Goal system-based

Learning is promoted when it builds productively on existing multiple goals.

  • How can the actions of a learner (pupils/students/teachers) be understood?
  • How can a leaners’ identity be mapped in a structured and coherent way?
  • How to connect and build on what learners (pupils/students/teachers) care about?
  • How to ensure that learners become and stay motivated?
  • How can leaners expand their repertoire in a motivated way?

What does it mean and why is it important?

A lot of learners’ actions (students, pupils and teachers) are intentional. They do something because they want to achieve something by doing so. Now, learners usually do not pursue an isolated goal, but several goals at the same time. In a goal system, the goals that leaners pursue through their actions can be displayed in a structured, yet compact way.

The attached figure (in Dutch) shows goals that are usually active with a biology teacher. At the bottom of the goal system is what she does sequentially (from left to right) in many of her lessons. The rows above that show what goals she wants to achieve with these actions. For example, she often starts the lesson with lesson overview to provide students with structure, which she again thinks is important because it contributes to achieving good results. The goals high in the goal system are part of a person’s identity. In the figure, the goal cubes are coloured grey where the teacher feels she does not always manage to achieve these goals yet.

The goal system also shows that it is not easy to achieve multiple goals at the same time. For example, how do you make sure that you both motivate but also provide structure, keep control over what they can do, but also keep order at the same time. This also explains why, while teachers often subscribe to the views behind educational innovations, they still do not implement it that way because it conflicts with their other goals.

Practical implications

Against this background, we have developed a bridging approach to help teachers implement certain teaching innovations without compromising their other goals and, at the same time, not requiring too much extra time and resources. To this end, we first map out their goal system and then show how through small adjustments and recombinations of what they already do in their lessons, they can better realize not only a teaching innovation but also their own goals. For a practical elaboration of this approach, we refer to Chapter 7 of Challenging Differentiated Professional Education (in Dutch) below.

Scholarly publications

  • De Boer, E. Janssen, F. J. J. M., Dam, M. & Van Driel, J.H. (2019). Ontwikkeling van agency van docenten-in-opleiding: Een ecologisch perspectief. Pedagogische studiën, 96, 354-377.

Teacher agency has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Current research into teacher agency based on sociocultural approaches provides insight into how agency comes about in interaction with the situation and how it develops over time. However, it still offers few concrete methods for supporting the development of agency in teachers. This study aimed first of all to use insights from ecological psychology to arrive at an integrative ecological approach to understanding and supporting teacher agency, particularly with respect to the methods and skills used needed to teach their subject. Next, we tested this approach in an empirical study with preservice biology teachers from whom data were gathered over a whole year on how their repertoire of teaching methods developed in relation to their multiple goals and possible actions (field of affordances). Our results show that all the participants developed in stages over time on the different dimensions of their subject-specific agency (content perspective, content type and educational learning process). For example, the content of the textbook was often taken as the starting point, after which the participants experimented with other variants. The participants stated at the time that they were better able to achieve their various goals. This study found that an integrative ecological approach was helpful for both understanding and developing teacher agency.

  • Janssen, F. J. J. M., Westbroek, H., & Doyle, W. (2013). How to make innovations practical. Teachers College Record, 115(7), 1-43.

This paper presents a bridging methodology for connecting pedagogical innovations to the practical demands of classroom teaching. The methodology is initially framed within practicality theory, which is an ecologically grounded analysis of the design issues and constraints practitioners face in the everyday work of teaching. To conduct lessons, teachers must daily construct procedures (instrumentality) that fit circumstances (congruence) within available time and resources (cost). Underlying these practicality dimensions is a set of reasoning processes that can be understood from the perspective of three strands of research on bounded rationality—goal systems, heuristics, and evolutionary planning. This analysis of teacher practical reasoning provides a foundation for designing a bridging methodology consisting of a collaboratively constructed (a) heuristic goal system (HGS) representation of the hierarchy of goals and means (heuristics) that underlie a teacher‘s planning decisions with respect to lesson segments used to carry our instruction; and (b) teaching impact analysis (TIA) that connects an innovation‘s lesson structure to a teacher‘s heuristic goal system, and shows how a teacher can gradually adapt his/her current teaching practice in the direction of the innovation in such a way that the teacher considers each step as an improvement. Cases are presented that demonstrate variations of this methodology and its impact on teaching practice.

  • Janssen, F.J.J.M. & B. van Berkel (2015). Making philosophies of science education practical for science teachers. Science & Education, 24 (3) 229-258.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Grossman, P. & H.B. Westbroek (2015). Facilitating decomposition and recomposition in practice based teacher education. The power of modularity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 51, 137-146.
  • Wieringa, N., Janssen,  F. J. J. M. Janssen & J. H. van Driel. (2013) Het gebruik van doelsystemen om de interpretatie en implementatie van concept-contextonderwijs door biologiedocenten te begrijpen Pedagogische Studiën, 90(3), 37-55

Contact person for this principle
Fred Janssen