals also comes with reflections. There is no point in setting the same unachieved goal three times in a row. What will change this time? Reflect on why it wasn’t achieved after the first time, and rework it to incorporate a plan of action.
    • I keep writing goals alongside my students. They need to know that the work they have to do is important – what better way of proving that than to show them?img_5303
  7. Start writing!
    • Self-explanatory!

“Your writer’s notebook needs to become a personal source of pride to you…” -Corbett Harrison

Wait! Start writing what?

Your notebook is ready to be written in, staring at you helplessly empty. Hundreds of pages worth of empty. Hundreds.

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed now? Don’t worry. This is where the goals you set earlier come in handy. Maybe you set goals that included collecting ideas (start by filling up Bucket 1- the idea bucket)…

Maybe you were hoping to learn a few new words or write some letters… I encourage my students to write letters to me in their writer’s notebooks, especially when they are struggling with a skill, and I always answer them back.

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The letters not only encourage handwriting and formatting skills, but they also encourage writing for a real-life purpose. I keep a copy of their letters in pockets of about eight in order to answer them when I have a chance.

A copy of the answer is made for them personally. I also keep a document in Google Classroom that displays each letter I write back. This allows them to read the answers, which could help with skills they too want help with.

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As you can see on the pocket and photo above, the best part of the letters for my students is that they get to choose their own pen names (again, a real-world experience).

Letters are an amazing tool because they can be used to write out your ideas or incorporate stories. We’ve used letters to write to characters, too. Have you, as a writer, written to your MC (main character) or from your MC’s point of view? That can supply a whole slew of information for you!

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Whatever your idea is, create it! Build up Bucket 1 with charts, lists of your favorites (songs, books, movies, etc.), newspaper clippings, questions, research, etc. From there you can take your writing anywhere. Use those ideas as inspiration and continue on your writing journey!

What do I do when it’s full?

You’ve filled your writer’s notebook? First, let me say: “Congratulations!” You should also congratulate yourself for all the writing you’ve accomplished.

Be sure to keep this notebook since it is not only filled with ideas you’ve used, but it’s also filled with ideas you could pursue in the future. Every now and then, take it out and reread it. See if a new idea is sparked.

Before you start a new notebook, take time to reflect. Did this notebook serve its intended purpose? Why or why not? What could you do differently with your next one?

Based on your answers, you may end up choosing something a bit different next time! Start hunting for your next notebook now, and have another wonderful adventure writing!

Resources

Bucket System – Jeff Goins

Writer’s Notebooks – Corbett Harrison

Article about the purpose of a Writer’s Notebook in the Classroom

Writing ideas – Ralph Fletcher

Writing prompts – Writer’s Digest

Heinemann Writing Strategies Book (page 118 idea used above)