Are you setting goals for the new year? Not making a resolution – those never seem to pan out. Instead of focusing on a single day where you officially start a resolution, it’s better to think of the new year as a time for setting goals that will last for the entire year. Resolutions are often dropped by the first week in February – people tend to have “all or nothing” thinking when they make resolutions, so it’s too easy to think that since you haven’t been perfect keeping the resolution, you might as well give up.
But setting goals? That feels different. Saying “my goal for 2023 is…” gives you a more long-term focus. It allows you to focus on today, and what you can do to work towards your goals from today on rather than looking back at the failures you’ve had from January 1 to today. It’s a different mindset, less all or nothing.
It’s a good thing to think about setting goals for each year, both personal and professional. There are big goals and small goals – but the big goals won’t ever happen if you don’t make some small goals along the way to help you get there. What I find helpful is to have a bigger goal and then break it down to smaller bits that can be done over the course of a day, a week, or a month.
Setting goals – an example of a big goal
Many language teachers set the goal of using the target language more. ACTFL suggests spending 90% of the class period in the target language. Many of us – myself included – find ourselves falling short of that goal. So let’s use that as our example goal: to increase the use of the target language in class.
While you can set a specific goal, this can be good or bad. If you set a goal of 90%, how will you measure it? Will you be keeping track of how much you speak? What will count towards the goal? Will you measure it daily, hourly, or weekly? If you end up speaking English too much on Monday, can you make up for it by speaking the target language more on Tuesday?
Another consideration in setting goals is whether or not they are realistic. If you don’t have a baseline, you won’t know how close you are to reaching the target. For someone who uses L2 only 20% at this point, 90% may be very difficult to reach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards it – perhaps in this case, it’s better to set the goal of increasing the use of L2 by a certain amount – percentage or a specific period of time.
When you set your big goal, determine what you really want to do. Is it simply to increase usage or the language – or to reach a specific number? Is it achievable? Are you going to work your way up to the goal, or is it a “right now” sort of goal? Once you have your big goal in mind, you can start breaking it down, setting goals along the way that are measurable and attainable in small chunks.
Break it down – setting goals along the way
Now it’s time to start setting goals that are smaller points along the way to the larger goal. These are the things you will do on a daily or weekly basis. This is where the “how” comes into play – how are you going to reach your big goal?
One concept I like and use myself is the concept of no zero days. A zero day is a day in which no progress is made towards your goal. If you do anything at all to work towards your goal, it counts! Working to make sure that every day has something, even something small, is a different mindset and allows you to feel like you’re making progress.
I keep track of work I do each day in a planner. I can look back and see that some days I may not have done much – but almost every day I did something. Of course there are days when you simply can’t do much – maybe you’re sick, or it’s a holiday. This is fine, and you should plan that they will happen. But on most days, you should do something.
If I want to reach my goal of using L2 more in my classes, there are a lot of things I might do. Using more L2 doesn’t mean that I’m speaking all of the time! Sometimes we will be watching videos in L2, other times we will be reading something in L2 and discussing it. Maybe one of my small goals will be to find videos and reading materials to use in class. If I have a variety of target language sources in mind, in 5 minutes or less I can find a video or reading to use in an upcoming class.
Another thing I might do is determine how I will start each class to increase the amount of L2. If I come up with a routine that students can easily learn, we might start on the first day of class in English, the second day of class in English and L2, and from then on use only L2. Each day that I follow this routine works towards my big goal.
Much of the time when I am using English it is to go over procedures or instructions. I give the same directions over and over – so I should make a list of the terms and instructions I give and make an anchor chart of those. Posting it in a conspicuous place in the classroom will allow me to point at it as I give instructions.
By making sure that routines and procedures/instructions are in the target language, followed up with a class opener of a video and/or reading, I will have easily added 15-20 minutes in L2 to each class period. In my school, most of our classes are 45 minutes long. This means that if I spend 20 minutes on the actual lesson and 15-20 minutes doing the opener and instructions, I can count on a good 35-40 minutes of the period being in French, putting me on track for my goal.
Setting goals and planning for failure
What if I end up speaking less in the target language than I had planned? Some days things just work out that way. Remember – we aren’t making a resolution, we are setting goals for the year! Maybe today didn’t work out as you hoped, but did you make progress towards your goal? As long as it isn’t a zero day, you’ve done what you set out to do!
Maybe you’ve heard the expressing “failing to plan is planning to fail” or something similar. The reality is that whenever we are setting goals, we should have a plan for failure. What if we don’t accomplish something? What do we plan to do to overcome the hurdles that will pop up along the way? It’s important to recognize that in any big goal, we WILL have failures. Planning ahead for them and coming up with a plan for dealing with them will help us reach our long-term goals and is an essential part of setting goals.