Are Your Students Setting SMART Goals?

We all have goals, whether it’s to lose 10 pounds, read more novels, or organize that overly filled teacher supply cabinet.  Once we create goals in our own minds, we are way more likely to actually see them through when we tell someone about them. So, imagine you choose a goal and share that goal with a life coach.  And, let’s say the life coach holds you accountable to your goal by checking in regularly, asking you about your intentional steps you’re taking to make progress toward that goal, giving insightful feedback about your plans to meet that goal, helping you set realistic deadlines by which you want to have the goal met, and giving encouraging words that motivate you to reach it.  Do those things impact the likelihood of meeting the goal you set? The answer is of course, YES.  

These same concepts can be translated into the classroom with our students.  Our students already have goals when they come to us in the classroom, whether they realize it or not.  Some students have specific, school-related goals, like completing math facts quicker, while others may dream of collecting more orbs to increase their experience level while playing Minecraft.  Either way, every child has a basic desire to improve or advance in some area of their life. Some goals are realistic and helpful, many are not. We often see our students also have goals like: play Fortnite for 24 hours straight (the struggle is real). That is why teaching students directly how to set goals is SO important.  As teachers, we know that students who take ownership of their learning in the classroom are far more likely to succeed, and a large part of that success is teaching them how to set meaningful, learning-related goals.  And, I can almost guarantee that hardly any of their current goals have deadlines or time tables attached to them.  Now, what if teachers were able to act as a “life coach” and teach the skill of goal setting for our students?  What does that look like on the elementary level and what are the impacts on their academic progress overall? (Hint: the impact is HUGE)

When I first begin goal setting with my fourth graders, we start with a framework: SMART goals.  The word SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Our goals are focused on academics in the classroom, but once they master this framework, it can be translated to any goal they create on their own.  This is great because one of my ultimate goals is to equip my students with tools they can bring with them and utilize in the years beyond.  

After teaching a direct instruction lesson on what a SMART goal looks like, I model how I could create a SMART goal using a worksheet template that asks questions to help generate a goal. Moving from there, I then pair their goal setting with handing out their Friday graded work.  (This might be on a separate day from my initial SMART goals lesson, or it could be right after the lesson.)  I demonstrate looking through “my” packet of work (a set of worksheets I complete and “grade” in advance to use as a model) and identify areas of strength, starting with basic percentages. And I typically use my doc cam to show each of the assignments to make it easier for the kids to see.

I break down this process into 3 steps.  

STEP 1.  The Average to High Score. I begin by examining a high to average scoring assignment that did not receive a 100%. I want the students to know that the expectation is not always to achieve perfect scores. I’ll show the assignment and give the students a chance to look it over. Then I’ll start with a narrative like, “I see I received an 81% on my English classwork. I knew how to find the subject, linking verb, and link the subject to the verb, but I forgot to highlight each linking verb. I can see, however, looking at the bottom section that I understand the concept.” Then we take the time to examine the assignment together and I give the students the opportunity to add additional strengths that they see on the assignment. I then have them find one of their own assignments and practice writing down their strengths, which allows the goal setting process to be empowering as well as growth oriented. This process of looking for strengths in future weeks also becomes increasingly more rewarding when they can identify if they have reached any of the goals they’ve set in prior weeks.

The goal here is to model a response to the assignment that is hopeful, positive, and empowering to make effective changes.

STEP 2. The Low Score. I model finding areas of improving using a low percentage on an assignment. The goal here is to model a response to the assignment that is hopeful, positive, and empowering to make effective changes. I also will address the importance of CHOOSING to view these kinds of scores as growth opportunities, as opposed to allowing negative feelings to impact how I view myself as a student. (This is a great opportunity to reinforce Growth Mindset, which I use in my classroom all year long.)

Looking at the English score with a 59% I might say,  “Ok, I see a 59% on this Grammar worksheet. This looks like an area I can improve on. I need to look closer at what specifically I had difficulty with here. Hmmm… well I notice that I lost a lot of points for forgetting to add another subject and a conjunction in the top section. I also see that I didn’t finish the last problem at the bottom.  I want to make a goal for myself to double-check my work before turning it in.” After this narrative with the class, I’ll open up the opportunity for students to share other possible areas of growth that are evident in the assignment. I may ask some leading questions to guide them thinking about time management or focus being a possible goal. As the students are sharing, I will also be paying attention to their choice of wording and correct them when I hear negativity. 

Step 3. The Mid-Range Score. Lastly, I will show one more example assignment to the class, that is in the 70% scoring range. I will start by showing the Reading Response IVF Summary worksheet with a score of 75%.  This time I will have the students discuss their ideas in a small team. At this point I am looking for their ability to find both strengths and areas of weakness using one assignment.  First have them discuss: What are the strengths? After giving the students ample time to discuss, I have students share their ideas with the class. On this particular assignment I am looking for students to be able to read the teacher’s notes to help guide them. I should hear them say things like, “I did a great job using a quote to cite my evidence,” or “I included complex vocabulary in my answer.”  Following this portion, I have students discuss with their team: What opportunities for growth are shown in this assignment? Again, have the students share their ideas with the class. I should be hearing things like: “It looks like I started the assignment strong but I got lazy at the bottom,” or “I didn’t finish the bottom section so I should double check my work or make sure I’m asking questions when I don’t understand something.” Again, I’m checking for positive ways to express these growth opportunities and correcting negative comments.

(Note: All 3 sample assignments are available in my store! Click if you’re interested: LINKING VERBS, COMPOUND SUBJECTS, IVF READING RESPONSE SUMMARY)

At this point in the lesson I give them the opportunity to practice finding growth opportunities in their own packet of graded work. I wait until after steps 2 and 3 before having them practice this part because there may be many students who didn’t receive low scores like step 2 indicated. So I use the time after step 3 for students to find 70%-ish scores and lower.

That forms the beginning of a SMART goal. I would then model how to put all that data into my SMART goal template and form it into a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely goal. I used this FREE product on TpT by ShannonsScraps to help (this is NOT an affiliate link, I just really loved her product and want to give credit where credit is due): SMART Goals Worksheet.

After filling out a sample worksheet, my SMART goal might look like this: I will improve in completing assignments correctly by double-checking my answers and using my extra time to finish with 80% accuracy (at least 80% of my assignments are completed in full and have followed all directions) on all of my Grammar and Reading worksheets by next Friday (insert exact date here).  

They are capable and they will rise to the expectations you set for them. 

Does this sound too specific for your students?  Do you think elementary students are really capable of setting goals such as these?  YES! Don’t be put off by this format in thinking elementary students won’t be able to grasp these concepts.  I can tell you from experience, they TOTALLY can. They are capable and they will rise to the expectations you set for them. 

Now, these SMART goals can be adjusted based on grade levels and developmental differences.  However, the framework is the same, and you will notice HUGE improvements, not only in students academically, but in their feelings of self-awareness, ownership, and responsibility for their own learning.  In addition, I send these SMART goal forms home each week and have parents go over them with their child and sign/return them the following week. This also creates a partnership with families where they can support and provide accountability for their child’s academic goals.  

In short, students are far more likely to reach their goals if they know how to properly set them and are equipped with support systems and accountability to track their progress and celebrate their successes.  I have witnessed myself the power of goal setting as a regular practice in my classroom, and I urge you to begin implementing it with your own students. So set a SMART goal for yourself and GET STARTED!

If you are looking for a few other resources to implement SMART goal setting in your classroom, check out THIS ARTICLE from Nicole Allison at Speech Peeps and her SMART Goal Bulletin Board, which I have used in my classroom and LOVE!  (Again, NOT an affiliate link.)

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I want to hear from you, teachers!

How have you used goals in your classroom before?  What was helpful about them and what needed adjustment? 


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