Students often want to do better, but fail to improve because they don’t know how to set appropriate goals or move toward them. Teaching students how to set SMART goals can help them strengthen their ability to reach the goals they set for themselves. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. To see how the process works, we will consider a student wanting to raise her grade in her math class.
Setting goals that are specific and concrete helps provide direction as students work toward their goals. Instead of “get a better grade in Math,” for example, the student might set the goal of “raise my math grade by one letter grade.”
Goals should also be measurable. Students should consider how they will know when their goal has been achieved and what elements will help them achieve their goal. Since our example student has already set a measurable benchmark for success, she might now add measurable steps that would help her reach that goal such as turning in all math homework and going to the weekly math tutoring group.
A goal that is not attainable will lead inevitably to failure. Students should consider where they are starting, what steps they can take to reach the goal, and what other circumstances could affect reaching the goal. Our example student may realize that raising her math grade by one letter grade is attainable because she is in the first month of school, but going to the tutoring group regularly is not realistic because she sometimes has volleyball games during that time. She adjusts her goal to say that she will “get help in math at least once a week” so she has more options, such as meeting with the teacher individually or working with another student.
Students should also consider whether the goal is important for them personally and whether it should take precedence over other possible goals. If our student was failing Spanish and had a B in Math, raising her grade in Spanish would be more relevant. Or if she doesn’t mind her current math grade, but is losing her temper frequently, she might decide to focus on that first.
A strong goal will also have a specific timeline. The timeline should include when each step will be completed and when the final goal will be achieved. This kind of timeline is only possible if the goal is already specific and attainable. Our student might determine that her goal should be reached by the end of the quarter.
Putting all of the elements together, our example student might have this goal: “Raise my math grade by one letter grade by the end of the quarter by turning in all my math homework and getting help for math at least once per week.” By learning and practicing the process of creating SMART goals, students can gain a valuable skill for setting practical goals and recognizing the elements necessary for moving toward those goals.