GSE Teacher Toolkit Top 10: Helping your learners set SMART goals

Set SMART goals with your students

Sara Davila is a Learning and Language Acquisition Expert with experience in teaching, researching, writing materials and training other teachers. One of her areas of language learning expertise is the Global Scale of English. Sara has been sharing her top ten uses of the GSE Teacher Toolkit for language teachers in a series of ten blog posts. 

Today’s article is number five in the top ten countdown. It provides a step-by-step guide to using the toolkit to help your learners set SMART language learning goals. 

The vast majority of language teachers have goals which are clear and defined for our learners. These goals might be informed by a national curriculum, the coursebook you are using, or the institution you work for. Goal setting is fundamental to student success, providing a clear focus and framework for both teachers and learners as you progress through a course together. 

However, learner goal setting is a little bit different. Here, your role as the teacher is to guide students through the process of creating SMART goals for themselves. This will help them achieve their own recognizable and measurable progress. 

What is a SMART goal?

The SMART process for goal setting is easy to follow. To create SMART goals, your students need to define goals which are: 

  • Specific (clear, detailed, factual, precise) 

That means vague or generalised goals, like, “I want to improve my English” are no good. You’re looking for something specific from your students, such as, “I want to reach A2 level in English.” 

  • Measurable (test, assess, observe)

The next question to ask your students is, “Can this goal be measured?” In other words, how will your student know when they have succeeded? Well, in the example above, a test would be a good way of measuring progress to see if your student has moved up a level after studying hard. 

  • Achievable (realistic, grounded, possible)

Getting to an A2 level is a good example of a realistic goal for an A1 or an A1+ student. Aiming for a B2 level would be unrealistic in the short term. It’s important that students feel challenged by their goal – but that the goal is still achievable. 

  • Relevant (important, valuable, personal)

The goal should have personal significance for the student, so it’s important to let students choose their own goals, for their own reasons. Don’t be tempted to make suggestions based on the goals that you would like to see them achieve! 

  • Timely (deadline, time limit, calendar goal)

It’s no good setting a goal without a deadline. Encourage your student to set themselves a date in the future. With the goal of moving up a level, for example, you could say, “Ok, you can sit a level test in three months and see if you’ve achieved A2 level.” 

Learn more about SMART goals for language students

How does the GSE Teacher Toolkit help create SMART goals?

Setting goals in a language classroom can be difficult when students don’t speak the language they are trying to set goals in. How can an English learner use English to define their goals if they are still learning to speak, read, listen and write? 

This is where the Global Scale of English Teacher Toolkit can really help teachers and students. 

The GSE Teacher Toolkit can support teachers and learners by: 

  • clearly describing what a learner can do at the moment
  • outlining what a learner could do in the future

To do this, we need to have students browse through the Global Scale of English and focus on identifying what they can currently do: 

Identifying SMART Goals with the GSE Teacher Toolkit

  1. Open the GSE Teacher Toolkit
  2. Help learners select their learning program; General Adult, Academic, Professional, or Young Learner. 
  3. Have them move the GSE ruler to match their current level. For example, students who are currently A2 should look at the skills in the 30-36 GSE range. You can also click on a CEFR level to quickly select the CEFR range. 
  4. Finally, have students choose a skill they want to work on. For this exercise, it’s best if students review one skill at a time, for example speaking. They can choose between language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) or enabling skills (grammar and vocabulary).

Once your students have chosen the level, click show results to see learn more: 

Select SMART goals with the GSE Teacher Toolkit

Now, you can take advantage of some of the dynamic features of the GSE Teacher Toolkit, specifically being able to check learning objectives. 

Ask students to review the list of learning objectives in order for them to: 

  • Check the box when they know they can do it 
  • Check the box when they know they want to do it

This keeps students focused on what they can do now, and what they want to do in the future. And it’s an easy way for students to see what SMART English goals look like. 

If you get your learners to review the GSE Teacher Toolkit to create their goals, you can ensure that your classes are relevant to students’ goals and focused on the skills that students want to learn. 

And this activity can still work with distance learning, or a flipped classroom. Just ask students to review the GSE Teacher Toolkit before meeting for class. When class begins, your learners can share their downloaded list of objectives.

Helping students to achieve their SMART goals

Now you can collate all the objectives that students want to achieve, noting popular goals as you do so. Compare what your learners want to achieve with the current learning plan and objectives you have for your class. You can use this information to help your learners understand the timeframe in which they will be working towards their goals. And, if there are goals that aren’t part of your learning plan, you can include them if they’re an objective for a majority of students. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity for one-to-one planning to help support individual learning goals and set timelines that are reasonable for your students. 

Setting SMART goals will help your students take ownership of their learning and feel motivated to get their heads down. Goal-setting is a critical step in the language learning process, and has been shown to help students increase their efforts and achieve greater success. So why not try setting some goals with your students this term using the GSE Teacher Toolkit

Further reading 

You can find more practical tips on using the GSE Teacher Toolkit on our blog. Other articles in the Top 10 countdown offer insights into using the toolkit to teach grammar and vocabulary. Get inspiration for your lesson plans, and address curriculum standards with the help of the GSE Teacher Toolkit.

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