Helping your child set mastery-oriented goals

Setting goals is an important part of determining where we are, where we want to go and how we intend to get there. When helping children with their academic pursuits, goal-setting is an essential component. I would caution, however, to ensure that when you are having those conversations with your child, consider if you are encouraging them to make goals that require them to display knowledge in a specific context (performance-oriented) or if you are helping them develop goals that will allow them to acquire a deeper understanding of the topic in a long-term capacity (mastery-oriented goals).

A performance-based goal may be “I will get 9 out of 10 -er verb conjugations right on my test tomorrow.”  This goal cannot be achieved unless the child is able to pull off a near-perfect performance. If she gets 8 right, it’s still a failure. A mastery-oriented goal may be “I will be able to correctly conjugate most regular verbs in daily conversations with my French teacher.” While there is nothing wrong with studying for the -er verb test and wanting to get most of the questions right, the student is more likely to be motivated in a sustainable way if he or she is focused on the skill instead of the performance (Valdés-Cuervo, 2020)

It is also important to note that performance-based goals can cause students to fall into the pit hole of comparing their marks with those of other students (Smeding et al., 2013). As a society, we have come to the conclusion that we want our children to be autonomous, hard-working and willing to show the world who they really are. By assigning them performance-based goals, however, we are sending them mixed messages: “Be yourself, but make sure you score better than the class average on that test.” “Celebrate your uniqueness, but you need to run faster than the girl next to you if you want to make it to nationals.” If we encourage students to pursue skills instead of status, we give them the opportunity to learn for the pleasure of it and to progress at their own pace. 

Michelle is an Instructional Resource Teacher in St. John’s, Newfoundland and is passionate about helping students with diverse needs thrive at school and in the real world. She started French For Life in 2012 with the goal of helping French Immersion students get the support they need to become bilingual, despite academic challenges. Interested in learning more about French For Life virtual or in-person tutoring? Contact .  


Smeding, Annique, Darnon, Céline, Souchal, Carine, Toczek-Capelle, Marie-Christine, and Butera, Fabrizio. "Reducing the Socio-economic Status Achievement Gap at University by Promoting Mastery-oriented Assessment." PloS One 8.8 (2013): E71678. Web.

Valdés-Cuervo, Angel Alberto, Grijalva-Quiñonez, Christian Samir, and Parra-Pérez, Lizeth Guadalupe. "Mothers’ Motivational Beliefs and Children's Learning Purpose for Doing Homework: The Mediate Effects of Autonomy Support and Control." Revista De Psicodidáctica (English Ed.) 25.2 (2020): 100-08. Web.

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