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When setting goals, academic or otherwise, it helps to put a set of parameters around them to keep you accountable.
That’s why it's a good practice to get kids into the habit of setting SMART goals. These are much more tangible goals that give kids a timeline in relation to achieving them.
A quick Google search for ‘SMART goals’ will return numerous pages, and not all are targeted at the student population. This is important for kids to note, so that they understand goal setting is not a patronising method of organisation targeted towards a specific age group, but is beneficial to everyone: from students and their parents, to teachers and tutors, job seekers and employers, blue-collar professionals to manual labour workers and so on.
We’ve discussed the benefits of implementing SMART goals into your child’s and family’s life at length in a previous blog, ‘Resolutions for Kids’; but let’s now break it down to a base level.
Let’s take a look at an example of a university student’s SMART goal:
To increase my confidence during class discussions this semester, I will raise my hand two times in each class to respond to the teacher’s questions.
How does it meet the SMART criteria?
The objective is clear. The student lacks confidence in public speaking and wants to achieve a base level of confidence. To do this, the student will raise their hand two times per class.
Rule number one when developing your SMART goals is to avoid vague or multi-layered goals. If the student’s goal read, ‘I will increase my confidence by raising my hand more at university,’ the student would lose motivation and have a higher chance of failure to achieve the goal.
The goal is measurable, because each time the student raises their hand to contribute, they have made progress towards their goal.
It is understood that kids who know the feeling of accomplishment are more likely to pursue success in the future. Dr. Edwin Locke examined the relationship between motivation and goal setting in the 1960s, and noted that people were more determined when given clear and structured goals – especially when they received feedback on their performance afterwards.
By helping your child or student to formulate clear SMART goals, they are far more likely to experience a sense of accomplishment even before the goal has been achieved in totality; this is because there are measurable markers along the way that provide the child with reassurance that they are on track to achieving their goal.
Due to the repetitive nature of the action within the goal, the student will become accustomed to raising their hand and contributing to discussions. Therefore, they will have less fear in doing so in the future.
According to Edwin Locke and Gary Latham’s goal setting theory, students with similar skills and background can have vastly different results depending on their goals. In this way, Locke and Latham argue that goals and how they are developed ultimately determine a person’s ability to succeed.
As part of their research, Locke and Latham noted that with every student who set clear goals came a strong sense of autonomy, which led to better decision-making and higher levels of motivation to pursue their studies.
Therefore, by setting goals that are not only achievable in their ability to be completed, but also provide opportunities for improvement through implementation of the goal itself, kids have a higher chance of developing behaviours and routines that benefit their academic progress in the long run.
The student will find that by contributing to class discussions, their learning improves and so too does their overall confidence in the subject.
It is important to ensure your child’s goals are realistic. If the university student’s goal had read ‘Be totally confident to contribute in all classes by the end of the week’, this may have led to disappointment and a lack of motivation to seek self-improvement in the future.
For some students, using scaffolds and written reminders to direct their goal setting is beneficial to long-term success. As researchers Lawlor and Hornyak noted in their study of students utilising SMART goal worksheets, achieving good grades, being confident in their ability to present information to their peers, and receiving positive feedback were some of the ways they determined whether their goals had been reached.
If your child benefits from visual reminders and structure (as many do), it is important to work with them to create realistic goals they can access physically, whether that be in a school diary or a poster on their bedroom wall.
The goal is realistic. The student calculated that to achieve confidence in speaking publicly, they would need to raise their hand twice per lesson over the duration of one semester (typically six months). It gives the student an end point at which to reflect on their progress in achieving the goal, and ultimately a sense of achievement.
You may have noticed by now that each part of the SMART goal intersects with another. While the university student produced a goal with a time frame, it is also specific and realistic.
Kids who are open to goal setting with a parent or tutor may need to be asked “when do you want to achieve this goal?” Ensure their response is Achievable by devising a goal that can Measure their progress over time, and is Realistic in the amount of time required to see meaningful results.
Most importantly, students and children should avoid comparing their goals to that of their peers, as what is sensible for one student may not be viable for another.
If you’d like more information on SMART goals and how you can help your child build confidence in specific areas of their learning, contact us at Choice Education Group using the link below.
Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory
Research conducted by Lawlor and Hornyak.