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How to Help Students Set Their Own SMART Goals

How to Help Students Set Their Own SMART Goals


SMART goals can be a powerful tool to help students set personal and academic goals, monitor their progress, and reflect on their growth.

You’ve most likely heard of SMART goals, and maybe you’ve even had to write them for your yearly professional development plan. But have you ever thought about having your students write their own SMART goals?

As students enter middle school, it becomes increasingly important for them to develop the skills of goal-setting and progress monitoring. By taking ownership of their learning, they become more independent and self-directed in achieving their objectives.

These skills are critical for success in school and life, as they enable students to focus their efforts, track their progress, and make adjustments as needed to achieve their dreams.

What are SMART Goals?

The SMART format helps learners create clear and focused personal and academic goals. By following this framework, they can create well-defined, challenging, and achievable goals that are aligned with their priorities.

SMART stands for:


The goal should focus on one concept, skill, or ability.


The goal should be measured with a specific method and criteria.


The goal should be attainable with appropriate action steps. 


The goal should align with larger objectives.


The goal should have a specific time frame for completion. 

SMART Goals: How They Affect Student Success and Growth
Photo by Shad0wfall

Example of a SMART goal:

Now, let’s take a closer look at an example of a SMART goal and examine each aspect. By breaking down a SMART goal into its components, we can see how this format can be used to create effective goals.

By the end of the quarter, I will improve my overall reading score by at least 50 points, as measured by the IXL diagnostic assessment.

  • Specific: The goal specifies that the student will increase his or her overall reading score.
  • Measurable: The goal of improving by 50 points can be measured by a diagnostic assessment on IXL.
  • Achievable: The goal of improving by 50 points in one quarter is reasonable and attainable.
  • Relevant: The goal is relevant because reading is a fundamental skill that impacts learning in all subjects.
  • Time-bound: The goal provides a clear time frame, which is by the end of the quarter.

Writing goals in this manner is a type of life skill writing that students can use throughout their lives. It can also improve their independent writing.

FREE SMART Goal Planner
FREE SMART Goal Planner with Example (grades 6-9)

How do SMART goals help develop life skills?

Middle school students are just beginning to understand which skills come naturally to them and which ones need more time and effort to develop. The ability to reflect and identify their strengths and areas of need is the first step toward setting their own SMART goals. 

Keep in mind, just like with academic skills, learning to set and monitor goals takes practice. Learners may not understand the process immediately, but we must think long-term. Therefore, they must do this consistently over time to internalize the process.

We want our students to develop this as a life skill that will enable them to reflect on personal and academic growth throughout their lives. Middle school students need to be able to analyze their current operating methods and adjust them to continue to learn and grow.

We often refer to this as a growth mindset– the idea that we can continue to improve through effort and hard work. And believe it or not… most students embrace this mindset when given the right tools.

SMART Goals and Data Tracker Template

My digital SMART Goals and Data Tracker Template (grades 6-9) provides students with a tool to set personal and academic goals, monitor their progress, and reflect on their growth. So they can work as independently as possible, support is built right into the slideshow.

Two versions of the slideshow are included. One version has headings embedded right into the backgrounds and is entirely ready to go for the ELA teacher. The other version has editable headings, so you can customize it to meet your needs. The editable version can be used for any subject or even multiple subjects.

Both versions can be set up for trimesters, semesters, or any other time frame you might need.

SMART Goals and Data Tracker on Google Slides
SMART Goals and Data Tracker on Google Slides (grades 6-9)

How will students use this resource?

First, students reflect on their hopes and dreams for the future, which will translate to current and future goals. Then, they create personal and academic SMART goals and outline action steps that will help them meet them.

Support in the margins of the slideshow provides them with guidance. Throughout the quarter or other time frame, students monitor their progress with an assignment tracker and grade tracker (included in the resource) and any other tool outside of the resource that they would like to use.

Midway through the quarter (or whatever time frame you would like), they will reflect on their progress and make any necessary adjustments.

Finally, at the end of the designated time frame, students will summarize their growth and consider how they can continue to work towards their goals throughout the school year.

Students can complete the template with teacher guidance and pacing or independently and at their own pace. In addition, it works well in a traditional classroom or for remote learning. 

SMART goals provide a structured approach to goal-setting that can help increase motivation, focus, and accountability and lead to more successful outcomes.

I encourage you to teach your students how to write their own SMART goals and then guide them as they learn how to monitor and reflect on their progress. It is powerful, and I guarantee that both you and your students will experience the rewards.

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Jan's File Cabinet Intermediate and Middle School Language Arts

Hello there!

I’m Jan. I’m a pet mom, an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and a MASSIVE book hoarder. My philosophy of teaching is simple… start where students are and build them up with the right interventions at the right time. I enjoy making digital and printable resources for upper intermediate and middle school language arts.

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