apple Goal Setting

“A dream is just a dream; a goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline”

Helping learners to set realistic, relevant and achievable short and long-term goals is critical to motivate learning and therefore to retain learners. Student goals should be at the forefront of all literacy activities. Students should be active partners in the goal-setting process so that they feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment towards their goals.

A useful, easy way to think of goal setting is to help students to set “SMART” goals: goals that are Specific; Measurable; Attainable;Realistic and Tangible. As well, helping students to set short-term goals where they can quickly experience success is a useful retention strategy.

Naturally, within these broad goals, adult students have a wide variety of long and short-term goals such as preparing for a specific college or training course, writing and reading for specific purposes (letters, forms, work-related documents), personal budgeting, preparing an effective resume, and personal reasons such as reading to children, or understanding their child’s report card, etc.

The Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework

In 2011, MAESD implemented a competency-based framework to support the development of adult learners and literacy programming delivered through the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program. To ensure relevancy for adult learners, the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework (OALCF) focuses on task-based programming that relates to specifically to their literacy-related goals within the  pathways of apprenticeship, secondary school credit, postsecondary, employment and independence. For more information on the OALCF, visit

Concerns related to the OALCF’s milestones and culminating tasks were raised at the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development’s (MAESD) Literacy and Basic Skills Symposium held on October 5 and 6, 2017. The summary of the Symposium can be accessed here for October 5th and and here for October 6. Building on the results of the Symposium and as part of their plans to improvement and expansion plans for LBS, MAESD has established a Steering Committee, 3 working tables and 2 reference groups. One of these reference groups will be looking at issues and concerns relating to the OALCF and assessment. Information about these plans and working groups are available on the Employment Ontario Partners’ Gateway under LBS Updates.


Goal Setting and Assessment

Goal setting begins with an effective assessment process. Assessment is an ongoing process that begins the moment a learner enters the program. The assessment process is an important tool for retaining students as it gives practitioners the chance to understand and support the learning goals and needs of each adult.

Effective assessment ensures that students are placed at the right learning level. Placement at either too high or too low a level is harmful to retention as instruction will either be too hard or too easy. If placement is too high, student progress will be slower and therefore de-motivating to the student. If placement is too low students may become bored and not fully engaged in learning.

Effective assessment also ensures that the adult student is placed in the right literacy program to meet their needs. Many communities in Ontario have several different types of literacy organizations (community literacy agencies, school board and colleges). Each may offer different programming options geared to different levels and needs of students: one-to-one tutoring, small groups and classroom-based learning. It is critical to place learners in the type of programming that will be most effective in helping an adult reach their goals or learners will be at high risk for dropping out.

As well, the training plan can be a powerful tool for encouraging learners to remain in a literacy program as it clearly outlines the steps learners will need to take to achieve their short and long-term goals.


Goal Setting Resources

There are many great goal-setting resources available to literacy practitioners.  We can’t capture them all but here a a few to get you started!

The Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework and related publications/tools/resources can be found on the Employment Ontario Partners Gateway website at

“A Dream That Walks: A Goal-Setting Workbook” (written by Myrna Hanna for Action Read Community Literacy Centre) is a highly recommended resource. This workbook is designed to help adult students set goals and work toward their dreams. It is available from Action Read’s Garlic Press at:

Action Read Community Literacy Centre has also produced “A Dream that Walks II: Planning for Change” (written by Anne Moore). This resource includes a workbook and CD for adult students who want to set goals and plan for change in their lives. The workbook has specific sections on developing goals in the areas of independence, employment and education. It is available from Grass Roots Press at:

Laubach Literacy Ontario’s “Training Post” has some valuable information on goal setting at:

The “CABS Literacy Quick Screen” (Common Assessment of Basic Skills by Judith Fox Lee and Rose Strohmaier, Literacy Link Eastern Ontario) can be found at:

“Go For the Goal: A “Winning” Approach to Learner-Centered Goal Setting in Adult Literacy was written by Lin Baer and Suzanne Knell for the Illinois Literacy Resource Development Center.

MAESD’s Foundations of Transition-Oriented Programming document can be found at

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. How can we best encourage and support the dreams and goals of students while also helping them to be realistic and set reasonable timeframes?
  2. How does your agency’s goal-setting process help with learner retention? How could you improve upon this?
  3. For many learners, setting concrete short and long-goals is a new skill. How do you teach this skill to learners in your program?
  4. Not all practitioners are skilled at helping adults to set concrete and achievable learning goals. How does your agency teach practitioners to do so?
  5. Does your agency respond to learners with different goals by using different learning resources and approaches? If yes, why? If not, why not?
  6. Research suggests that the more individualized and personalized the approach, the better the likelihood of retention. How does your program address the need for an individualized and personalized approach?
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