Goal-Setting and Student Performance

Goal setting in education and student performance can dramatically affect a student's learning. Goal setting and motivation are synonymous abstracts. A goal is an objective; when an individual sets a goal, motivation is a key factor in attaining that goal. In a classroom setting, a goal involves attaining targeted grades, progressing in skills and maintaining motivation throughout.

Academic self-management, applicable mostly to high-schoolers and college students, involves a number of factors. B.J. Zimmerman and Morris Rosenberg identified six factors: motivation, use of time, physical and social environment, learning methods and overall performance. There are two types of motivation: autonomous and controlled. An individual with autonomous motivation is in complete control of his or her choices while controlled motivation involves the pressure and demand of external forces. Often enough these expectations come from parents. Probably, the most effective form of motivation of the two categories is self-motivation. In order to motivate oneself, a student must set a goal. Goal setting is conducive to high achievement in all areas of life. Goal setting compels focus, direction and avoiding distractions. According to the goal-setting theory, a challenging goal will elicit better work performance than an easy or "do your best" goal. Before setting a personal goal, a student must be aware of his or her capabilities. A student must also have the fundamental abilities necessary for the task at hand; it is the teacher's job to ensure that students are sufficiently equipped with enough analytical abilities to achieve set goals. External motivators such as rewards and punishments assist motivation.

Eleanor Cheung, author of the article "Goal Setting As Motivational Tool in Student's Self-Regulated Learning," discusses the tools necessary for goal completion in the academic arena. She says that "students are more motivated to accomplish what they have planned for themselves and they tend to work harder on self-made goals than externally imposed goals and that participation in goal setting can lead to high goal commitment (Schunk, 1991), thus enhance performance (Locke & Latham, 1990)."

Two types of motivation fuel human achievement: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when a person enjoys the feeling accompanying accomplishment of a task whereas extrinsic involves external pressures. Those who are externally motivated are more concerned with how others will view them when the goal is attained, rather than by the satisfaction that accompanies intrinsic motivation. Cheung states that students are driven toward two different goals: learning and performance. She says, "performance-oriented students tend to be discouraged when faced with obstacles, while learning-oriented students would be encouraged rather than discouraged by obstacles, thus still keep trying and result in better performance." This is where self-efficacy comes into play.

Self-efficacy, or self-confidence, is a perception of oneself that stimulates motivation. The Albert Bandura study in 2000 found that "people with a strong sense of self-efficacy will persevere in the face of failure and setbacks and view obstacles as challenges rather than as reflections of personal deficiencies." A student motivated by performance achievement alone will constantly be looking at how well other students do; they learn for the sake of advancement in competition. Learning-oriented students will focus only on their own progress, comparing themselves only to themselves. Unfortunately, students tend to shift from learning goals to performance goals through time as grades and standardized testing become the indicators of achievement.

Concentration, effort, self-discipline, determination and patience are necessary prerequisites for self-regulated learning among students. Before a student can gain information, certain personal capabilities and skills must be realized and encouraged. Teachers should inspire class participation and self-awareness of performance. A student must be committed and accept responsibility for learning. Students must believe that increased effort can lead to increased chances of success. Time management and cognitive strategies also come into play.

M. Kay Alderman, author of "Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning," offers various examples of students' approaches to learning and self-awareness. Alderman emphasizes the importance of students setting long-term goals: "A vision of a possible self is the first step in developing self-regulation. It sets planfulness in motion and acts as an incentive for present behavior. ... A primary characteristic of underachieving older students and adults is the absence of a vision of the future." An unclear image or expectation of the future elicits a "go with the flow" attitude that is non-conducive to personal achievement. Volition, or autonomy, the ability to make decisions is imperative not only for a student's education, but also for personal well-being as well. Volition involves taking everything into account while focusing on a goal. External distractions can impair volition. It is therefore a choice of the student to avoid distractions.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach
Myron H. Dembo.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Goal Setting"
Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning
M. Kay Alderman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Goals and Goal Setting"
Motivating Students to Learn Better through Own Goal-Setting
Madden, Lowell E.
Education, Vol. 117, No. 3, Spring 1997
Undergraduate Students' Goal Orientations and Their Relationship to Perceived Parenting Styles
Gonzalez, Alyssa; Greenwood, Gordon; Wenhsu, Jin.
College Student Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2001
Goal Setting and Attainment in Graduate Student Training Groups
Perrone, Kristin M.; Smith, Christine L.; Carlson, Torie E.
College Student Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3, September 2003
The Relationship between Achievement Goal Orientation and Coping Style: Traditional vs. Nontraditional College Students
Morris, Emily A.; Brooks, Peggy R.; May, James L.
College Student Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, March 2003
Motivating Students to Learn
Jere Brophy.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Goal Theory"
An Exploratory Study of Academic Goal Setting, Achievement Calibration and Self-Regulated Learning
Garavalia, Linda S.; Gredler, Margaret E.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 2002
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