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Should five-year-olds be setting their own learning targets?

Most five-year-olds struggle to count beyond 30 or tie their own shoe laces, so the thought of them setting their own learning targets would fill many with horror.

And yet, according to Heatherle Chambers, a kindergarten teacher from Portland, US, early-years teachers should be insisting that their young charges do exactly that.

Writing in the 22 August edition of TES, she says: “Teachers tend to wrongly assume that five-year-olds attending schools in an urban, low-income neighborhood cannot be focused on their own learning. It is thought that these kids focus instead on things like play and the latest cartoons, and that they do not yet have the self-awareness to really engage in their own academic progress. But in fact, my students’ high level of self-efficacy may very well change the trajectory of their lives.”

Chambers started getting her students to set their own learning targets in 2011. Children set both individual and class “goals”. Personal goals include things like “I will learn new songs” or “I will create amazing art”, while class goals include “I will learn to read”.

Each month, Chambers sets a topic that aims to help the students meet these goals, such as how to welcome a new challenge, or how to fail and keep trying. She enlists assistance from mentors in these topics through the Classroom Champions organisation, which matches currently competing Olympians and Paralympians with classrooms in low-income schools.

The students also get support from the whole school staff and their own parents.

“Everyone from the kitchen workers to the PE teacher takes time to ask my students how things are going, and to listen while the kids explain their latest achievements,” says Chambers. “Also, families look forward to the newsletters introducing the topic of the month, and some have continued to practice goal setting as their children start first grade.”

Chambers takes pictures of the students’ progress and at the end of the year presents each child with a simple album that records their achievements.

“Former students report that they use the albums to remind themselves they are capable of making a plan to triumph over challenges, and capable of executing that plan,” she says.

Some may view five-years-old as too young to start setting learning goals, but Chambers’ gentle and innovative approach seems to really make a difference.

Read the full article in the 22 August edition of the TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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