What do you want? SMART Goal Setting to Start Term

Another lap of the track! Here we go again!

Starting back in an English class, and among the first question I’ll ask my students will be “what do you want to get from your time here?”

Do you want to improve your speaking to survive a trip abroad?

Do you want to prepare for a specific exam?

Do you want to improve your written English for business correspondence?

Do you want to improve listening skills to be able to understand films and TV series?



People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily – Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker.

Motivation isn’t usually a problem for learners at the start of term, fresh from a summer break, well rested, falling back into routine. But fast forward a few months and this spark often starts to dim, and numbers in adult classes tend to gradually drop.

Why? Well, picture a road trip. Setting off on a journey with no destination or even points of interest to stop at on the way may seem exciting at first, but people soon get tired of a lack of direction. From English Teacher

So as suggested in Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord’s excellent book From English Teacher to Learner Coach, clear goal setting is key to sustain motivation levels once the honeymoon period has worn off.

“What do you want?” “I want to learn English”. This is a pre-requisite, but it doesn’t count as an effective goal. Instead, we should encourage learners to set their own goals using SMART principles, revisit and adapt them at given intervals throughout the year, and most importantly: ensure that what learners are doing day to day is drawing them closer and closer to their stated goals.

What does SMART stand for?


  • Well defined.
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project.


  • How to know when you have achieved your goal.
  • How is it measured?

Agreed Upon

  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be (learner, classmate, teacher).
  • Important to take into account current level, attitude and other life commitments.


  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time.
  • i+1 – the next step up on the ladder, one at a time. There’s nothing more demoralising than an unattainable goal.


  • Setting a time limit for achieving the goal, when it can be measured and then taken forward.
  • Too long, and the goal is too far away. If there is one big goal for the end of the academic year, split it into three more manageable chunks – one per term.

What might a SMART goal look like?

Adapted from From English Teacher to Learner Coach, with a few of my own ideas thrown in, this is an example from an intermediate student:

Specific – Telling stories with more accurate use of tenses – at least 90% accuracy.

Measurable – Records himself telling an anecdote today, then at weekly intervals after practice. Correct tenses can be presented as a % of the total.

Agreed – The teacher agrees that this is within reach, and it is a priority to be more easily understood.

Realistic – 100% precision in all the narrative tenses isn’t realistic…yet (see growth mindset for more on YET).

Time-bound – The target is to reach 90% correct in four weeks time. A new SMART goal can then be set, regarding either narrative tenses or any other aspect of his English level (but not all of them at once!)

SMART teacher, SMART learners

Of course, we can apply the SMART framework not only to our learners, but also to ourselves, with any aspect of professional development or hobbies and interests outside of teaching. It’s not just learners who can lose motivation in the hamster wheel of routine; teachers also need to see progress to maintain enthusiasm.

I should heed my own advice and put down SMART some goals for learning Russian in the coming term. My own learning started off enthusiastically and has given me plenty of fresh insights into learning a foreign language, as I wrote about in a previous blog. But as is usually the case with something new, I’ve plateaued over the last couple of months, and my Russian book has gone from living open on the table to gathering dust on a shelf over summer.

Doing this not only sets a good example for learners, but can also expose us first-hand to some of the challenges in using SMART goals.

“What do you want?” is a good first step. SMART goal setting can help us move forward from there.

Have a great (and SMART) academic year everyone!

Any questions or comments, please leave a message below or send me an e-mail. Thanks.



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