Progress

So I decided to make my first foray into blogging a safe one and take part in  April’s #blogsync blogsync.edutronic.net/. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing but…

Here goes.

Progress – What does it look like? Well as the old stock interview answer goes: “It’s when they know more on the way out than they did on the way in.”

I, and many others I know, have got jobs off the back of statements like that. Trot them out in interviews and you sound knowledgeable, committed and concerned; all the things a consummate professional is supposed to be. You know they’ve made progress when they walk out of the school one sunny day in August with a whole raft of A*-Cs under their belts. You can sit back, satisfied they’ve learnt, therefore you’ve taught well. Easy, right?

Well no, that’s the thing isn’t it? It’s not that easy. That magical almost mythical word “progress” looms like a dementor over many of us whenever either of the vile beasts Ofsted or Performance Management observation get mentioned. Progress has become the stuff of nightmares for a lot of teachers. It’s a word heavy with negative connotations; a word that can pitch a once fabulous teacher into the depths of despair and mediocrity. Progress has become a common staffroom lament; “I would have got a (inset grading of choice here) only they said (mumble mumble rant rant)”. Inevitably “progress” crops up during that rant somewhere. That word “progress” has been the cause of many a Friday night sniffle into a glass of wine. But why?

In the years since I started teaching the game has changed immeasurably. No longer can you just turn up, do your stuff quietly and head off to the pub every Friday lunchtime. No longer is the completion of predicted grades forms an annual event. (I think we’re on about no. 6 already, I’ve lost count.) Some may say accountability has gone crazy but regardless of whether we agree or not; we must, more so than ever before, not only do our jobs well, but be seen to do our jobs well, and crucially PROVE to anyone who might happen to ask; whenever they happen to ask, that we do our jobs well too.

No pressure then!

There are, to my mind, two firm sides to this issue– first the magical 20 minutes “progress in a lesson” and second, where “over time” is the most important buzz word.

Now I’m more inclined to go with @kevbartle on the issue of progress –http://dailygenius.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/the-myth-of-progress-within-lessons/  time is more important; both for our students and to satisfy those evil dementors. I mean what can you really learn, and SHOW that you have learnt, in 20 minutes? Seriously what? I challenge you now. Learn something new – juggling? crochet? plate spinning? -in the next 20 minutes and then come back and prove it. Not easy is it?

I had the (somewhat daunting) honour of being asked to present whole school CPD on the issue of demonstrating progress recently. The session took the form of a workshop, in which colleagues worked in departments to evaluate their own practice and decide an action plan of next steps. How can we best show progress? Do we need thermometers and flow charts in every lesson? Some sort of wall display graphic? A tick sheet in every book? In every classroom? A flight path that follows students from entry to the end of KS4? Reams of highlighted and annotated papers for every child, in every subject, in every course? Cleverly designed spread sheets with whizzy tables and pivots and colour coded automatic formula designed to flag up those falling behind? (with alarm bells and sirens as standard!)

The thought was horrific to some and I was asked at one point, “do we really need to be doing all this?”

Actually, to be honest, I think the answer is yes, to all. I think we do. We can’t just exist in a little bubble of “my classroom”. Of course we have to be accountable for what we have done (or not done) and how we’ve done it.

I don’t think that it is unreasonable that, as part of our daily life a teachers we prove that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. I think it’s only fair that we take our students, our leaders and their parents and carers on that journey with us. I think it is only right that at the beginning of each year, each term, each week, and even each lesson, we set out our stall, signpost where we are going and how we’re intending to get there. It is only natural that in addition we then measure that too. Otherwise, well what’s the point?

But the pressure to demonstrate the amazing learning (and therefore teaching) you have facilitated, either within that stressful 20 minutes, or over the course of a year or more,  is immense. Sometimes, as a colleague once said to me, we are so busy demonstrating progress that there is no time left to teach!

So how do we do it? How do we manage our workload, cram in the necessary curriculum, and also manage to prove, at a moment’s notice sometimes, that progress is being made? In my humble opinion I think there are 4 ”must haves” for the progress conscious teacher.

  1. Track – some sort of grid, table, chart with the key elements of your course broken down into levelled or graded chunks. Every half term at least sit down with a whole folder of these (one for each student) and simply highlight and date where they’re at. Easy to do (and easy to shove under someone’s nose when they walk in unannounced too).
  2. Involve – get the students doing it for you (it is their learning after all) A nice, topic by topic “This week I have learnt…”; “This term I am better at …” sheet looks great stuck at regular intervals into an exercise book.
  3. Post it – an oldie but a goody! Use your starter and plenary (and mini plenary when necessary) to prove that learning and progress is taking place. Post its on a thermometer, or a success continuum that students can move or add to as the mood strikes them is an easy way to show progress.
  4. Feedback – shoehorn the “P” word into your comments when marking. Congratulate students for their progress in using commas, capital letters, embedded quotes or whatever the objective is (only if they have obviously I’m not bad!) to make it obvious to all that progress has been made.

 

So, I stand by my opening cliché on progress, “It’s when they know more on the way out than they did on the way in.” But, really, the next time I have an interview I should add to that; “and it’s being able to prove it too.”

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3 comments
  1. Kevin Cunningham said:

    Thanks for this. Really useful, clear and accurate. Looking forward to future posts!

    • Thanks – it’s lovely to have feedback. Must find the time to write more!

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