Sunday, January 22, 2017

Balancing Goals and Needs

Today I am participating in Digital Learning Sunday with Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche.  This week Margaret has encouraged us to share our thoughts on balancing goals and needs.

When I first saw this topic, I began thinking about my own personal goals and needs. Trying to balance these can be quite tricky.  

As I was grading this weekend, my thoughts turned to my students' goals and needs, which many times are more out of balance than my own.

I began thinking about the goals which are set for students - those "standardized" goals.  Reach this benchmark, pass this test, achieve this score.  These are goals set by others who do not consider their individual needs - only passing a test.

Many of us have students whose achievement levels are well below grade level. Some of my students walked through the door of my classroom at the beginning of the year and could not write a complete a sentence or read grade level texts.  This is no fault of their previous teachers because I know how hard they work to move these students forward.  But the gap still exists.

Teaching at the middle school level, I began to understand just how wide this gap is. When I think how I could balance goals with the needs of these students, three big ideas have emerged for me this year.

Meet them where they are. This is a difficult thing to do.  Because of the pressure of "the test", many teachers teach to the middle students, leaving behind those students at the top and at the bottom.  Through assessments, we must find what students can do and what they can almost do, and use this data to set goals for them and move them forward.

Focus on growth.  I know I have students who will never pass a standardized test, no matter how many interventions, programs, or master teachers we put into place.  This isn't being negative, it is being realistic.  Because of this reality, I have learned to focus on growth. They may not be a standardized student, but I will do everything I can to help them become a growing student.  Thankfully, my administration understands and encourages the growth mindset.

Different students, different goals.  My students come to me with different levels, different needs, and different experiences.  I must tailor their goals to fit their needs, not fit into a box.

We recently finished up a unit on writing argument.  Looking at the three ideas I stated above, I can see how I have tried to balance their goals with their needs.  I cannot expect them to write at grade level standards...yet.

Reading their writing, I see the growth from the beginning of the year.  I can see how they have now created paragraphs when they could barely write a sentence. I can see the structure of an argument with a stated claim and reasons.  I can see more complex sentence structures.  

I can see growth.  I can see the balancing of their goals with their needs.  

No, it is not easy.  But it is something we must all strive to do. 


  1. Your post is exactly what I had in mind when I thought of this topic. Your three points are good ones. It's hard to keep the focus on the students' needs, but when you base your goals on needs rather than test standards, you are more likely to be successful.

  2. Leigh Anne, teachers who are in the classroom understand the disparity between what students can do at entrance and where they are predicted to be by standardized measurements. I like that you included the word yet. That is what literacy edus have to hang onto. With deliberate attempts (like yours) to address the varied needs, students who are not achieving at grade level need to have the YET attached to the statement. This has been a problem in the field for decades but now we have many more teachers talking the same language and providing scaffolds beyond English, Language Arts, and Literacy classrooms. Hang in there. I know that you are trying to reach a balance. Growth is the word we need to focus on.