SMART bloggin’ 2013

Around this time last year I wrote a post about (among other things) my resolutions and blogging goals for 2012. I was pleasantly surprised when a few people mentioned the acronym SMART was new to them. I find this acronym extremely helpful when planning and talking about teaching and development so I thought I would briefly revisit it in this post. It is the start of the year and many people are making or have made resolutions for the new year and I have a few blogging resolutions I’d like to share.

I greatly enjoyed my year of blogging! I got so much out of it and I am excited to keep things going and to do more (and do “better?”).

So, an initial thought for a resolution might be something like, “I want to be a better blogger” or, “I want to be the best blogger I can be.” From my view, these are not really helpful because we don’t really know what it means to be a “better blogger.” What does it entail? We also don’t know what aspects of bloggery I felt I was missing and why I might want to do something differently. If I adopted this as my resolution, I don’t think I would have a clear way of measuring my progress as the days and months zip along.

One aspect of blogging that I have been thinking about a lot lately is comments. I want to do a better job of responding to comments on my blog. At times I have felt frozen by my inability to respond in a timely fashion to comments on my blog and it just snowballs into a big freezing mess of procrastination and guilt. I don’t like this feeling and I will try to avoid it. I also greatly appreciate comments from others and I fear that my late speed in commenting might not read that way. I am hoping the new year will provide a fresh start on this.

I also want to do more commenting on other people’s blogs.  There is so much interesting stuff out there and I think I learn a lot by engaging the writers in the comments. I also think that comments are a nice way to encourage people to write more and dig deeper, which benefits me the next time when they write again. A virtuous cycle of sorts. I want to get more involved in this. My plans, then, might be:

I want to comment on other blogs more.

I want to respond to comments on my blog more quickly.

I don’t think these plans are very SMART, though.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound
(note: there are other variations on the wording but I will stick with these cuz I like them and because they match the artwork below.)

Photo re-used, re-borrowed, recycled from @josetteLB at http://tokenteach.wordpress.com/

In the, “I want to comment on other blogs more” plan we have no idea what “more” means. How much is “more?” We also don’t know when/how often I plan to do this. For me, the measurable aspect is especially important and helpful. I like to see whether I did the thing I said I was going to do or I didn’t. Yes or no. From there I can re-evaluate and check my progress.

If “I want to comment on other blogs more” is not very SMART how is this?

I will comment on at least one blog post every day.

I might be on the right track here but every day sounds a bit dramatic. I doubt that even Tyson or Brad do one comment per day. 360+ comments a year sounds a bit much even for superhumans like those guys. I think this fails in the achievable aspect.

After considering numerous plans of varying degrees of SMART, my commenting plan at the moment is:

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.

(As you can see I have made changes to account for what types of blogs I will comment on as well).

I hope this is SMART enough and gives a clear enough model. I am pretty confident it is SMARTer than the original, “I want to comment on blogs more.” I also feel it will be much more helpful for me as a guidepost

My plan for comments on my own blog is, “In order to encourage more comments, promote my own development, and protect myself from guilty feelings I will respond to comments on my blog within 48 hours.” Wish me luck. Feel free to remind me of this!

Any comments, feedback, questions or different opinions are welcome.

Speaking of different opinions, here are some that I enjoyed and found very reasonable and worth reading.

Tony Gurr with  Why “SMART Goals” are just “plain DUMB”..

Kathy Fagan on Moving Away from Outcomes

This TED talk on the dangers of sharing goals is also interesting and related to this post.

(HT to Brad Serl aka @bradleyserl)

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29 comments

  1. Rachael Roberts

    Can I be the first to leave a comment on your post about leaving comments? 😉 I completely agree that commenting and responding to comments is a key part of blogging. It changes blogging from a monologue to a conversation, and adds so much more to the process. I, personally, have learnt a lot this year from discussions in the comments sections- both partaking and reading sets of comments. An undervalued part of blogging, definitely.
    I’m not a big fan of SMART targets per se, because I feel that it is often used as a kind of jumping through hoops. I have seen a lot of ‘Juan will learn three new items of vocabulary a week’ type targets on students’ ILPs (individual learning plans), and I think this simply doesn’t reflect the nature of learning at all, and is simply about ticking boxes for the inspector. However, the basic idea is, of course sound, and can help to keep up motivation (I aim to do a blog post per week for example). So good luck with your targets, and hope some of those comments come my way, as your comments are always very welcome 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Please expect a 22% year on year increase on comments on your blog!

      Thanks so much for the comments (about comments.) Very much appreciated and I smiled and laughed when I saw your tweet about this. I really love getting comments so it is a shame that I sometimes put off responding for such a long time and let it turn into something of a chore. Thus the resolution to try and get even more out of the comments on both my blog and others.

      Someone was telling me that the vast majority of comments are sort of just comment and response (adjacency pairs?) and that is the end of it. This is something I will keep in mind as well. Perhaps now that I have been doing this for a year I will a bit more comfortable with more of a dialog wherever it occurs.

      Jumping back into SMART targets, as I read your comments I thought it was really interesting that I am so attracted to them. As you might guess (or probably already know) I am not one for the linear learning camp (or the box ticking or hoop jumping or time wasting camp).

      I guess one thing that I have heard a lot of in teacher training is “I will plan more next time” “Or I will try harder next time.” To me this is almost completely useless because we don’t know what it means or where we intend to go.
      Perhaps this is one reason behind the allure of SMART goals for me.

      Another is when they are done “right” they are about student learning and student action.

      I can imagine that ILPs are another thing that sound great but can easily become drudgery and time wasting.

      I think Tony makes some great points about copying ideas from “busyness” with limited (or destructive) results.

      Thanks again for the comments! Much appreciated. Lots to think about.

      Cheers,
      Mike

      • Rachael Roberts

        Perhaps I had all enthusiasm for SMART goals beaten out of me by ILPs- because, you are right, vague statements about improvement don’t help. I hated ILPs with a vengeance: a several page document that had to be done for/with each student, listing long and short term goals. In theory, great, and they did often lead to finding out more about the students, which was certainly worthwhile. But, also VERY time-consuming, and useless unless you checked back on them regularly. Also, not very easy to do in any meaningful way with students without much English or little or no literacy- they were aimed at the whole student body, doing any subject.

  2. Luiz Otávio

    Nice acronym, Mike. Sensible stuff. One quick observation: Ever since I started using Facebook to promote my posts (either my ELT page or my own personal page), the number of on-blog comments has dropped steadily. You know why? People are writing their comments on Facebook itself, not on the blog page.
    So while I wouldn’t dream of not using FB to promote my posts (much more effective than twitter in my experience), this can be a bit of a problem, since a blog page full of comments seems, in a way, to entice other readers.
    Once I tried a facebook / wordpress plug in which apparently allowed all FB comments to appear on the blog itself. Hated it – full of bugs. Wonder if there’s another version available.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I have recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying it. You make an interesting point about FB and comments. I actually very rarely put my blog posts on FB (for some strange reason…because I agree that it is more effective than twitter for bringing along readers).

      You reminded me of one of my main excuses for not commenting on other blogs. It is sometimes hard with all the captcha stuff that I end up just giving up. Just that small barrier is enough.

      I also think your point about a blog page full of comments enticing reading/commenting is an interesting one.

      Thanks again for stopping by.
      See you soon,
      Mike

  3. Rose Bard

    Interesting post Mike. It reminds me of the quote below.

    I agree that without setting a clear goal for ourselves, we will probably fail to get somewhere. Since my art times, one of DaVinci’s quote impacted my way of seeing “doing”,
    “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”
    I think the quote is self-explanatory! 🙂 And I keep that in mind to help me to make sense of my goals, therefore what I do. Nothing we do is neutral, even the decisions we fail to make for ourselves.

    Good luck with your goal in commenting and responding to comments. 🙂 Your comments are so precious, does a matter of fact everyone’s comments are precious cuz there is no other way we are going to add something to someone’s PD or ours without engaging in honest, curious and open dialogues.

    🙂 Rosie

    • Luiz Otávio

      Mike, thanks for the speedy reply (less than 48 m i n u t e s, I’m sure).
      I look at my blog stats every week or so and after new content is published, about 70% of the traffic invariably comes from Facebook. Twitter accounts for, what, maybe 10%. Could it be that the more personal / intimate / non-professional relationships fostered by Facebook ultimately help you professionally, I wonder.

      • mikecorea

        Hello again Luiz,
        I think you have inspired me to share more of my blog posts on Facebook. I guess I was a bit worried about sharing stuff with so many non-teachers but I think they can handle seeing a post or two a month flashing by on their FB updates. I surely think that personal relationships can be very helpful professionally. Thanks for the comments (and inspiration)!

    • mikecorea

      Hello Rose!

      Thanks for the comments. Also, thanks for the quote, which is a good one and one I’d never heard before! Your wrote, “there is no other way we are going to add something to someone’s PD or ours without engaging in honest, curious and open dialogues” and I think this is also a great quote and something to keep in mind. I think we are a very special time when we can so easily share ideas with people around the world like this. It is fantastic. Take care and talk to you soon!

      Mike

  4. isabelavb

    Hi, Mike. Nice post. I also read the references against SMART targets and learning outcomes. I think Tony does have a point, but I guess in your specific case, about commenting on blogs and responding to comments in your blog, it doesn’t hurt do do SMART. Perhaps SMART and outcomes don’t work with more complex learning. What you’re talking about here is a habit. I’m reading The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, and at one point he mentions research that shows that people are more likely to follow through an intention when they write it down. I guess that’s what you’ve done. Good luck, then!

    • mikecorea

      Hello! Thanks for the comments! I like your thoughts here about habits and complex learning. I think the distinction between habits and, for example, lesson planning is a good one. That said, I think that SMART can also be helpful as a guiding light in terms of planning lessons as well. Of course, not always.
      I think this is another key point (that Tony helped me see). Such things are not likely to work for everyone every time. So, I fully understand the negative feelings that some teachers might have towards SMART, as it might seem like just another hoop that doesn’t support learning that teachers need to jump through.

      Thanks for the comments and warm wishes. I will continue to keep an eye on your thought provoking blog!

  5. barryjameson

    Commenting on blogs is something I plan on doing more in 2013. I’ve enjoyed being a lurker for too long. I suppose I should get involved with the wonderful debates that can happen in comments sections. On the flip side, I’ve decided to pretty much give up blogging myself having nothing particularly original to say. However, I love reading other blogs and the comments so I think that’s where my energy will be used this year. I might just constantly post inane comments on your blog just to test your 48 hour response policy 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Whoops, sorry about that previous response. I was just testing out my comment bot technology.
      Not sure it worked so well. I have to say that I am sorry to see that you will be taking a break from blogging because (as I hope you know) I really enjoy your blog. Actually, yours was one of the ones that I often mean to comment on. The advanced stats one (http://barryjameson.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/opta-stats-for-elt/) has been something on my mind for a while. I think you have lots of interesting and original things to say but I will stop here as I don’t want to pressure you. Ha. If you are interested in some pressure to blog, we can catch up on Skype and I will really put the pressure on. Barring that, I am sure I will see you on twitter and in comments are the ELTblogosphere.

      You mentioned lurking. I think it often has a negative connotation but I think it is valuable to spend some time seeing how things go and how people do it. Anyway, looking forward to seeing more of your comments scattered around the blogs that I frequent.

      Cheers,
      Mike
      ps- I was hoping to learn more about teaching in China from your blog. Darn.

      • barryjameson

        Yes, lurking certainly has a lot of value. I was lurking through Scott Thornbury’s blog yesterday and learned a lot just from the comments. I’ll send you my skype address later, would be good to catch up. Thanks for the kind words. Maybe when I get nearer to China the urge to blog will return. It may be an effect of the long days in my small fishing town in Ireland and doing no teaching that has left me with nothing to say. Getting back in the classroom may get the creative juices flowing. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to follow your blog closely. It’s always the first one I click on.

      • mikecorea

        Mr Jamerson,

        Thanks for the response and kind words. I have a feeling that when you get back in the classroom and back on the “right” timezone you will be a blogging machine! Now that I know my blog is being closely watched perhaps I will be a bit more active in posting!

  6. DaveDodgson

    Hi Mike,
    I like the way you have thought through your blogging resolutions. I actually did a discussion lesson on this (resolutions, not SMART objectives) with a group of 9th graders I work with online and guided them to the conlusion that resolutions often don’t work because they are too vague and lacking in specifics. We used things we wanted to change based on our experiences over the last year as a starting point and then discussed exactly what could be done to bring about the intended changes/improvements.

    Anyway, the only quesiton mark in my mind about the SMART objectives as you stated them is the frequency. What if you simply don’t come across three thought-provoking blog posts in a week? What I have started to discipline myself to do with comments is to respond upon reading if I have the chance (i.e. I’m reading it from my laptop rather than my tablet) and if there is something that struck a chord or provoked an internal reaction within the post. Too many times in the past I have thought ‘hmm, I’ll comment on that later’ and then never got round to it or found that later the comments have moved the discussion on from what I was going to say. I also make an effort to comment on new blogs I come across and share links on Twitter in the hope it will offer some encouragement to the blogger.

    So, in short, I might comment on one or two blogs one week but respond to more than ten the next!

    Following on from my MA research into blogging, I also no longer shy away from social comments. I used to always aim for something reflective and critically substantial in comments as a response to the criticisms that blog comments rarely extend beyond ‘Nice post – I always enjoy reading your blog’. One conclusion I drew from my own research (if not explicity stated in the write-up as it wasn’t entirely relevant to the research quesitons) was that reflective dialogue exists within social dialogue. Furthermore, social dialogue is often the springboard into something more reflective…

    Anyway, I am also aiming to comment more in this New Year and also to tick the ‘notify me of follow-up comments’ box so I can keep track of any further dialogue (my research also showed tha majority of exchanges, both social and reflective, rarely extend beyond one comment and one reply)

    Dave

    P.S. Nice post 😉

    • Kathy

      Hi Dave!

      Yeah, that’s what I was puzzling over when thinking about outcomes. If you set hard outcomes up front, it kind of locks you in to the numbers. Less room for responding to what’s happening as you go along!

      Kathy

      • mikecorea

        🙂

        I think I agree with you for the most part, but…(again for me personally but also others I’d guess) starting with the numbers makes it easy to measure progress. If I find that three was unrealistic or that I don’t happen to find enough posts then I can re-adjust. It seems to me that starting with the numbers and not with something vague like “more” I can find what works and what is feasible for me. As a quick example, I previously planned to journal for 15 minutes after every class. My lack of time and lack of completing this mission helped me see that perhaps that goal was a bit out of reach. I am still happy i started with a number because if I started with “journal” or “journal more” I feel like I would have done even less and would have given up easily.

        Thanks for the comments
        (and the interesting post!)

      • Kathy

        Oh, I totally agree with setting numbers … as you point out, it helps with the discipline thing! I guess if I were filling out a SMART goals worksheet (mine, naturally! 🙂 ) I would put that as one of the actions I plan to take. Maybe also “review and adjust as needed” and “examine whether my increased commenting did create community (etc) and note one example”.

        I really appreciate this discussion because I’m mostly just thinking out loud here and learning from it. I like the core concepts promoted by the SMART acronym, but have struggled with using them successfully (for self and for learners). Reading Tony’s comments about why he doesn’t like SMART goals, and reading your notes about how you plan to use them has given me so much to think about. I’m leaning for the idea that SMART goals can be misused and/or don’t represent the whole goals process rather than that they are DUMB!

        Also, you mentioned below that you think setting objectives for class may be different than setting objectives for other things (like New Year’s Resolutions). I’m looking forward to that post because I’m wondering about that myself!

      • mikecorea

        Hi Kathy,

        I loved your post!
        (Here for all you non-Kathy people that might be reading this: http://freerangekef.blogspot.kr/2013/01/intentions-vs-goals.html)

        I am very much with you about thinking aloud. I have found this whole discussion to be very fruitful. I was planning on writing about SMART objectives again and the posts from you and Tony were just the nudge I needed. I tried not to reference them too much in my post but it was hard! Ha. I think a key point that I got from your (pl) posts was that SMART goals might not be for everyone and every time. This might sound obvious but I think it is i quite important
        (especially when such things can be forced from admin)

        As for the lesson planning/vs. life goal setting thing…For now I will just say that I think for lesson planning, choosing something specific and measurable is (for me) more about the mindset of thinking about ways to achieve those objectives. So, by choosing measurable objectives (focused on Ss’ action) we are (hopefully) assured that we will be focusing on what students do and not on what teachers do. I think this shift in focus can be helpful in planning lessons and thinking about options. Rather than being overly limiting, I think it is a good way of capturing some focus. Just some thoughts..and more thinking aloud.

        Thanks again for reading and commenting.
        Very enjoyable exchange.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the comments! Nice comments. You surely gave me a lot to think about here.

      I like your point about “beyond just social” aspects of social posts. I think a key word is “springboard.” From my perspective at the moment, it seems like after leaving a few social comments I (as a commenter) might feel more comfortable for something a bit more reflective/critical. I think it does take time and the more of a social/professional/blogging/twitter/whatever relationship I have with someone the more likely i might be to go beyond “nice post.” An example of this is my occasional comments on @EBEFL’s blog. After some time of building up a relationship I feel much more free to disagree with him on his blog. Your comments helped me see such things more clearly. Thanks.

      You asked some great questions about the frequency/number aspect. I guess I have 2 simple and related answers. 1st, I choose three for a reason, based on experience and my sense of what I am reading. So, while it might be a bit “aggressive” I have a feeling that it will be close. I mean to say that this is not an arbitrary number. Second, I am thinking of this just as a starting point (and a motivational push) so if i find that three is impossible to keep up with or then I can be flexible with it. Hopefully if something strikes my fancy I will be more likely to comment this year (as compared to last year where I had no system in place). I am thinking that three comments is sort of the minimum but if there are tons of great posts that I feel compelled to respond to I will do just that. I also think that I needed some sort of mental to comment more. I mean, I have a few things to say but sometimes I push away commenting till I am “ready” which is a time that inevitably does not present itself.

      You mentioned commenting on new blogs and sharing them on twitter. Yes! I think this is a great idea and something I am very interested in. Especially as a new(ish) blogger I know how helpful this can be. That reminds me, I am just about to update my list/post of newish blogs!

      Finally, I loved your example of goal setting with students. I also think grounding it in their desires to change and their experiences is likely to help make better plans!

      Thanks again for the comments!
      (I think I managed to beat my time limit!)

      • davedodgson

        Thanks for clearing up the frequency/number aspect. I guess having a quatifiable element helps make it more manageable and, like all aims & objectives, it works best if you are willing to be flexible and make alterations when and where necessary.

        It will be interesting to see where this new blogging year takes us!

      • mikecorea

        I am experiencing a 55% increase in comments on my blog to go along with a 70% increase in my comments on blogs of others. (I just made those numbers up). It will be interesting to see how things progress, for sure.

        Regarding the numbers, I think your point about flexibility is spot on. I guess numbers can seem so cold and inflexible.

        Thanks again for the comments and insight.
        Cheers,
        mike

  7. Kathy

    Thank you for mentioning my post, Mike! I like your resolution of taking steps to promote good commenting activity on your blog and others’. I feel the same way.

    The thing I like best about SMART goals is that it gives concrete steps to turn a vague wish into a plan for action. My post was mainly an examination of the “specific” and “measurable” aspects. I think they can lead to a focus on arbitrarily-defined outcomes, and that can draw attention away from the real goal.

    I really love the wording of your example SMART goal because you make very clear what your real goal is: to support others, create community, exchange ideas. So, if I say that I want to do X for Y number of times by Z date, that’s specific and measurable but will it show whether I supported others, created community or exchanged ideas? That’s such a subjective thing, really hard to capture in SMART goals! I wonder if this is part of what Tony’s post was getting at. And I continue to wonder how that can be more clearly a part of the process.

    I feel another blog post coming on, thanks for the grist!!
    Kathy

    • mikecorea

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for reading and for the comments. I really enjoyed your post and I thought it added a lot to the discussion.
      I think you make a great point about specific/measurable turning into arbitrary quite easily. You also said that such objectives can draw attention away from the main goal. I fully agree on this as well.

      I think you got to the “heart” of things by mentioning the relationship between the goals and the reason behind them. I think this can help prevent us from getting into that arbitrary zone that you mentioned. I think part of the problem with things like SMART objectives is that they are based on behaviorist models and it seems we are in agreement that things are not always that simple!

      (I am thinking now that SMART objectives for class are a bit different from SMART blogging objectives or New Year’s resolutions, but that is another post for another day)

      Looking forward to your next post!
      Thanks again for the comments and best of luck in 2013.

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