Goals: Not Just Smart, but Wise Too
POSTED ON: March 7, 2022
One of the most rewarding parts of being a speech-language pathologist is discussing goals and progress with my clients’ families. Hours of therapy, meetings, and stress associated with having a child with a language or learning disability can be exhausting; however, setting and reviewing goals can be an aspect that brings happiness. Here are a few reasons why:
- Children can see tangible proof that they are making progress. If you set a realistic goal–see below–then the child should show at least some improvement, and hopefully lots of improvement!
- Children with dyslexia often feel frustrated in school as their peers make progress in reading while they continue to struggle. Taking the time to celebrate a child’s achievement can help them associate school activities with something good.
- Who doesn’t love praise? I sure do! And when I receive praise from people I respect, I feel more motivated to continue doing hard things. Children feel the same way when they receive praise from adults.
It is my job as a clinician to work with my client and their family to set meaningful goals, and for us as a team to carry out such goals. Goals set and carried out solely within the walls of a therapy room are recipes for failure. 60 minutes of therapy is not enough time for a strategy or lesson to stick in a child’s long-term memory. Just like an IEP meeting is a team effort, so is the implementation of goals.
How do you make sure a goal will support your child?
Well, think of the famous acronym SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. Let’s go through each one.
A specific goal is one that is targeting something. For example, the specific part of a goal would be “Sally will read CVC words…” Specific parts of a goal are easiest to spot because it is usually the actionable part of the goal.
Measurable goals are clear as to how you will know if the child has completed the target or not. This is a very important component of goals because if you cannot figure out how your child’s interventionist is measuring the goal, then it is unlikely that you as a team will effectively see if your child is progressing or not. An example of a poorly measurable goal would be “Sally will read words…”
There are two problems here:
- We don’t know how many words Sally is expected to read. 10? 100? 1,000? (I hope not 1,000 words!)
- We also don’t know what type of words. For children with dyslexia, we want to know the complexity of the words, and we can describe this by putting a descriptor like CVC (cat, dog, bat) CVCC (milk, fast, want), or CCVC (clap, frog, stop).
If you feel like there is an IEP goal that is difficult to measure, ask the interventionist how they would measure that goal, and then see if it can be rewritten to support everyone’s understanding.
IEP meetings occur once a year, which presents a unique challenge. The goal is typically written with the underlying assumption that it will take your child one year to achieve the goal. Now, there are times when a goal is achieved and new goals are created. This requires an addendum–which means team input and signatures from everyone involved. More commonly, parents are sent quarterly progress reports with an update on their child’s progress. What may be more important to have in mind with this aspect of goal setting is to clarify with your interventionist if you think a goal is too difficult for your child to achieve within a year. For example, if your child is having trouble remembering letter-sound correspondences for letters and your interventionist makes a goal for them to read CVCC words (i.e. dogs, cats) in one year, you may want to ask them to scale down the goal to something more attainable for your child. That way the child can experience the joy of setting and achieving goals.
Relevant goals are reminders to us that needs drive goals and goals drive services. This step reminds me of the importance of working on goals that are important to the child. Some of my adolescent clients have difficulty reading and have struggled with producing a speech sound, like the /r/ phoneme. When setting and reviewing goals, I periodically ask them if working on a certain goal is important to them. It is common for my teenage clients to say that their /r/ sound doesn’t bother them and they are not motivated to practice it daily. I thank them for their honesty and spend time working on other goals. Progress cannot be made in the therapy room alone; you must have client and family buy-in before setting out to achieve a goal.
In IEPs, this part is probably the easiest because you know when the next IEP meeting will be. If you are in a clinical setting, you can search on the goal for phrases like “by the end of the quarter” or even something like “over three consecutive sessions”, which shows that the child is generalizing what they are learning across multiple sessions.
SMART goals aren’t just for the therapy setting
They can be used anywhere. What most people miss out on is that they can be a way to build a relationship with a child. Helping a child set and achieve goals allows them to see you as a mentor and someone who will help them achieve their dreams. Which is why I find SMART goals to be very wise decisions, because they help my student reach their goals while simultaneously helping me build a meaningful relationship with my student.
At home, you can work with the family to set SMART goals with technology, chores, or other family tasks. Making SMART goals a part of your life will help your family see the joy of making and achieving goals, and you and your child will be better prepared to work as key members of the IEP team.