Trust the process: setting process goals

Setting process goals is arguably the most effective thing a teacher of writing can do in the classroom. Research has shown that it can result in a positive effect size of +2.03. For context, anything over +0.4 is deemed to have a significant positive effect on children’s progress. That’s why goal setting appears as one of our 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023a).

All children, but particularly struggling or less experienced writers, need to know exactly what they are meant to be doing during writing time (the process goal) and how to do it (the mini-lesson) (Young & Ferguson 2023b). Therefore a writing lesson should typically go something like this:

A process goal is the thing you want children to get done in that day’s writing session. The more explicit and elegant the goal can be – the better. For example:

  • Today, our goal is to plan our stories using the Story River technique. 
  • Today, our goal is to write the opening chunk of our story.
  • Today, our goal is to draft five lines – and only five lines!
  • Today, our goal is to write the second page of our Information Books.
  • Today, our process goal is to draft the end chunk to our discussion texts.
  • Today, our goal is to make the final page of our picturebooks.
  • Today our goal is to check our writing against our Revision Checklist.
  • Today, our goal is for the last few children to finish revising their pieces.
  • Today, our process goal is to check for capitalisation. 
  • Today, our goal is to check our use of tense.
  • Today, our process goal is to check punctuation – specifically our speech punctuation.
  • Today, our goal is to check our common word spellings.
  • Today, our process goal is to correct our ‘temporary spellings’.

You know you’ve set an appropriate process goal if it can be easily achieved by all pupils in the time allocated. In Writing For Pleasure schools, children know that once they’ve achieved the process goal for that lesson, they are free to work on their own personal writing project (see our eBook A Guide To Personal Writing Projects for more details). This ensures children get the maximum opportunity possible to write for a sustained period every day.

Therefore, if you find your class isn’t routinely finishing writing sessions by working on their personal writing projects, you know you’ve got a problem.

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