Learning to Set Goals in a 4th Grade Math Class at Barnum Elementary


Arielle Walker



Barnum Elementary

Increase students' ability to set goals and monitor their own progress

Goal Setting and Progress Monitoring



Arielle Walker, a 4th grade teacher at Barnum Elementary, has been helping her students to set their own math goals and monitor their progress toward meeting them since the beginning of the school year.  As a result, she has seen a greater increase in students' math achievement than she has in previous years.  Ms. Walker believes that when students set their own goals, they become intrinsically motivated to improve their scores.  


She has found that students are eager to improve their math scores and are excited when they do so, which she attributes to their growing ability to monitor their own progress and thus take greater ownership of their achievements.

Fantastic Fact Chart - Students can easily see which goals they have met and which they still need to achieve.  When students meet a goal, they highlight it and set a new goal. Students are able to choose which goal they work on at their own pace, with the intention of eventually meeting all their goals.

Student Goal Sheet - Students are able to to keep track of their goals throughout the year.  Students write out their goal, explain how they will know when they have met it, and list the steps are needed for this to happen.  When students meet a goal, they start a new sheet; however, they keep the completed goal sheets in their binder for review.

Ms. Walker often goes over the student goal-setting sheet with the entire class, giving examples and modeling how students might achieve a certain goal.  Students are able to ask questions and collaborate with one another as they decide what steps they will take to meet their own goals.

This graph allows students to see their overall progress easily. Students enjoy marking their progress with different colors. and the visualization motivates them as they watch the bars grow higher.

"My advice is not to give up... just keep going.  It might be difficult now, but in the ends it’s worth it.  It’s kind of like a diamond in the rough--you will get there, and it will happen.  I have learned that even 9- and 10-year-olds can analyze data, 9- and 10-year-olds can set their own goals, they can monitor their own goals and they can--we’re working on the language--but they can even verbalize and express their excitement for when they meet their goal..." Ms. Walker


Ms. Walker discusses how in the past she took control of the goal-setting process by telling students which goals to work on and how to achieve them.  This year, she has intentionally allowed the students to lead their own goal-setting and has witnessed successful results.  Students are now able to analyze their own data in order to monitor their own progress. Their math skills are improving as well.

Classroom and Student Response

Ms. Walker has created a website where students can practice and memorize their math facts through games, songs, or other engaging activities.  It took students a little time to understand how to set an appropriate goal--for example, some would choose goals they had already met. However, as students gained more experience with the process, they learned to understand the relationship between the goal, their working toward it, and their progress, and to appreciate the value of their score increasing.  Ms. Walker has also supported student collaboration in order to encourage students' problem solving among themselves rather than immediately turning to her for answers.

Teacher Reflection

Ms. Walker has observed a huge improvement in her students' ability to monitor their progress. Students now know what they need to do to achieve their goals. When students meet their goals, they are excited about updating their binders and they are motivated to set a new goal.  Ms. Walker explains how she has improved her process for introducing the concepts that underlie setting an appropriate goal and working to achieve it. In future, Ms. Walker will give students even more responsibility for setting their goals.  Though she believes that ultimately students should take complete ownership of the entire goal-setting process, she will always conduct regular checks of her 4th-grade students' goals in order to ensure that they are set up for success.


Data is motivating - Students enjoy seeing their own progress. Even students who generally have lower achievement will strive for higher marks when they consistently monitor their scores over time.

Relinquish control - Though it felt chaotic at times, by allowing students to take control over their goal setting Ms. Walker was able to see student engagment increase and academic achievement improve.

Be Flexible - Ms. Walker has incorporated lessons learned along the way in order to improve the learning environment for students.

Promote Student Collaboration - When students are able to share ideas with one another, they are less dependent on the teacher for support or feedback.

Provide Resources - Students often used Ms. Walker's self-made website to practice math facts at school and at home.


"[Ms. Walker] will try anything, which means she has a great growth mindset. She is an early adopter--she just is always trying to learn....She wants to get into other people’s classrooms to see what they’re doing. She’ll try anything that you ask her to try....During coaching she comes up with other ideas to extend what I might even say as a coaching idea.  She’s just really positive. So I think that, without that growth mindset, none of the rest of it could really happen.” - Amy Burns, Imaginarium Innovation Partner and Ms. Walker's Personalized Learning Coach


Special Thanks To...

Thanks to Barnum Elementary teacher Arielle Walker, her students, and principal Elizabeth Grabois for their support of this study, and to Imaginarium staff Jenna Peterson, Sophie Gullett, and Amy Burns, who all contributed to this report.

A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, study and scale personalized learning.