Setting Students up for Success by Setting SMART Goals

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

“Setting SMART goals is a great way to practice what it feels like to have self-control—to have control over your destiny.”

These are the words of Beth Perkins, who explains in this brief video how to use a method of self-reflection known as SMART Goal setting. Although she is speaking to fifth graders, there is no reason this system wouldn’t work for undergrads.

SMART Goals are…

Specific – The goal targets particular skills rather than vague or general ones.
Measurable – Some indicators can be used to quantify success.
Attainable – The goal is slightly beyond reach, but still achievable, and you’ve got a plan to achieve it.
Relevant – The goal matters. It is worthwhile to expend time and energy working towards it.
Timely – The goal can be achieved within an established time frame.

I gave a little thought as to how I could use SMART goals in my writing classes. One thought would be to have students set a few of these every time I hand back one of their graded papers. Here is one example of what that might look like:

Specific: I want to reduce the number of run-on sentences in my next essay.

Measurable: In my last essay, I had about two run-ons on every page. In my next one, I want to have less than one per page on average.

Attainable: Even though run-ons are a pretty big problem for me, I think that I can achieve this goal if I do extra practice from the handbook, visit the Writing Center, and schedule extra time for editing my next essay.

Relevant: This goal matters because run-on sentences are a big distraction to the reader. If they have to slow down to decipher my sentences, they’ll never grasp my message.

Timely: I’ve got three weeks until the next paper is due, so I can achieve this goal by completing the following check points: Week 1 – Do practice exercises and visit the Writing Center; Week 2 – Do more practice and draft my essay; Week 3 – Do more practice, edit my draft just for run-ons, and bring it to the Writing Center for a final review.

What would a SMART goal look like if you had your students set one? Think about it and share in the comments.

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