Goal Setting | Motivation | Cognitive Strategy | Cooperative Learning | Assessment

Goal Setting

Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Gage/Berliner's textbook EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 6/e, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998.


What Are the Major Tasks of Teaching?
(pp. 29-31)

Why Do We Need Standards and Objectives?
(pp. 31-32)

How Standards-Based Reform Has Affected Objectives
(pp. 32-33)

The Teacher's Role in Determining Content
(pp. 34-36)

Thinking About Standards, Objectives, and Goals in Terms of Student Performance
(pp. 36-41)

General Objectives

Specific Objectives

Classifying Objectives
(pp. 41-44)

Indentifying Three Domains


What Are the Major Tasks of Teaching?

The instructional process involves five primary tasks:

1. Choosing objectives (content and performances)

2. Understanding student characteristics

3. Understanding and using ideas about the nature of learning and motivation

4. Selecting and using ways of teaching (methods and practices)

5. Evaluating student learning

It is helpful to think of each task as a set of problems for both teachers and their students. Educational psychology can help teachers make wiser decisions as they formulate solutions. Although we present the tasks as a chronological list, the instructional process is actually a cycle, which goes back and forth between these tasks.

The Tasks in the Cycle:

1. The teacher begins with some idea of objectives concerning the content that students should be helped to learn and the performances they should be helped to acquire for that content.

2. In choosing objectives, the teacher uses information about the important characteristics of the students. Tasks 1 and 2 occur simultaneously, and interact. You need to understand your students' stage of development and their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. In the students' words, "The teacher should know us and then treat us appropriately. For example, she should realize how much we do (and don't) know."

3. Next the teacher must understand learning and motivation so as to understand and choose teaching methods and practices that fit what is known about students' learning and motivation. Teachers can apply knowledge about learning and motivation both before and during instruction.

4. After all the preinstructional decisions, the teacher selects and uses teaching methods and practices, such as lecturing, explaining, discussing, showing movies or videotapes, tutoring, providing computer-assisted instruction, leaving students alone, or some combination of these activities.

5. Both throughout the process and usually at the end of a cycle the teacher assesses students' achievement of educational objectives. Students need to be told when they are (or are not) doing a good job. They need guidance on how to improve, for example, by being told to check their comprehension by putting an idea into their own words. Students demand fairness in how they are assessed and graded.


If assessment shows that students have achieved the objectives, the teacher can go on to new objectives. But if assessment reveals that some or all of the students have not learned the content and performances that were taught, the teacher will need to reflect on why and adjust instruction accordingly. Remember that the process is a cycle; "recycling" is expected.


Why Do We Need Standards and Objectives?

People involved in all kinds of educational tasks -- not only teaching but also curriculum designing and achievement testing -- insist that statements of standards and objectives are helpful, even essential. Unless they think about objectives, teachers tend to focus primarily on the content of instruction classroom activities and ignore how students should learn to perform with that content.

Think about your own experiences as a student. Have you ever wished a teacher had told you more clearly what you should have been learning and why? Without the teacher's focus on students' performance goals, students often assume that they need only to remember content. A history teacher, for example, may want students to be able to see connections between historical and present-day events. But if the teacher does not explain this intention to the students, they may assume that they should simply remember what they read rather than trying to look at contemporary problems in historical perspective.

Objectives can apply to education as a whole or only to teaching. Many educational objectives -- self-fulfillment, appreciation of the nature of a good life, love of knowledge -- are broader than any single teacher can hope to achieve. In this chapter we focus on the objectives of teaching -- what you as a teacher want your students to achieve as a result of your efforts. We will focus on objectives in content-general terms, ways that cut across subject matters and can also be used in thinking in content-specific terms, that is, in reading, mathematics, physical education, or any other content area.


How Standards-Based Reform Has Affected Objectives

In recent years critics of American education have argued that the achievement of U.S. students falls below that of students in other countries with which the nation must compete economically. These critics place much of the blame for these shortcomings on what they consider to be the inadequate standards of achievement set by American educators.

So a new focus on educational standards has motivated educators to reexamine the ways in which objectives are formed and used. This focus has led to the standards-based reform movement (O'Day & Smith, 1993) and the development of new curriculum standards in various subject-matter fields. The standards emerging from educators and professional organizations in art, social studies, mathematics, and other professions, which are intended to guide our states, districts, and teachers, set forth the contents and performances considered most important. For example, for mathematics, science, and social studies, respectively, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989), the National Research Council (1996), and the National Center for History in the Schools (1994) have each issued content standards.

We provide this information about the use of standards in educational reform because it is receiving considerable attention. The question is whether these statements of standards and objectives will improve education across the country. However, we must add an important caution. Not everyone in education believes that all the criticisms of American schooling are justified; Berliner and Biddle (1995), among others, have challenged the validity of many of the test results and assumptions on which the criticisms are based.

The same educators point to the importance of opportunity-to-learn standards as well as content and performance standards (Berliner & Biddle, 1996). Opportunity-to-learn standards have to do with the quality of educational resources provided -- the teachers available, the amount of time available for learning, the availability of computers for learning, and all the other characteristics of schooling that provide students with the opportunity to meet the standards and achieve the objectives. If those opportunities to learn are not equal for all of America's children, then school improvement through standards-based reform may occur only in the schools that can afford to implement the opportunity-to-learn standards. Children attending schools in poorer districts may have trouble meeting the new national content and performance standards.


The Teacher's Role in Determining Content


At the same time, the teacher's decisions about and choices of content will often be guided by the concerns of educational psychology. Some psychological guidelines are as follows:

1. Appropriateness in difficulty. The content's difficulty should be appropriate to the students' ability, maturity, and level of background knowledge, so that the teacher does not demand more (or less) than they are capable of learning at their level.

Teachers too often expect too little of their students, particularly poor and minority students, and underestimate what they are capable of learning. And much research (e.g., Dusek, 1985) demonstrates that teachers' expectations, both positive and negative, affect students' achievement. (You will find a good deal of what psychology offers for understanding student ability and developmental level in later chapters, especially Chapters 3, 4, and 5.)

2. Appropriateness to learning processes. What we know about the various ways in which learning can take place (as set forth especially in Chapters 6 and 7) should be used to choose and shape the content. Such knowledge helps a teacher to avoid content that conflicts with natural learning processes, and can be used to help students use those processes to foster achievement.

3. Appropriateness to students' motivations. Content should be chosen in the light of students' motivations. Motivations include interests, appreciations, aspirations, and ambitions, and all of them affect learning. So understandings about motivation (discussed especially in Chapter 8) should provide bases for the decisions teachers must make in choosing content (and methods of teaching) that will engage their students.

4. Appropriateness to teaching methods. Choices of content depend in part on what teaching methods and practices are feasible. Some kinds of content are better taught to some students, in some situations, by one kind of teaching -- a lecture, cooperative learning, or a hands-on exercise -- rather than another. In turn, some kinds of teaching are more feasible than others. (Chapters 9 to 12 treat these critical factors.)

5. Appropriateness to assessment. Finally, choices of content may be influenced by what educational psychology says about ways of assessing student achievement. Achievement can be measured in many different ways, ranging from multiple-choice tests to portfolios containing products of student work. Good assessment practices are themselves determined by psychologically sound ideas about the nature of desirable achievement, so they are tied closely to the teacher's content decisions.

All five factors will help you as a classroom teacher to determine what content to teach. The best thinking and experience of those who focus primarily on what should be taught -- curriculum specialists, textbook authors, committees of teachers, and many others -- do not exempt you, the individual teacher, from thinking about content choice.


Thinking About Standards, Objectives, and Goals in Terms of Student Performance

Statements of objectives act as maps guiding teacher and students. To find a city, we do not need a road map that specifies every village and creek; in fact, such specificity could get in the way. But to find a house, we need a street map. Similarly, in teaching we may need general or specific objectives, or both.

General Objectives

No teacher should be required to base instruction on the hundreds of objectives and subobjectives that could be specified for a unit of instruction. General objectives can describe the broad outlines of what students should achieve in a given content area (Gronlund, 1991).

Objectives in any content area can be visualized as forming a pyramid. At the apex is a single term (reading, algebra, world history). Just below that are various divisions of that area (in reading: decoding skills, word identification, etc.; in algebra: understanding the equation principle, etc.; in world history: political, cultural). Below that level, still more specific subdivisions can be identified (in decoding skills: pronouncing vowels; in equations: linear and quadratic equations; in cultural history: a day in the life of ancient Rome, etc.). The specification can go on indefinitely.

But where to draw the line? The teacher, using objectives as a road map, must decide. It depends on how well the teacher knows the "territory." When teaching content for the first time, the teacher may need much specificity, just as the newcomer to a state needs both a state road map and a town's street map. But the teacher (traveler) who has taught the content before (knows the state) may need only specific objectives (a street map) to find his or her way. And the veteran needs neither objectives nor maps.

For most teachers, as they gain experience the amount of specificity they need diminishes. But beginners may need specific reminders.


Specific Objectives

Within each of the general objectives, teachers may have to develop more specific objectives. When doing so, they find the advice of Mager (1975) useful.

1. State objectives in terms of performances -- what teachers can see or hear students do once they have learned. Performances include mental processes -- ways of thinking and feeling, and evidence of these ways in the form of products such as what students have done, said, written, enacted, drawn, or built. For instance, a general objective for students reading this book might be "understanding educational psychology." To state part of the objective in terms of performances, we could state that students should "be able to grasp the significance of empirical methods in education." Or that students should "know and appreciate the concepts and principles of educational psychology." But we must then spell out how students should be able to perform when they "understand," "grasp significance," "know," or "appreciate."

Think of the objective as stating the terminal performance -- what the student will be able to do at the end of instruction. We specify performances more when we say that students should be able to:


  • differentiate among the correlational, experimental, and interpretive methods in educational psychology (Chapter 1).
  • give original examples of situations calling for general only and for both general and specific objectives (Chapter 2).
  • make up a 10-item multiple-choice test (following procedures described in Chapter 14).


Each of these objectives is more precise than general objectives that merely use words like understand or appreciate. Differentiating, describing, and making up original examples tell us what performance to look for and describe terminal performances clearly and explicitly.


2. State conditions of performance -- the situation or setting in which the student should be able to perform. That is, simple statements of wanted performance may not be enough. Often we should also specify the important conditions under which the performance is expected to occur. For example, suppose our objective is, "Students should be able to contrast the correlational and experimental methods of research." We might want to add to it such conditions as "using provided (or student-identified) examples of actual research articles"; "with or without class notes (or the text)"; "at home (or in class)"; "orally (or in writing)."

Wording that informs students about conditions is easy to recognize. For examples, look at Table 2.2. The first phrase or clause of each objective states a condition.


3. State acceptable levels of performance -- what will be considered adequate achievement. Should you refer to a necessary rate of speed? Should students be able to solve only one type of problem? or three? or four out of six? questions in only one form? in several forms? That is, how can you make clear to the student what you will consider to be the standard for judging the learning to be a success?

For example, it may not be enough to say, "Students should recognize the writing style of Ernest Hemingway." It might be better to say, "Given ten pairs of short prose passages, each pair having one selection by Ernest Hemingway and one by a different author, students should be able to choose at least nine of the ten selections written by Hemingway." Look again at the examples in Table 2.2 and see if you can find the part of each objective statement that expresses the level of performance expected.

To apply and illustrate what we have just said: we could state our objective as, "Given this introduction and one hour's time, you will be able to construct ten objectives in a subject-matter area of your choice, at least eight of which meet the criteria listed above."


Classifying Objectives

What kinds of objectives are there? Educators and psychologists have developed taxonomies of objectives. These are classi_cation schemes for making distinctions to help teachers organize their thinking about objectives. They also help in teaching students and evaluating their achievement.

Identifying Three Domains

One major set of distinctions draws upon the differences among cognitive, affective, and psychomotor performances.

1. Cognitive objectives (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956) deal with intellectual processes such as knowing, perceiving, recognizing, thinking, conceiving, judging, and reasoning. When a teacher is concerned about Josh's inability to spell words correctly, she is referring to an objective in the cognitive domain.

2. Affective objectives (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964) deal with feelings -- likes and dislikes, emotions, attitudes, appreciations, interests, values, and the like. When the teacher worries about Josh's boredom with reading, she is dealing with the affective domain.

3. Psychomotor objectives (Harrow, 1972) deal with skilled ways of moving, such as handwriting, typewriting, dancing, and blowing glass for a chemistry experiment.

These three kinds of performance are never completely isolated from one another. But it often is useful to focus on one at a time.


This was excerpted from Chapter 2 of Gage/Berliner's textbook EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 6/e, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998.

For more information on "Goal Setting" in Biehler/Snowman, PSYCHOLOGY APPLIED TO TEACHING, 8/E, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997, see Chapter 7, "Devising and Using Objectives".

For more information on "Goal Setting" in the Grabes' INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY FOR MEANINGFUL LEARNING, 2/e, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, see pages 19-22 on Teacher Preparation and pages 356-360 on Planning.



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