Providing timely and specific feedback to students is essential to promoting a growth mindset and ensuring that every student is future-ready at optimal levels.
To provide accurate feedback, we must gather evidence about where students are and set goals about where they’re going. This evidence gathering is sometimes called checking for understanding, formatively assessing, or progress monitoring.
Progress monitoring, appropriate for all students, measures the extent to which students are responding to instruction, and when necessary, interventions. Here are a few keys to gathering the evidence we need to continuously inform teaching and learning:
- Involve students
Students can self-assess, and doing so can give kiddos a feeling of ownership over their learning journey. Plotting progress on a simple graph gives students practice with this important skill and makes their growth visible. After plotting a current score and extending their progress line, we ask students to plot a target for the future.
- Choose simple tools and readily available scores
Simple is best. Scores such as words correct per minute (from oral reading fluency probes), digits correct per minute (from math fact fluency quizzes), Lexile values (from a variety of computer-based reading assessments), and behavior points (from daily check-in / check-out procedures) are typically part of schools’ existing data world. Of course, anecdotal evidence of progress can provide richer information and should also be gathered, but easily quantifiable indicators of performance can provide students and teachers a snapshot of where we are now.
- Monitor student learning within each lesson
Tickets out the door and exit slips are popular and powerful ways of informing future instruction. Using index cards or scratch paper, teachers can pose a simple question to students during the closure of a lesson that matching the lesson’s learning objective. Teachers can then efficiently analyze how the lesson went, which students may need more time and/or an alternative sets of supports, and where misunderstandings may exist. We also recommend mid-lesson checks for understanding. Here’s one idea:
About halfway through a lesson, after a teacher’s metacognitive modeling of a new concept and some initial student practice, with a gradual release of responsibility to students and opportunities for students to process new learning through think-pair-share, ask each student to respond to a quick question and respond via a small white board held aloft (“1-2-3, boards on me”) or through padlet, kahoot, or another digital resource. The mid-lesson information that is gathered can inform which students complete which tasks and which students need small group time with the teacher, before frustrations can occur and before students fall behind.
Making informal and frequent progress monitoring a part of the daily habit of the classroom can empower both teachers and students to make timely shifts.
- Frequently and accurately monitor student response to intervention
RTI is a verb…to what extent are students responding to intervention…to what extent are they RTI’ing. We have found that an absence of progress monitoring is one of the major difficulties that is negatively impacting the success of schools’ RTI and MTSS efforts. There is simply no RTI unless we know the extent to which students are responding so that we can make the timely adjustments that vulnerable students so desperately need. This need not be complicated. We must, however, a plan. Who will monitor progress, when within the day will progress be monitored, and how frequently will progress be monitored? Of course, we must also determine which assessments or tools to use, and this task tends to present the greatest challenge. We have found that a difficulty selecting the right tool with which to monitor progress often indicates a lack of intervention focus. The best intervention is a targeted intervention. The best progress monitoring tool is one that measures student progress in mastering the skill that the intervention is targeting. For example, if the student’s reading need is best targeted through a phonics intervention, then measure progress in phonics; if the students’ reading need is best targeted through a comprehension intervention, then measure progress in comprehension. The best intervention is targeted intervention; the best progress monitoring is targeted progress monitoring.
- Use student progress to adjust teacher practices
Any evidence gathered for individual students (whether classroom wide unit/chapter tests, tickets out the door/exit slips, or the simple tests described above) can be combined to determine the success of our teaching efforts. Progress monitoring allows students to reflect and revise their efforts; the same goes for us. When evidence indicates that students are not adequately responding to instruction or intervention, we must reflect on the appropriateness of our strategies and make informed adjustments.
Progress monitoring has most typically been associated with RTI, providing the information needed to determine the extent to which a student is responding to supplemental supports. But progress monitoring applies to all students. Whatever tools we chose to use, morning student growth provides an opportunity for students to have a voice in their learning journey and for educators to begin a feedback conversation.