January 23, 2016

SMARTening up your targets

New Year’s Resolutions... those fantastic goals for the coming 12 months. We all set them: to lose weight, take up running, get a new qualification, travel more, join a gym, etc., etc... We force ourselves to enjoy these challenges for the first two weeks of January, start to slip in the middle of January, and the gyms are again empty by February. The diet clubs lose members, and we avoid going for a run in favor of watching TV.

These vague targets are soon forgotten, but with some tweaking you can transform vague targets into SMART targets making them useful, far easier to reach, and a great way to improve learning.

S.M.A.R.T. Targets

Let’s say you decide to Help your child with homework. What does this actually mean?

Helping with homework sounds great. But, is it sitting with a child each evening and gently guiding them? Or, buying them books to help them learn? Is a tutor a better plan? Are they struggling with a subject you know nothing about? Or, is time management an issue? Are they constantly losing worksheets?

  1. Help children become more organised.
  2. Improve maths skills.
  3. Reduce the amount of screen time.

Help is a great word, but it needs to be defined further. This could mean a number of things. I could hand them a sheet of paper, so they don’t have to get up. I could read their work before submitting for a grade and offer feedback...  Make sure there is a way to measure when you’ve reached the specific goal.

  1. Watch a maximum of 2 hours TV per night.
  2. Set a goal to achieve 80% on a Year 4 Maths test.
  3. Create study area with folders for each subject.

We’d love to be helping every night and achieve A's by the end of the year in all subjects. But, that just puts too much pressure on you and your child. You’re going to be helping them stay organised? Plan to work on this one or two nights a week when it doesn't clash with your work schedule. Plan to boost performance by two letter grades per year. (If children achieve more, that’s fantastic!) Avoid setting unobtainable goals.

  1. Review papers and organise them together two days a week.
  2. Improve Maths grade from a D grade to a B grade.
  3. Set aside homework time each evening.
Do they actually need homework help, or is a different issue to blame? As a professional charged with the responsibility of helping struggling students, I normally sort out learners' problems in one move: limit screen time. Between social media, games consoles and their favourite programmes, often the issue with too much homework relates to an issue with too little free time.

  1. Reduce screen time.
  2. Set aside a specific homework times for them to do homework.
  3. Improve handwriting so students can read their own notes.
When are you going to start helping? How long is it expected to last? By when should grades improve? If you need to set aside daily homework time, are there other obligations to consider?

 SMARTenging your target

It seems like a small change, but rather than Help with Homework, your improved target could be...
  1. Download a workbook and two textbooks to work through together for an hour each night to improve their D grade in math to a B grade by the end-of-year exam.
  2. Reduce screen time outside of schoolwork to a maximum of two hours each weekday evening by removing their phone and tablet from the bedroom and turning off the television.
  3. Set up a filing system to help organise class docs and plan for the week ahead on Tuesday and Friday evenings.

Can you see how the targets now are more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed?

Try redefining one of your targets. I don’t need to be more organised. I need to timetable two hours per night, Sunday through Thursday, to mark student work and plan the next day’s lessons. How can you SMARTen up your targets?


A very special thanks for this contribution goes to guest blogger,
Ruth McDonald, B.Sc., M.Sc., pgDTLLS.
Ruth is an educator with 
Sailing Through School.
Her role is to improve learning for children and adults outside the classroom.