Goals come in many shapes and sizes. Generally, when we talk of goals in an educational context they usually involve mastery goals, our pursuit of mastery over a skill or particular learning
task (e.g. “My goal is to master algebra”). Other goals might be less productive, for example avoidance goals whose purpose to is to avoid failure or negative outcomes which may lead to success but often lead to self-handicapping, allowing us to survive rather than thrive.
A third kind of goal is a Growth Goal. Martin uses the term Personal Best (PB) to describe the managed attempt to exceed oneself rather than to be “top of the class”. Personal Bests centre on a specific personal challenge (e.g. “I want an A in my next essay because I got a B in my last one”) and the specific steps required to reach the goal – so PB’s are competitively self-referenced – doing better than you did before.
PB’s have been found to increase engagement and academic achievement (Martin & Liem, 2010) as well as promote other skills including self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation and ‘flow’. Studies have also found that PB’s are just one way to encourage and promote an incremental (growth) mindset (Martin, 2014).
Mindset theory continues to gain ground over other motivational and engagement strategies primarily due to its rapidly growing and significant evidence base. The problem of implementation often centres around the actual process by which the fixed mindset (entity based self theory) is transformed into a growth mindset (incremental based self theory). PB’s work by drawing on this incremental philosophy and using a series of small steps to go from one personal best to the next, in the same way an Olympic sprinter aims to shave a second here and second there off his or her fastest time.
Furthermore, PB’s aren’t confined to specific cultural groups, with PB’s being generalised to non-western (Chinese) contexts (Yu & Martin, 2014).
PB’s encourage students to examine feedback constructively and set out a plan by which they either maintain their current level or exceed it, ensuring that they take on board teacher comments and identify gaps in either subject knowledge or study skills. In many ways PB’s are similar to the SMART-type objects used in employee appraisal systems and coaching in that they provide specific time-bound criteria by which progress can be made without relying on extrinsic factors.
Martin, A. J. (2014). Implicit theories about intelligence and growth (personal best) goals: Exploring reciprocal relationships. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 1–17. doi:10.1111/bjep.12038
Martin, A. J., & Liem, G. A. D. (2010). Academic personal bests (PBs), engagement, and achievement: A cross-lagged panel analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(3), 265–270. doi:10.1016/j.lindif.2010.01.001
Yu, K., & Martin, a. J. (2014). Personal best (PB) and “classic” achievement goals in the Chinese context: their role in predicting academic motivation, engagement and buoyancy. Educational Psychology, (May), 1–24. doi:10.1080/01443410.2014.895297