Thursday, 19 March 2015

Goal setting for learning management in adult ESL Literacy

Goal setting is an important step towards developing positive self-efficacy beliefs and the ability to self-motivate and self-direct learning. For goals to work, they need to be realistic, attainable and timely. Clearly, adult ESL Literacy learners will need a substantial support in setting and expressing their language learning goals. In this post, I’d like to share with you a few ideas that I have tried in the classroom to facilitate the goal setting process.

According to Rebecca L. Oxford (1990), learners without goals are like boats without rudders; they do not know where they are going, so they might never get there. In the classroom, some goal-setting activities should be done in the beginning following the initial needs assessment, while others may be implemented throughout the term. I find that embedding goal setting into instructional cycle - although it may take time and effort on behalf of both the learner and the instructor - pays high dividends overall. 

I usually start with the needs assessment activities in order to identify a skill that learners would like to focus on and a topic of interest. It may seem that the easiest of all would be to find out about a topic of interest. However, in my experience, learners are often confused because they think that all the topics are important, and therefore may not be able to decide on one. The challenge is that adult ESL Literacy learners will most likely lack the ability to identify, prioritize, or express their own language learning needs. We should not expect our learners to be proficient at identifying their needs. Our role as teachers is to provide consistent opportunities for learners to gradually build their ability to identify, prioritize, and focus on their language learning needs. It may not happen at the first try, and may take a lot longer than just one class, but with consistency in approach and focus on the learner, each time the needs assessments will be more meaningful and accurate.

Next step is to identify an area for improvement. For this, I have developed a simple tool which I like to call a "Glossary of Skills". I start with eliciting the language skills, then we fill in the spaces provided and choose one skill that we would like to focus on. This way, from the get-go, I know both the topic and the skill that the learner is interested in, and will be able to use this information to support my learners in setting their learning goals. 

Following the needs assessment, when the topic of interest has been identified, I make a small list of possible goals that are achievable, short-term, and relevant to the learner’s level of literacy and language proficiency. You can see two examples below:

Based on the instructor-made list of goals, learners will have to identify one goal to start. This choice will depend on different factors such as individual priorities in terms of the language skills, interest, and ability to understand what is required in this exercise. I try encourage learners to make the best use of their learning resources, for example, refer back to their glossary of skills and check the skill that they want to improve, then identify it on the suggested list of goals, see if they want to develop this particular ability, or may wish to do something else. I’d like to emphasize that when learners get to the stage where they need to interact with the handout, it is very important that they are already equipped with the vocabulary that will allow them to comprehend the information on it. Once the goal has been chosen, it is a good idea to work with the learner’s calendar, check today’s date, record the date, and identify a date in the future that will serve as a deadline for the proposed goal. Having a deadline makes the process more exciting and adds to the dynamics of learning. I would suggest revisiting the goal let’s say in a week, to see whether it has been achieved, choose a new one, or practice some more if there is a need.

What I like most about revisiting goals is that if it is done consistently, regularly, and at appropriate time intervals it becomes a tool to actively engage learners into the lesson/module/program planning. "My Learning Goal" template can be used to assist learners in keeping a record of what has been achieved so far, and whether the deadlines have been met. I’d like to draw your attention to the “Next steps”. It has been invaluable in creating a space for the dialogue between the teacher and the learner regarding what’s next on the learning agenda. If the goal has been achieved, we could ask guiding questions to identify or clarify what the learner wants to achieve next, write a few ideas in the space provided and plan for communication tasks, learning activities, games, role-plays, dialogues ACCORDINGLY to address NEW goals of the learner.  This way, there is certain CONTINUITY in the learning process, the goal setting is embedded in the ongoing lesson planning, and the curriculum as a whole is driven by the emerging needs of the learners.

                  In order to enhance and consolidate the goal setting skills it is important to connect the dots between the learning in the classroom and the real life. Talk to the students, see what their life concerns are at the moment, try to see whether there any needs other than communication that require immediate attention, encourage them to use the techniques learned in class in appropriate  real life situations. Always follow up on learners' accomplishments, cheer them up when necessary, celebrate with them, and encourage them to set a new goal.


  1. Thanks for this great post, Svetlana. This is the direction in which we're headed with PBLA. These worksheets look familiar. Are they from the PBLA support materials? I would like to start using these ideas now rather than waiting until PBLA is officially imposed.

  2. Hi Kelly! Thank you for your comment. Sorry for a late reply. All of the worksheets are my own. I developed them while implementing PBLA in our ESL Literacy program, so they are PBLA informed. The images used are from It's work-in-progress for me. Meaningful goal-setting is a challenging task in our context. Look forward to hearing what works with your group.

  3. Svetlana,

    Sorry; this is off topic, but I'm not sure how to message you privately. I am interested in introducing the new CLB literacy document to our instructors in an effort to build their confidence in using it to guide their planning. I am wondering if you know of anything has been developed - a webinar or other that introduces it. Feel free to answer here or email me at Many thanks!

  4. How do we access these sheets for use?

  5. How do we access these sheets for use?


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