Theses Doctoral

Why Is It Important for Students and Teachers to Share Goals?

Shi, Zhong Qi

Teachers often use instructional goals to guide students’ learning and to track their performance. Typically, teachers develop these instructional goals before they meet students and then hand over their list of goals to students during their first class session. Prior research shows that students do not necessarily understand the underlying principles of those broader terms and how they are to be assessed—they don’t truly understand what is expected of them, nor how a teacher sets out to help them learn. The inadequacy in students’ understanding about instructional goals has been shown to be related to student underachievement, disengagement in classes, and poor student-teacher relationships.
The effectiveness of goal-driven learning is dependent on the learner’s ability to make informed decisions about what to learn and what strategies to use to achieve the desired objectives. Given that, I hypothesize that helping students understand their teacher’s rationale behind the goal creation process will help students make better decisions with their study, demonstrate stronger motivation, develop better student-teacher relationships, and eventually improve their academic performance.
To test these hypotheses, I created an intervention that required students to have a discussion with their teacher about how the instructional goals were prioritized. Eighty-nine students from an introductory Microbiology class were randomly assigned into three conditions: (1) Goal Listing (GL) condition, in which students read a list of instructional goals as they were in the syllabus; (2) Goal Ranking (GR) condition, in which students read a list of instructional goals that had been ranked according to their importance by their teacher; and (3) Goal Ranking + Discussing (GRD) condition, in which students read the ranked goals and discussed them with their teacher in a one-on-one meeting. The measures I used to test the effects of the intervention include study-time allocation, accuracy of self-assessment for an upcoming exam, help-seeking tendency toward the teacher, attitude toward the class and the teacher, and class performance.
Results showed that the GRD group performed significantly better than the other two groups on every behavioral measure, but no significant difference was found between the GR and GL group. Specifically, students in the GRD condition scored significantly higher, planned their study more strategically, predicted their final grade more accurately, and demonstrated stronger tendency to seek help from their teacher. Mediation analyses were conducted to test whether students’ metacognitive strategies causally contributed to their better performance. Results show that both study-time planning and self-assessment mediated exam performance for the GRD group, but not for the GR group. This suggests that a discussion on the ranked goals is more powerful in affecting students’ learning process than simply showing them the goals without an explanation. In addition to the behavioral measures, we also examined students’ attitudes toward their teacher and the course. The results show that the GRD group gave a more positive evaluation of their teacher and perceived the course as more interesting and valuable than the other two groups. This suggests that a discussion of goals can bring about motivational benefits such as improving student-teacher relationships.
This study made unique theoretical and practical contributions to our understanding of how teachers can best communicate goals to their students. First, most previous research on students’ goals focused on what goals might be beneficial to learning, but did not address how to enable students to strategically arrive at those goals. Our study suggests that having teachers explain how their instructional goals were set can be a promising step toward that end. Second, our findings add to past research on metacognitive training, which largely focused on teaching strategies to students. Our study suggests that we can improve students’ use of metacognitive strategies by helping them gain a clear understanding of the instructional goals. Moreover, the study points to the important role of social interaction in enhancing students’ self-regulating abilities such as planning and self-assessment. Metacognition is not just about understanding one’s own thinking. Understanding the goals of those who are important to one’s learning can be helpful to improving one’s metacognition. Finally, the study offers clear guidance in how to make teachers’ office hours more productive. Goal discussion provides an implementable tool that can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their communication and their relationship.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Lin, Xiaodong
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 2, 2018