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Increase Student Engagement with Firm Goals & Teacher Clarity

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
June 7, 2024
Increase Student Engagement with Firm Goals & Teacher Clarity

Imagine being hopelessly lost in the woods with no map, phone signal, and a half of a granola bar in your pocket. It’s probably also raining in this scenario, and wolves are howling. Your internal compass is down for the count, and you’re ready to climb into a tree and snuggle up in Katniss style to wait for your rescuers (a little Hunger Games reference!). Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? 

Okay - so the scenario is a bit dramatic, but truly, being lost and not knowing your destination can lead to feelings of despair, anxiety, and shutdown. And this isn't just about avoiding wilderness mishaps. Just as having a clear path and destination can prevent you from getting lost on a hike, firm goals aligned to grade-level standards and high expectations help students stay focused and motivated, leading to better outcomes and increased confidence.

  • Schools with a strong focus on consistently challenging their students with grade-level standards see a 40% increase in student proficiency!
  • Graduation rates jump by 15% when schools prioritize high expectations aligned with grade-level standards.

So, how do we set students up for success? Here are 3 key strategies:

Decode the Standards

Standards often contain ambiguous verbs like "explain" or "analyze." It's important to separate content standards (what students need to know) from method standards (what they have to be able to do). This separation allows for flexibility in learning methods while keeping the goal (the "what") clear. For example, a standard requiring students to "explain" a concept can be met through writing, presentations, or multimedia projects. If the firm goal is to produce writing, then writing must be produced. There are still options, such as organizing writing (outlines or graphic organizers), drafting (writing, typing, or voice-to-text), and exploring rubrics, exemplars, and having conferences with the teacher. In short, UDL is about firm goals and flexible means. Without firm goals, both teachers and students may feel lost and overwhelmed by choice.

Leverage Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments help you understand your students' starting points and tailor goals accordingly. This empowers students to set realistic goals and choose appropriate pathways for reaching them. Use tools like AI to analyze the assessment data and determine what options and choices may be necessary to support each student.

Embrace Blended Learning

Blended learning combines teacher-led instruction with online learning tools and collaborative activities. This approach caters to learner variability and allows students to work at their own pace while working towards the same goal.

Imagine setting up stations in your classroom:

  • Station 1: Digital adaptive tools for students to work independently towards the learning goal.
  • Station 2: Collaborative projects where students build communication and teamwork skills.
  • Station 3: Teacher-led instruction for targeted support and differentiated learning.

When students work in a station rotation, all of the stations are focused on the same standard, but students have numerous opportunities to leverage the best of what is available.  

Regardless of the strategies you use, clear communication and ongoing monitoring are essential. Students need to consistently understand their learning goals and receive timely feedback on their progress. This allows you to adjust instruction and support as needed.

By setting firm goals, providing flexible methods, and fostering a culture of clear expectations, you can transform your classroom into a place of deep engagement and achievement for all learners. Remember: Clear goals are the map, high expectations are the compass, and flexible learning methods are the diverse paths that lead all students to success! Onward! 

Ready to transform your classroom into a goal-oriented haven? Check out the episode below to learn more and then contact us to set up a training with your team! 


  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). The Condition of Education 2020.
  • Journal of Educational Research. (2019). High Expectations and Student Achievement: A Comprehensive Review.

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