2017 (Or, how to set better goals!)

Happy new year, everybody! The first 10 days of 2017 seem to have flown by. For my first post this year, I’m going to write about resolutions and effective goal-setting.

On Sunday I delivered a workshop as part of the Teaching Listening course that forms part of this year’s EVO.

(To quote EVO and explain what it is:  Every year in January and February, the Electronic Village Online (a project of TESOL’s Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section) brings together English language educators from around the world to engage in free, collaborative, online professional development sessions. Last year, we had over 8,165 participants in 14 sessions.)

My session focused on helping learners become more autonomous listeners and the main task the participants will do this week is to set up an out-of-class listening scheme to use with their learners; considering, amongst other things, about what they want the learners to do, how they will introduce the different elements to the learners, how they will help learners to maintain their motivation. Of course, within my session, within the discussion on motivation, I talked about the importance of goal-setting and the features of an effective goal according to Dornyei and Ushioda (2012). Here is my slide which summarises these:


I always make New Year’s Resolutions. There is something magical about the beginning of a new year, and the potential it holds, that gets me really excited and I enjoy making my resolutions as a way of sizing up that potential and giving it some form. Usually, however, my resolutions are a bit fluffy and I forget about them fairly soon afterwards. This year, in order to help myself not to forget about them, I have copied them into a sticky note on my desktop so that I am reminded every day of the things that I set out to do. I also tried to make them more specific than usual, so that I can actually tell not only when I have achieved them but measure my progress along the way. It must have been preparing for the EVO workshop that subconsciously made me apply Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles for effective goals to my resolutions for 2017!

In the interests of gaining (extra) and maintaining motivation on the languages and ELT front, I’m going to communicate my resolutions relating to these areas here. Rather than just a list of goals, I am going walk you through the mental process I went through in making them, shaping them from a vague initial idea into something more specific, tangible and therefore achievable.

  • Learn Arabic. I started learning Arabic last year in around October, as I was going to be volunteering at a secondary academy here in Sheffield, working with a number of learners whose first language was Arabic. That fell through (2016 was one of those years?) and after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the Arabic fell to the wayside too. End of story? Evidently not. I didn’t stop wanting to learn Arabic but the related work situation had demotivated me somewhat so mentally it became easier to ignore both. 2017 seemed like the perfect way to reinvigorate it. First I reflected on why I want to learn some Arabic. Initially, it was instrumental motivation (the work situation). Theoretically, that is still potentially the case as ELT in the UK can often involve working with Arabic L1 students. But that vague possibility won’t in itself be enough to motivate me to study Arabic every day. What about enjoyment? Well, I enjoy learning languages (hence currently studying 11 of them, including Arabic) but why Arabic? I think it appeals because it is (to me) so different. It has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to me. Just as English has an alphabet that doesn’t look like anything to Arabic L1 speakers when they first encounter it. I am interested in the process of learning a language with a different alphabet. So, going back to my “Learn Arabic” goal, being as I am not a genius I am not going master Arabic in one year, not even nearly. So if I left my goal at that, I would be setting myself up for failure. I need to make it more realistic. How can I do that? Make it more specific. So my goal became: “Learn to read the Arabic alphabet and speak/write some basic words and phrases.” That seems entirely more realistic, it reflects my motivation for studying, progress will be measurable (by way of the number of letters and eventually words I can recognise and produce – which, by the way, there are more than you might think as they change a little depending on whether they are at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a word!), it is challenging (did you read what I just wrote in the last set of brackets?!). My completion date is 31/12/2017 but I do of course plan to monitor and decide if the goal should be developed before then. It will depend on my progress: there is room for extension!
  • Continue with other languages. Of course. That would be French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Romanian, Indonesian, Mandarin. Plus the newly added Dutch and Swedish. But for this resolution to make sense, what exactly am I going to do with them? What counts as “continue with”? I need some parameters. For the first five, this means Memrise plus as much reading, listening, speaking and writing as possible. I’ve found someone with whom I will be able to practice my Italian and French, possibly also some Spanish, and as for Polish there is always my sister’s husband to practice with, when I visit them. I’ve catalogued all my DVDs so that although I don’t have the cases for most of them, I know easily what I’ve got and what language(s) I can play them in. For the second five, I’m going to focus on Memrise and shift into using them when I’ve got a bit more vocabulary. (The cool thing is Polish used to be in that category but now it’s in the “I need to use it” category – that’s progress! The other cool thing is that in the series episode I was watching with my housemate today, there was a bit of Mandarin with English subtitles and I heard and understood three words without the subtitles! For me and Mandarin, that is exciting, believe me!) I have ear-marked particular courses on Memrise that I want to complete and obviously goal way-points will be in evident in the number of words/phrases learnt, number of days in a row studying consistently (or “streak” as they call it – for Polish currently 113!) and how well I do when reviewing stuff.
    This was a motivating way-point!

    This was a motivating way-point!

    As with Arabic, I will monitor my progress and adapt the goal/resolution as necessary. For example to make it include having a pop at watching or listening to something in one of the 5 ‘weak’ languages (or 6, counting Arabic!) if/when I feel it would be worth a go.

  • Do lots of CPD. Do not we all start our year with this resolution? And perhaps renew it if academic year and calendar year don’t coincide (i.e. northern hemisphere), or when feeling inspired at the beginning of a new term. At the moment, for me, this is a tricky one. The only work I’ve got at the moment is a bit of private tuition. I had been all excited about volunteering in an EAL setting but that fell through (as mentioned above – and don’t get me started on academy management organisational skills…) which was a bit of a bump to the motivation. Currently I am also tutoring on the EVO course, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, but that is obviously a very short term thing. An interesting one, though, as it combines my interest in teaching listening and my interest in tutoring teachers! So, it would be easy to let CPD slip. In order to avoid that, I need some specific goals, rather than the nebulous ‘do some CPD’. I will be doing two sessions on the Leeds Beckett M.A. ELT Multimedia and Independent Learning module again this semester and I hope also to deliver a version of my IATEFL talk at the ELTC (I do it free of charge in exchange for the opportunity to work on my workshop delivery skills!). IATEFL itself is another focal point for me, in terms of workshops, as, hopefully, will be doing another British Council TeachingEnglish – related webinar. Additionally, each week I want to watch at least one webinar and read something ELT-related. Finally, as my pet project, I want to make some EAP-related materials in advance of the pre-sessional summer school period. As a specific starting point, I want to make some materials to help students become better able to synthesise sources effectively (this inspired by memories of my colleagues and I feverishly looking for any such resources last summer and not finding quite what we were after!). This will require looking again at the demands/criteria that we were trying to help the students to meet, as these would be similar this year at ISS or, if it turns out that way, other pre-sessional courses, reading relevant chapters from EAP Essentials and other such EAP teaching bibles (de Chazal’s comes to mind, though I forget its name!) and of course the actual materials creation and subsequent editing. Keeping with the weekly timeframe, I will expect myself to make tangible progress each week, which I will monitor via a log.

When I went through the mental thought processes described above, I wasn’t doing it with Dornyei and Ushioda’s (2012) principles in mind, but it’s clear that subconsciously they had an influence. And so I should think, the amount of time I’ve devoted to studying motivation, within learner autonomy, and trying to get students started on their autonomous learning pathways! I think as teachers, if we are able to apply what we want students to do to our own learning (of languages, of teaching) and have a clear idea of how to get ourselves from A to B (A being hazy ideas of goals, B being effective goals), we will be better able to help our learners go through that process themselves in the context of their language learning (if they want to then apply it to their New Year’s Resolutions and other aspects of their life, that is up to them!) with the idea that they leave our classroom better able to map and follow their learning goals. There is no one size fits all goal solution but we can help students become better able to set, and by extension meet, their own objectives more effectively.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? Do share them in the comments – remember, communicating goals increases the motivation to achieve them! 😉

I hope 2017 is a fulfilling, successful and peaceful year for you all.



Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation (Applied Linguistics in Action). Routledge.



3 thoughts on “2017 (Or, how to set better goals!)

  1. Thank you for sharing your resolutions, Lizzie. I also make resolutions myself and love working on goal setting and decision making with my students. Lately I’ve become more and more interested in self-reflection and how we can help make our students more aware of their learning journey. Apart from the resolutions posts I’ve written over the years, I wrote more about self-reflection here :https://mariatheologidou.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/self-reflection-all-year-round-some-practical-activities/#comments
    Once again thank you for the post!

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