Last one, I promise!

I should have said at the the start of this series of waffles that it should have been a trilogy. Apart from possibly putting me in the same league as Tolkien and Pullman – let me have my dreams – it would have prepared you for the series. Now you returned to find that the subject of my writing hasn’t changed at all and you are going to have to read/listen to another waffle about targets! I’ve felt that I have neglected my first ‘t’ of this site’s tagline, so this week I am going to waffle about setting targets for children…


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When teaching within the primary sector, progression was always discussed in a huge amount of detail. How much progression has this child made, how much progression will they make, predict this, quantity that and finally – that all time favourite – explain/justify why this progression has not happened or been achieved. We all want to progress and as a practitioner I am keen to promote progression with every single learner I encounter. Just knowing that they might be slightly ahead from when they started their session with me, makes my job worthwhile. Progression however is not always measured in levels, grades or even referencing conventions. Progression can be related to confidence or curiosity or even just enjoyment. I consider progression the end point of a process, although it appears to be this end point which gets all the attention – its like everyone cheers when you cross a finish line or get a great grade in an assignment, but no-one was cheering you through all the training or those long hours in the library. One of the main contributors to the progression, I think is setting targets at the start and identifying how these can be achieved. I wanted to share how I would set targets which the children within my class with a specific focus on mathematics – what else did you expect! Not the targets for level progression but targets that the children felt that they wanted to achieve.

  • Dedicated Time – In order to value anything, you need to allocate time to it. Currently I am still trying to get healthy again, although the trips to the gym are somehow eluding me. Without these regular visits I know that the improvement in fitness is just not going to happen. Setting targets need a lot of thought and discussion with the latter being with a group of people or just with yourself in an internal dialogue. In order to achieve this discussion time needs to be set aside and nothing should be timetabled to prevent it happening. As well as being planned for it needs to be dedicated. What I mean by this is that there is no good saying you will do it in the last two minutes of a session when the discussion and strategies will be rushed, providing little opportunity for interaction with the process. Within the first week of each term, I would allocate time to sit down with each group in mathematics to discuss their targets. This was planned within the weekly timetable and a full twenty minutes taken to discuss what the group, or even individual targets would be and, maybe more importantly, the strategies which should be used to achieve these. This also allowed me the time to record these effectively ready to revisit them at the start/end of the term. Some people might be shocked by the amount of time put aside for this activity, maybe referring to the time being better spent completing calculations or mathematical activities. This might be the case, but for me it was important to set these personal working targets which would actually impact on the children’s learning throughout the term.

  • “..It doesn’t really matter the methods you use to achieve this, as long as the three points I focused my discussion on are adhered to”

  • Effective recording and managing – Once targets have been established it is important to make them part of the everyday learning and, in order to do this, they need to be recorded in such a way as to allow interaction with them. Every year I have a PDR (something about personal development review – I think) where I set myself targets with my line manager. These are recorded and then stored away ready for the next year. For me, these are printed off and are currently being magnetically held on my whiteboard in my office. I need to see them everyday so that I am constantly reminded what I am trying to achieve. This I think is important for children as well. They need to remember what their targets are and acknowledge when they are making progress towards them. Remember I’m not saying stick level 4a into their books, since to me, this means nothing. Their targets where more like – ‘I can learn how to complete long division’ or even ‘I can remember the difference between squares and oblongs’. I would print their targets out on printer labels and stick them onto a piece of card which would be attached to their mathematics books with a piece of wool. The children were then encouraged to use this as a bookmark when they handed in their work and also to have it in front of them when completing their mathematics. If they felt their work that day could contribute to their target then a ‘T’ would be added during the self-assessment activity. If I thought it did when I was marking, then I would add the ‘T’ in a similar manner. Five ticks meant that the target was complete and a sticker was chosen and added to the card. Initially I created a separate sheet with the children’s targets on, but eventually I just used the printer label sheet to remind me of them as well as the card in their book. I’m sure with the ‘modern’ technology nowadays, that targets are probably interacted with on mobile devices and not pieces of card and sticky labels. The important thing here is not how they were used more the fact that they were used.

  • Ownership and Adapting – Hopefully you can see that the children were very much involved in the process of setting and marking off their targets. This, to me, is essential. I never work well, if at all, on targets that are imposed on me. I need to have that personal motivation in order to achieve them and this is the result of ownership. Involving the children at every possible point of the target setting procedure is very important and, even if the child considers the target not to be suitable or even achievable, then they need to engage with this and, in doing so, develop their own target setting skills. Throughout the whole term the children had the opportunity to actually approach me and discuss either their target or their progression. Sometimes, they recognised that it was too easy for them, other times they found that it was too hard or too general. This engagement was important and meant that they themselves were taking ownership over both the targets and the process. I have to say at this point, that I did have some intervention as well. If I thought that the target was too easy or difficult, then carefully and subtle intervention was used in order to adapt it. As practitioners, this is a skill we all possess and which we use constantly – making the child think that, in the end, it was their idea to change.

  • I hope this has provided you some insight into how I used to set and interact with targets to support children’s progression within my class. In summary, it doesn’t really matter the methods you use to achieve this, as long as the three points I focused my discussion on are adhered to. Although not a word which was used a lot when I was teaching, I think that there is no better moment when a child comes up to you with those five ticks on their completed target card and exclaims that the target has been achieve with a high five, fist bump or a resounding BOOM!

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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