May 28, 2013

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Fitness Unit

This post was originally sent out as an edition of The #PhysEd Newsletter. I’m posting it here, with a few extra thoughts, for those who weren’t subscribed to the newsletter when I sent this out. If you like this post, feel free to subscribe to the newsletter to make sure not to miss out in the future!

I feel like fitness testing is one of those things that gives physical education a bad rap: talk to anyone about the moments they dreaded most in PE and they’ll most likely tell you about the time they had to do the “beep” test. However, I also feel that teaching our students how to assess their own fitness, set goals based on their assessment, and create action plans to achieve their fitness goals might just be the most important lesson we can teach them.

So here’s how I’ve approached teaching my students about fitness and goal-setting:

The S.M.A.R.T. Goal Fitness Unit

Lesson One: Components of Fitness & Assessing Fitness Levels

The first thing I teach my students is that to know where you want to be, you have to know where you currently are. To do that, I start the unit off by teaching them about the components of fitness (Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Muscular Endurance, Muscular Strength, Flexibility, Body Composition*). Once the students have a better understanding of what the components are, we then move into our fitness testing.

It’s important to note that I let my students know that their results on their fitness tests will have no impact whatsoever on their final grade. I don’t know about you, but knowing that I was suddenly going to be compared to standards that I was in no way able to meet does not sound like a very motivating experience to me. Also, it wouldn’t make me look forward to having to do it again in a few months. That’s why I don’t talk about fitness standards with my students, I don’t put any charts or posters up in my gym, and I don’t use their results for evaluation purposes. I explain to my students that these results are simply to help them understand where they currently are in their fitness levels so that they have a better idea of how to move forward.

Students are then given their Fitness Test Results Sheet. They mark their results for each test under the “Initial” column on the sheet. Once all the testing is complete, they get to fill out the “Initial Fitness Level Assessment” section on their sheet. This is a great opportunity for you to review the effects of active and sedentary lifestyles and their impact on fitness levels.

*I don’t actually test Body Composition with my students, we just cover it in theory.

Depending on your classes and students, this lesson could actually take more than a single class to cover all the content. If I were you, I wouldn’t rush this part. In my opinion, getting kids to talk about their fitness in a situation where they feel comfortable doing so is an important in getting them to be more aware of their lifestyle habits.

Lesson Two: Setting a S.M.A.R.T. Goal

In this lesson, I teach kids the importance of setting a great fitness goal and how it can serve as a contract with yourself. Getting them to understand what a great goal is isn’t always easy, so I rely on the S.M.A.R.T. principle to get this done. For me, S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. I know some people use different words, but I feel like this set helps the kids stay on track within this unit (especially by using Relevant over Realistic… I had a bunch of students come up with great goals, but they had nothing to do with fitness!) The students get to fill out their S.M.A.R.T. Goal Sheet in which they have to break their goal down to make sure it fits all of the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, write their final S.M.A.R.T. goal out, and then have the sheet signed by a) themselves, b) their teacher (that would be you!), and c) their parents/guardians.

Getting the sheet signed makes it all feel more official and really adds that sense of “I’ve got a contract to respect” to the experience. I’ve had much better results since I’ve added that simple part to the formula.

I encouraged my students to push themselves to set a goal that targeted their weakest component of fitness. In my attempt to be a role model for them (the type that @PENathan just blogged about), I set a goal for my own (which has always been my cardiorespiratory endurance) by signing up for the Ottawa Half Marathon. Yikes!

Lessons Three to Five: Learning to Train

Over the following few classes, I introduce the students to a variety of training activities that relate to the components of fitness that we covered in our testing. Trendy activities like Crossfit, Zumba, and Yoga make learning fun and give kids an opportunity to try something out that they might actually be able to sign up for outside of school. Regardless, I try to introduce enough ways to improve one’s fitness so that the kids have a repertoire of tools to use by the time they have to create their Action Plans.

Lesson Six: Creating an Action Plan

Now that my students know the components of fitness (and what activities can have a positive influence on them) and now that they have set themselves a S.M.A.R.T. goal, it’s time for them to create an action plan to help them improve their fitness and achieve their goal.

I go over the FITT principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type) with my students and have them write out a single sentence on their Action Plan Sheet of what they will do on a weekly basis to achieve their S.M.A.R.T. goal. To help them stay focused on their progress, I also have them break their goal down into 4 mini-goals along the way to their goal’s due date. I always try to remember to tell students that their mini goals should also follow the S.M.A.R.T. principle. Basically, I have them create a roadmap to success!

Pause: Putting Everything On Ice

Once their Action Plan is created, it’s time to put this whole unit on ice for a couple of months so that the students can work on achieving their goals. In the past, I’ve given students about five months to work on their goals. I keep track of their mini goal due dates and try to talk to students throughout other units about how their coming along with their S.M.A.R.T. goal. The trick is to help them stay focused so that they don’t wake up the day before their due date and realize five months have passed!

Lesson Seven: Final Fitness Testing & Action Plan Review

Finally, the big day has arrived. The students are given their Fitness Test Results Sheets back and we redo all of the fitness tests (I won’t explain how important it is to make sure the fitness testing is done exactly the same as the first time, because you already know that). The students complete their Fitness Test Results Sheet by entering their scores under the “Final” column and mark what type of changes have occurred for each test’s results (an arrow pointing up means an improvement, a dash means no change, and an arrow pointing down means a decline).

Students then get to complete their Action Plan Sheet by indicating if they successfully achieved their S.M.A.R.T. goal. They also have to indicate why they think that is, and, if they didn’t achieve their goal, they must explain what they would do differently next time.

Assessment & Evaluation

Like I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t evaluate my students based on their level of fitness. Some kids might be very fit in grade 7-9, but they might stumble with leading a healthy, active lifestyle as they get older. Having achieved a Gold Standard back in middle school won’t be any use to them then. However, having the knowledge about how to assess your fitness levels, determine what might be their cause, create a goal that will help guide you in creating change in your health, and evaluating your efforts is, in my opinion, one helluva way to help people stay healthy throughout their lifetime.

How Did It All Work Out?

So we (my grade 6 class) originally did this back in January as part of a New Year’s Resolution unit. Last week, my students completed lesson seven and got to see how they did with their fitness goal. To the surprise of many, almost all of my students achieved their goal! Although some achieved it more than others (I got a few students claiming that they only beat their muscular endurance goal by two sit ups), I had a great talk with the class about the importance of acknowledging and being proud of your daily “wins”.

I told them that whenever you improve at something, or whenever you push yourself to do better, you have to count that as a “win” (regardless the degree to which you accomplished that win). Focusing on those “wins” keeps you moving forward and helps you stay positive when it comes to your goal.

For many, just getting their health improvement back on an upward slope (i.e. that their level of fitness is improving rather than diminishing) is a huge win, and definitively one they should be proud of.

Side note: I actually just completed that Half Marathon and can’t wait to share my own “win” with my students!

What Will I Change In The Future?

When I first started this unit, I didn’t know what I know now. Next year, when I do this unit with my new grade 6 class, I’ll definitively be using Google Forms to collect the data I collect throughout this unit.

So what do you think? Is this an effective/meaningful way to teach fitness to your students? How do you teach fitness to your students? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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