Singing the Praises of Personal Learning Goals

by Madison Calteux. Muskego-Norway School District

While I love to sing and dance about math being a subject worthy of high praise, my theatrics only go so far to engage students. (And when I say sing, I do mean it somewhat literally; ask any Algebra 1 teacher about the song for the Quadratic Formula.) Fortunately, I have found when students can take charge (and be their own metaphorical choreographer or songwriter) engagement and retention increase tenfold. In my classroom, I have found goal-setting an effective medium to engage all types of learners. 

At Muskego High School, I have had the opportunity to work with a cohort of high school teachers, the assistant superintendent, and a principal to engage in the Personal Learning Goals micro-credential created by the Institute for Personalized Learning and hosted on the Digital Promise platform. Part of the vision of our building and district includes exemplary student learning and engagement. Thus, focusing on goal-setting seemed like a natural fit towards ensuring student success. 

Realistically, it can be nerve-wracking, and even uncomfortable, to use class time to focus on an idea like goal-setting. I have felt the pressure of squeezing in as much content as possible, and that deviating from traditional lesson plans would be “a waste of time”. However, after some collaboration with my PLC and informal research, I made the decision to capitalize on the interconnectedness of mathematics to use my 50-minute class time more wisely. 

Approaching goal-setting in a general way can make it feel more accessible for a teacher who is trying something new. When implemented, a student could have a general learning goal, but pull specific, targeted content in each new unit. For instance, if a student’s personal learning goal was to become more efficient at solving equations, they could monitor their progress with linear, quadratic, radical, and trigonometric equations (just to name a few). Personally, I had to reframe my thinking to consider how big picture mathematical ideas can be covered by a variety of topics. This helped me become more organized with the pacing and plan of my course. I can look ahead to determine big themes, and help students pinpoint beneficial concepts to focus on with their goal-setting.


By no means have I perfected this practice. I plan to continue finding new ways of implementing goal-setting to encourage students to reflect on their participation and engagement. One place I have started to explore is how I can also connect goal-setting with daily practice assignments. Prior to my work with goal-setting, my students often turned in their assignments and forgot about them. After engaging my students in goal-setting, they concluded homework can be useful over a long period of time if properly documented and revisited. We turn our assignments in on Google Classroom, which makes saving and documenting learning experiences much more streamlined. Many students started using the private comments section of Google Classroom assignments to monitor the specific traits of the data they were tracking. This created a “portfolio” of comments, and encouraged many students to ask for their old assessments back so they could correct problems and see how their homework mistakes may or may not have been similar to their assessment mistakes. This approach has allowed them the opportunity to see the direct impact of their daily progress toward their goal.

Anything new can feel intimidating. Many teachers can be skeptical to implement activities if it deviates from the safety of black-and-white curriculum. However, whether you’re new to goal-setting, progress monitoring, or anything in between, know that any action that helps lead students towards greater self-awareness as a learner is a step in the right direction!

The Institute for Personalized Learning hosts nine microcredentials on the Digital Promise platform.  If you are interested in exploring them, you can view them here.

Madison Calteux

Madison Calteux is a mathematics teacher at Muskego High School. Since she began in 2017, she has taken on additional roles and responsibilities such as advising her school’s chapter of Mu Alpha Theta (Math National Honor Society) and co-creating an Accelerated Algebra 2 and Trigonometry course. 

Her favorite teaching philosophy can be summed up in a quote by Bob Talbert: “Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best.”