Group Goal Setting Activities:
An Approach from Youth Service Corps
PECE Resources and Planning Guide, Philadelphia
This article is excerpted from Chapter 3 of the PECE Resource
and Planning Guide. PECE, Practical Education for Citizenship and
Employment, is the name of the education component developed for
the Urban Corps Expansion Project (UCEP), a three-year demonstration
project designed by Public/Private Ventures, Inc. of Philadelphia.
UCEP is a combination community service/education model now
operating at 11 sites nationwide. Each autonomous program serves
50-100 youths, aged 17-23, who are unemployed and out of school.
Approximately seventy-five percent do not have diplomas or GEDs.
Corpsmembers (as program participants are referred to) are given
paid employment in human services and community service projects,
such as rehabbing buildings for non-profit developers, in addition
to the programs educational component.
The manual from which this chapter is taken has been written
to be useful outside the urban youth service corps, such as in summer
jobs programs. It is written for trainers and educators.
Chapter 3 focuses on setting goals and creating learning plans.
In this volume of Adventures in Assessment, we focus on group goal-setting.
In the next volume, we will continue the part of the chapter which
discusses individual goal setting.
The process of setting goals and planning
steps to achieve them is ongoing throughout each corpsmem-bers
experience in the program. The way you begin this process with new
corpsmembers has a special importance. Many of the young adults
who enter the corps are burdened with a history of failure in school
and a sense of education as something that has been imposed on them.
But most also enter with the motivation to change their lives.
Your early goal-setting activities are an opportunity to build on
this motivation and help corpsmembers begin to redraw their image
of themselves as learners and to rethink what learning is all about.
Through these activities, corpsmembers should discover that they
are responsible for defining where they want to go and what they
have to do to get there and that you are going to support
Goal setting is really an exercise in problem solving. Corpsmembers
have to learn to ask and try to answer a series of
questions that enable them to define their choices and decide how
to get where they want to go. Most simply the questions are: What
are my goals? What must I do to reach my goals? To answer these,
corpsmembers must work through a series of more precise questions:
- Where do I want to be in five years (or four weeks, or six months,
or ten years)?
- What must I know to get there?
- What steps must I take in order to know and be able to do these
- What abilities and experience do I already have that are going
to help me take these steps?
- What obstacles might be in my way?
- How can I deal with those obstacles?
- What should I do first, second and so on?
These are tough questions for anyone to answer: adults, young adults,
college students, at-risk youth. But they are also essential questions
to the goal-setting process, which involves defining needs, evaluating
ones own strengths and weaknesses, and planning and carrying
Goal setting activities that take place in groups during orientation
or in the beginning of a program should help corpsmembers identify
broad, long-term needs and begin to see them in relation to what
they can accomplish in the corps. In almost every case, corps-members
will end up with a product a questionnaire, a story, a timeline,
a goal chart that should be placed in their portfolio, where
it can be used as a starting point for developing personal learning
plans during your one-on-one meetings.
The group activities lay the foundation for the next step in the
process, when corpsmembers more precisely define their goals in
the corps: in life skills (employment, community participation,
personal development), work, and personal academics.
The group activities are:
Option #1: Thinking about Learning. Corpsmembers explore
their past experiences with education and start to define their
Option #2: Guest Speaker. A speaker from outside the corps
discusses his or her experiences overcoming obstacles and achieving
Option #3: Goals Questionnaire. Corpsmembers identify reasons
they joined the corps and, in the process, think about potential
goals they might not have previously considered.
Option #4: Creating a Future. Corps-members make a collage
or write a story that describes a potential future for themselves.
Option #5: A Timeline. Corpsmembers create a timeline in
order to be more specific about their goals and begin to see the
relationship between short- and long-term goals.
Option #6: Goal-Setting Chart. In this follow-up activity
to the timeline, corpsmembers look at the relationship between what
they can accomplish in the corps and their longer-term goals.
Option #7: Returning to the Corps 10 Years Later. In another
way of looking at their long-term goals, corpsmembers imagine themselves
10 years in the future, returning to the Corps either for a reunion
or as a guest speaker.
[Editors note: this excerpt includes Activities 1, 2, 5
Group Goal Setting
Thinking About Learning
This activity allows
corpsmembers to explore their past experiences with education: what
they remember as positive and negative learning experiences and
how they learn best. Corpsmembers also explore their own learning
needs: what makes learning comfortable and what makes learning uncomfortable
(and, therefore, difficult).
and illustrations, readings, newsprint.
1. Start by having corpsmembers
look at a variety of pictures of people learning something in school
and in other settings (especially work). Include people who are
happy, miserable, young and old. Have corpsmembers describe the
pictures, then talk about the memories they evoke.
2. Read aloud a few excerpts
from descriptions that people have written about their experiences
learning and in school. After each excerpt, let corpsmembers discuss
what they have heard: How does it connect with their own experiences?
Encourage corpsmember to tell their own stories.
3. Divide the corpsmembers
into two groups, and ask one group to make a list of phrases that
could complete the fragment Its easy to learn when.....
Ask the other group to complete Its hard to learn when....
When both groups are done, have volunteers copy the groups responses
onto newsprint. Here are some possible responses:
Its easy to
The teacher is good.
We pay attention.
People arent making fun of each other.
We know why we are learning something.
We understand whats going on.
Its hard to
The teacher talks too much.
People laugh at you.
We dont understand.
We have other things on our mind.
The teacher thinks were stupid.
4. Follow up these lists
by having the whole group discuss some items more specifically.
With the items here, for example, you can ask what makes a good
teacher, what makes it hard to understand something, or what they
can do to have a group where people aren't making fun of each other.
If the corpsmembers have begun keeping journals, suggest possible
journal topics. For example:
(in school or on the job) where they felt good about learning something:
What did they learn? Why did it make them feel so good?
A description of someone from whom they learned (a teacher,
an employer, a coworker, anyone).
A description of a time when someone learned something from
An experience at school or work that made it hard for them
You might want to allow
time for corpsmembers to write during the activity. Then those who
want to can read their pieces aloud.
[Adapted from Andy Nash in Elsa Auerbach, Making Meaning, Making
Change: A Guide to Participatory Curriculum Development for Adult
ESL and Family Literacy. University of Massachusetts English Family
Literacy Project, Boston, 1990]
This activity helps corpsmembers
think about the process of setting and achieving goals by listening
to someone else speak about his or her experience. The speaker should
be someone the corpsmembers can see as a role model.
1. Invite a guest speaker
from the community who has made it: who has set and
achieved goals for herself or himself. Prepare the guest speaker
by giving him/her some background about the corpss goals,
and some idea where the corpsmembers are in their own goal setting
process. Ask the speaker to talk about his or her own goal setting
process and strategies: the goals that he or she has set (and why),
the steps needed to achieve those goals, the difficulties encountered
and how he or she overcame the difficulties. The speaker may be
able to include comments on values, self esteem, sex-role stereotypes,
and decision making as well as goal setting.
2. Let corpsmembers know
in advance that there will be a speaker and what he/she will be
talking about. Corpsmembers should have a sense of what to listen
for and how the topic relates to their own lives. They should also
think about questions they might want to ask.
3. After the presentation,
allow time for discussion and questions from corpsmembers.
Group Goal-Setting Activities
This activity encourages
corpsmembers to become more specific about their goals and begin
to see the relationship between short-term and long-term goals.
(for you to draw your timeline on as you model the steps in this
activity), paper, pens or pencils.
1. Have corpsmembers
draw the first part of their timelines: from birth to present. They
should write in dates and major events that have happened in their
lives (you will want to model this and the next two steps on newsprint).
2. Now have the corpsmember
extend their timelines two years into the future and write in events
they want to make happen in those years (this will include in and
beyond the corps, such as earning their GED, graduating from the
corps, joining the Army, getting married, starting college, getting
job training, buying a car, etc.).
3. Finally, have them
extend their timelines to reach about ten more years into the future.
Ask them to add the events they would like to experience during
this period (they might include such goals as living in a place
of their own, getting promoted, earning a college degree, taking
a trip, getting married, etc.).
4. Corpsmembers may want
to display their timelines in the room or hold them up to share
with the group. Stimulate discussion by asking questions like the
How much control do people
have over what happens in the early years of their lives up
to age 10 for example? What about during the second ten years: do
we get to set goals for ourselves and work toward them in our teen
years? What about when were in our 20s or 30s?
What connections do you
see between your goals in the next two years and your goals for
the ten years after that?
Returning to the Corps Ten Years Later
This activity provides
another way for corpsmembers to think about their long-term goals:
by imagining themselves ten years in the future, returning to the
corps either for a reunion or as a guest speaker. In the first scenario,
corpsmembers fill out a questionnaire; in the second scenario, they
prepare a short speech, which they can present to the rest of the
group. Allow corpsmembers to select the choice they feel more comfortable
A. Corps Reunion: Its
been ten years since you were in the corps, and now youve
been invited back for a reunion. The corps has sent you a questionnaire
to fill out about what youre doing now. They are going to
make all of the questionnaires into a booklet, which they will give
to everyone that comes to the reunion.
1. I am years old. (Remember, this is ten years into the future.)
2. My job is:
3. My responsibilities at work include:
4. After I left the corps, I prepared for this job by:
5. My family responsibilities are:
6. My most important personal possessions are:
7. Of my experiences in the last ten years, these have been the
B. Returning to the corps
as a guest speaker: Youve worked hard and been a big success
since you graduated from the corps ten years ago. Now the corps
director has invited you back to speak to corpsmembers about how
you set and achieved your goals.
She/he asks you to talk
about what you have done in the ten years since you graduated.
You want to write down notes to prepare your talk and this is how
you organize them:
The goals I set
for myself and the work I'm doing now:
The steps I took to achieve my goals:
Difficulties I encountered:
Things I did to overcome those difficulties:
My goals for the future and how I plan to achieve them:
Write down the notes
for your talk. Then, if you wish, give the talk to other people
in your group.
published in Adventures
in Assessment, Volume 4 (April 1993),
SABES/World Education, Boston, MA, Copyright 2003.
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on the Web provided in part by the Ohio State Literacy Resource
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Assessment Special Collection.