Sunday, January 13, 2013

Intelligent Goals

OK, it's really just another post about SMART goals ... !

Mike Griffin posted recently about how he plans to use a SMART goal process to support a New Year's resolution of getting more involved in commenting (responding to comments on his own blog and contributing to blogs elsewhere).  I like that resolution a lot, and I especially like the phrasing of the goal:

In order to support others, continue creating community, and to exchange ideas I will comment on at least 3 (thought provoking) ELT blog posts a week.

This sets a minimum but leaves room for expansion, which is nice.  But what I really like is that he includes the larger goals he hopes his actions will promote.  This statement keeps the big picture front and center!  So, instead of viewing some numerical thing like "number of times I commented in a certain period" as success, he might have his eye on something more difficult to capture: my increased  commenting (however much it was) provided support to these people in these ways, expanded community in this way, and gave me new ideas such as this and that.  I guess what I'm saying is that the  "specific" and "measurable" criteria don't have to lead to a bureaucratic pile of numbers (SMART goals as DUMB goals, per Tony Gurr!) but it does take some care to keep them pointing to a meaningful result.

And where do you go from there?

I've seen many worksheets (and made one myself) devoted to goal-setting but not so many devoted to monitoring progress, evaluating results and feeding that information back into the goal-setting process.  Setting a goal isn't all there is to the process, is it?  As I begin to take action, do I encounter any difficulties or surprises? How do I deal with them? Am I prepared to make adjustments, or even to chuck the whole plan and start over? When I'm finished, do I reflect on what happened? What did I learn?  If I didn't find success, why not?  (Learning from failure transforms it to a kind of success, yes?) Does this reflection help me begin another iteration of goal-setting?

I made my worksheet when I first tried to bring SMART goals into the classroom about three years ago. (I don't remember, but the format may have been inspired by an existing worksheet -- perhaps one that was lying around in the resource room.)  I've revised it repeatedly based on how things went in class.

Here it is with example text that might be useful in a life-skills ESL class for adults (click to enlarge).  This example learner would have already come up with a longer-term goal such as "I want to learn English so I can have a good relationship with my grandchildren."  As you can see, the worksheet does guide learners into a goal statement similar to Mike's (specific and related to real goals).  It does ask learners to consider what success will  look like (as opposed to outcomes). It does allow for a subjective element in the description of "success". The example I chose is intended to model a goal that may or may not be on the class curriculum.  The fictional student who wrote this owns the process and takes initiative to get what is needed from resources such as teacher, classmates and lesson time.  Of course, a student could also set a goal to learn about a scheduled topic and meet the goal by passing a quiz.  (Ho hum!)  I wanted to show that learners can influence future lesson plans by sharing their needs through this worksheet. If they want to, they can take over an entire lesson and be the teacher!

I've also created a follow-up worksheet. It's intended to be printed on the back of the original sheet.  It tries to guide the learner into using their experience -- no matter how it comes out -- to keep moving toward their longer-term goal.

 Do you have comments, suggestions, critiques?  If this is useful for students, would something similar be useful for teachers?  What changes would be needed?  Also, is there some way to include monitoring (progress checking along the way) on either sheet?  Let's talk about it!

(And I'd like to note that I'm still wondering whether there may be an entirely different way to shift even more away from "goals/outcomes" and toward "repeatedly setting intentions while on a path of continuous learning that never ends"!  A way that includes a piece of paper to put in students' folders, that is.  Bureaucracy is a hard fact!)

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