The Effects of Goal-Setting & It's Role in Education

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The Effects of Goal-Setting and it’s Role in Education

Author Basil S. Walsh once said “if you don’t know where you’re going, how can you expect to get there?” This quote speaks greatly to the importance of setting goals for oneself, especially in a realm such as academia, where success or failure can stay with a person for a lifetime. Students who set goals for themselves have been shown to perform better than those who don’t, give more effort and be motivated to succeed, which is why goal-setting needs to be used as a tool for students in the classroom. While some may see goal-setting as having the potential to discourage students who do not achieve, research has shown that with the right types of goals, positive feedback, and an understanding of how students deal with failure, goal-setting can be an extremely powerful tool in motivating students. Students use goals for different reasons, from giving themselves something tangible to strive for to ensuring a certain grade point average for a scholarship, but the one constant that comes with goal-setting is the motivation to succeed. Along with information from a handful of other sources, I will rely on three main research experiments covering goal-setting and the areas of effort, feedback, and failure. The work of Silvia, McCord, and Gendolla focuses on goal-setting and its effects on effort, Venables and Fairclough look at the feedback necessary to maximize effort through goal-setting, while Brdar, Rijavec, and Loncaric shed light on students coping with failing to meet set goals. Throughout the paper I will use the term effort interchangeably with motivation, as multiple source studies measured participant motivation through the amount of effort they demonstrated.

Goal-Setting and Effort
Before implementing a goal-setting strategy in the classroom, we must first understand how goals are related to students’ motivation and effort output. Through their study of students effort levels based on self-awareness and task difficulty, researchers Silvia, McCord and Gendolla looked to answer the seemingly simple question “do people try harder for harder goals?”. Their study--which involved participants taking similar tests--manipulated both task difficulty and self-awareness during the tests, and measured effort as cardiovascular activity and systolic blood pressure. Participants were broken into four groups and assigned either easy or difficult tasks along with a high or low self-awareness environment. The participants identified their tasks as easy or difficult during a trial run before the scoring of effort began. Self-awareness was manipulated by placing a mirror in front of a set of participants taking both easy and difficult tests. After the participants took the test a second time, which they knew would be scored, results strongly showed that “presenting people with objectively easier and harder tasks effectively manipulates performance expectancies” (Silvia, McCord, and Gendolla). When applied to goal-setting in the classroom, this shows the value of setting attainable goals; if a student believes their goal is something they can accomplish, they will be more likely to give effort towards it. While this may lead to students setting goals too low in order to ensure success, it is up to the teacher to push students to strive for a goal that will truly test them. It can be noted that this experiment was based off of the participants perception of the task difficulty, albeit through direct experience of the test beforehand, which a teacher can use as a way to encourage students to set higher goals. While a student may not have all the skills necessary to achieve a lofty goal, if they believe they can accomplish it, their effort will match this perception. The second focus of this experiment, which manipulated the self-awareness of the participants using mirrors, is also a key player in understanding why goals are important for students in the...
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