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  • Writer's pictureKyle Larson

Step 5: Setting Reading Goals in Reading Conferences with English Learners

Updated: Dec 18, 2023



Goals give students something to focus on during independent reading time.
Reading and Listening to books on AIR Language gives students the linguistic tools to grow.

Up until this point in the protocol for reading conferences, we focus has been purely on the past and present.


What can the student do and not do?


The teacher has set the stage, assessed, pushed the boundaries, and even taught the student, but there has been no focus on the future.


What will the student learn next?


There is a particular order that teachers need to be aware of in establishing reading goals: first, the student's current abilities need to be "described." This is the groundwork that needs to be laid for reading goals and has been completed in steps 2-4. Then the expectations for the future need to be "prescribed." First, we focus on a student's progress and present abilities, and then their future abilities. This needs to be emphasized because all too often, English language educators put "the cart before the horse."


Whether it's output before input, abstract before concrete, or interpretation before understanding, the natural order of things is often thrown out the window, and prescription comes before description.


The AIR Language eBook describes step 5 in this way: "The important idea here is to describe the student's current abilities (this happened in steps 2-4), and then prescribe the way in which the student needs to grow." In other words, steps 2-4 must always precede Step 5. If a student's current abilities are not taken into account, then the goal will be mismatched, and you might as well pull reading goals from a hat.


Reading goals need to be set collaboratively between the teacher and the student, though it may need to be modeled a few times before a student is ready to construct their own goals.


At AIR Language, we have two different perspectives on goals. Both are helpful, and the more a teacher works with students, the more comfortable they will be switching back and forth, or sometimes even combining them. These two perspectives on goals are: process and results goals.


Process goals focus on what a student can do to advance as a reader. These help a student develop specific skills in the area of reading or pronunciation.


Results goals are quantitative, measurable, and easily demonstrated. Think about "Can do" descriptors or "reading amount." These goals more closely align with the popular SMART goals.


Goal Types


We also have three different goal types. All three of these focus on specific areas where English learners need or want improvement in their language development.


Time or Quantity Goals

These types of goals are defined as either "the amount of time a student can focus before needing a break" or "the amount of books, quizzes, or points a student can read, take, or earn during a given period of time." A few examples are as follows:

  • I can read 4 times for 15 minutes this week.

  • I can read for 30 minutes without stopping.

Comprehension Skills Goals

While often these goals relate to vocabulary acquisition or understanding, they can also go beyond, to discuss concepts in the text. For example, "students need to find the 'main idea' in a text and explain it."

When constructing these goals, it's beneficial to build from one skill to the next. Consider Bloom's Taxonomy when giving these goals. They will help students grow in thought and language.


Decoding, Pronunciation, or Use Goals

Students often want to improve their pronunciation, and rather than telling them not to worry about it, it is more beneficial to give them a task that will result in better pronunciation. While we recognize the challenge in pronunciation being a reading goal, it is what students often want. If teachers can provide students with something to satisfy their perceived linguistic needs, they should supply it. A few goals we suggest are:

  • When you encounter a new word, pause the book, replay the page to listen for the word, maybe mouth the word to yourself, and then continue to read.

  • Focus on different sounds. When you see a word with the desired sound, replay the page and listen for the word, and then move on.

  • Pick a new word every day from your reading, listen to it a few times, and then use it in conversation with friends and acquaintances. (Students enjoy this goal and often see it as an achievable daily challenge.)


Reading goals are important because language is vast. I often ask students what they want from ESL classes, and most of the time, they respond, "Learn English."


"The whole thing?" I ask.


They look confused.


"What can you do today?" I ask.


If we can give students a point to aim for, perhaps the anxiety of learning a language that is years from mastery will dissipate, and real communication will emerge as they read more and more.

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