Supporting Student Learning

The SMART Approach to Student Learning

Successful students need to be intentional about their learning, and there are things you can do to help. The SMART acronym is a useful way to remember the most important dimensions of student learning: self-advocacy, metacognition, adaptability, resilience, and time management.

In what follows, we define each of these terms and then offer practical suggestions for how you can use these concepts in your course design and delivery.

The SMART acronym is a useful way to remember the most important dimensions of student learning: self-advocacy, metacognition, adaptability, resilience, and time management.


Self-advocacy refers to developing help-seeking behavior in students. Students need to know about available resources and where to go for additional help. They also need to take the initiative to seek out help whenever they need it, without fearing that seeking help will reflect poorly on them. As an instructor, you can support student learning by pointing your students to the most appropriate resources, encouraging their use, and de-stigmatizing help-seeking by communicating that successful students use the resources that are available to them.

Create a learner-centered syllabus.

Clear and regular communication is important in any teaching context, whether in-person, remote, or online. A well-organized, complete, and learner-centered syllabus is a critical tool for communicating with your students about the course and supporting their learning. Use this template to get started but feel free to modify it to fit your needs. Be sure to include the links to the student services suggested in the template.

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Add a Week 0 Module to your course in Canvas.

The Week 0 Module provides students with information on how to use Canvas and how to access the library remotely, as well as information on the Student Code of Conduct, accessibility, and critical campus resources to ensure that students are supported to be successful in your course. The module can be imported into your course using the instructions linked above, or if you prefer you can email to ask that it be added to your course (be sure to include your course name).

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Students need to have an awareness of themselves as thinkers and learners in order to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks. As an instructor, you can engage your students in metacognitive practices that help students become aware of their strengths and areas for improvement as learners, writers, readers, researchers, test-takers, collaborators, etc. This awareness will not only help them learn more in your course, but will also help them be better learners in general. Below are some ideas for putting metacognition into practice.

Use reflection activities to get students thinking about their learning.

Examples include the following:

  • Pre-assessments of prior understanding: Ask students to tell you everything they already know about a topic.
  • Muddiest-Point reflections allow students to practice identifying opportunities to keep learning. “What remains unclear about what we covered in class today?”
  • Learning reflections help students identify what they learned and how their ideas about things changed.
  • Exam wrappers are short activities (usually in the form of a short reflective handout) that allow students to reflect on the learning opportunities of a graded exam. Students consider their areas of strength and weakness to guide further study, the adequacy of their preparation, and the nature of their errors to find any recurring patterns to address. Check out some examples of exam wrappers.

Give students many low-stakes opportunities to practice and reflect.

Give students many low-stakes opportunities to explore and apply the course content and reflect on their learning, and provide opportunities to correct or revise their work. Check out a few ideas for consistent practice, in addition to the ideas listed in the assessment section of this site.

Learn more about assessment.

Create opportunities for active learning.

Create opportunities for active learning, which is when students actively do something meaningful related to the course content and then reflect on their learning, such as creating mind maps, diagrams, or infographics, writing summaries, and leading discussions. See the active learning section of this site to learn more strategies.


Successfully adapting to new learning environments is crucial for student learning. Below are things you can do as an instructor to help students better adapt to and succeed in your course.

Spend time orienting students to your course.

Spend time in your first days of class orienting students to your course environment and how to navigate it. This can be done through group activities exploring the syllabus, your Canvas course, and tools to be used in the class. Don’t assume that all of your students are familiar with different learning technologies or have the experience to work with them.

Invite students to reflect on their learning strategies.

Invite students to reflect on the strategies they will use to adapt to and succeed in your course. This can be done as a brief exercise in class or through a discussion board in Canvas.

Check in with your students often.

Check in with your students often about how they are doing and whether they have the resources they need to learn. Check-ins can be be done through moderated discussions boards, polls, Google forms, Canvas surveys and quizzes, or mid-quarter surveys.


Resilience can be thought of as a fluid characteristic that students already practice in their daily lives to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations (from small things like not doing well on an assignment or exam to large things like navigating daily microaggressions in unjust institutions). Resilience is also an important strength or asset for learning. Below are some things you can do to create learning environments that promote student resilience and encourage deep learning.

Let students know you are flexible and understanding.

Let students know you are flexible and understanding and ask for their understanding as well. Tell students that you will work with them to solve challenges they may face, and include a message about this in your syllabus.

Help students connect with each other.

Help students connect with each other by building peer support and engagement into the course, in the form of discussion forums, peer review activities for writing assignments and projects, study groups, and paired classwork.

Familiarize yourself with trauma-informed teaching.

Familiarize yourself with some of the foundations of trauma-informed teachingThis trauma-informed teaching guide is intended to raise awareness of trauma in postsecondary education institutions, help educators understand how trauma affects learning and development, and provide practical advice for how to work effectively with college students who have been exposed to trauma.

Work with your department.

To learn more, work with your department to schedule a TLC workshop on “Supporting Student Learning & Resilience in Challenging Times.”

Time Management

Effective time management is a key skill for deep learning, but it can be a challenge for college students. There are things you can do to help your students become better at managing their time and improve learning in your classes.

Start with a learner-centered syllabus and well-organized Canvas course.

learner-centered syllabus and a well-organized Canvas course are effective at promoting students’ time management. When expectations around assignments, exams, and deadlines are clear, it is easier for students to plan and set aside adequate time to get the work done. For help, schedule a consultation with the TLC.

Provide estimated task times.

Provide estimated task times for all learning activities, such as in each module posted in your Canvas course. Not only will this help students to plan for the time it will take to complete the activities, but it will also support their metacognition and self-advocacy. If things are taking longer than the expected time, then they will be better able to recognize that perhaps they need help and seek that help from you, their peers, or from a support service. For assistance with time estimates, check out the Workload Estimator.

Break assignments down into smaller tasks.

Help students complete projects on time and prepare effectively for exams by breaking larger assignments down into smaller tasks. For example, if you have a research paper due at the end of the quarter, create due dates for identifying a topic or research question, doing a literature review or completing an annotated bibliography, drafting an outline, writing a first draft, etc. These smaller assignments are great opportunities to incorporate peer feedback and encourage self-reflection and improvement. For test preparation, instructors can have students write test questions, make a study guide, work in groups to discuss study strategies for a particular group, and more.

Explicitly talk about time management.

Explicitly talk about time management with your students. Perhaps use a roadmap exercise or create an assignment in the first week for students to create their schedule for the quarter.

Last modified: Nov 14, 2023