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Setting Goals – Do We HAVE To?

One of the first things I determine with a new student is what their objectives are (or if the student is a child, what the parents’ objectives are). Often the goal is “improve my communication,” but sometimes it’s “pass a proficiency test,” “help with homework,” or “start exposure to the target language.”

Most people don’t have one singular target; it’s natural to want to work on multiple areas. But setting specific, tangible goals is necessary in order to decide how to reach them. For example, if I have a student who has a language proficiency test coming up, our classes will look and sound very different from a student who wants to be more comfortable while grocery shopping.

Students (or parents) also have to consider what’s reasonable in terms of time and effort. A student who only meets one hour a week is probably going to achieve their goals more slowly than one who is actively involved and takes lessons with greater frequency.

Also, is homework an option? Extra practice through homework is very useful, but I have some students who have absolutely no time outside of our classes to do any kind of extra work that I give them. If that’s the case, I understand, and we work with the time we have. I always say that part of my job is to make life less stressful by helping them improve their language skills, not to make life more stressful by assigning homework that they won’t get to.

At least, that’s what I say to adult students. With school-age students, I’m much more likely to assign homework directly (I do check with parents first, but they seldom object). Often, the homework is to reinforce something that we’ve been working on during class or something I know they’re working on in school, such as a worksheet on adverbs of frequency, or comparative versus superlative adjectives.

Sometimes I’ll be more open-ended, asking the student to do some writing. This can take the form of simple sentences, a paragraph, a story, or a presentation. Whatever it is, I aim for it to be as interesting and applicable to the student’s life as possible. At the next class, we go over the writing, correcting mistakes and giving me some real-world insight into what needs more work, like spelling or run-on sentences.

Though we will sometimes come up with sentences together during class (for vocabulary words, for example), these are generally verbal and I write them down instead of having the student do the writing. Though I do want students to write themselves, I don’t usually find it productive or efficient to sit and silently watch a student type.

Though homework can be a useful way to help achieve a wide variety of goals, it’s not appropriate for every situation. Some students want more real world practice, with things like interviewing for a job, giving directions, or asking for help. For this type of situation, we’re much more likely to role play during class.

Every student is unique, with unique goals and needs. Understanding those goals and needs and finding relevant and useful ways to reach them is a necessary starting point, but also something that needs to continuously evolve as we work together.

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