Thirteen-year-old Jackson Sikes has been struggling for years to raise his test scores in math. When he got a 33% last year on fractions, Jackson says, "I didn't know how I was ever going to learn them." Battling his homework just made him frustrated, says his mother Linda, of Gilmer, Texas.
Jackson's teachers proposed a solution: They taught him to trim his goal into smaller steps and try improving his scores just a little from test to test. Gradually, he raised his results to 90%. "I'd take those little steps, then I'd just keep on stepping," Jackson says.
A student's ability to set and achieve realistic goals is linked to higher grades, lower college-dropout rates and greater well-being in adulthood. In a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, college students who completed an intensive written exercise identifying their goals and mapping out steps to reach them posted a significant increase in grades and credits earned, compared with other students.
Yet a majority of U.S. students lack faith in their ability to reach their goals, according to a nationally representative survey of 642 students last year by Gallup Inc. Although children begin to form their ideas about what they can and can't achieve by age 7 or 8, only 42% of students ages 10 to 18 say they are energetically pursuing their goals, Gallup found. And only 35% strongly believe they can find ways around obstacles to their goals.
The Gallup surveys are the first broad look at goal-setting at this age; students may struggle with this skill partly because schools tend to focus more on raising test scores or lowering dropout rates. However, as more states mandate career planning for all students, goal-setting is drawing increasing attention.
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