What does ‘showing’ progress mean anyway?

It is little wonder that with all the regulation within the teaching profession, teachers sometimes feel they need to justify or prove the work they are doing in the classroom. Regular observations, performance management and the need to be ‘Ofsted ready’ all contribute to pressures on teachers to find ways to demonstrate their effectiveness. Now, with the introduction of performance related pay, many teachers will feel a heightened pressure to justify their work, to demonstrate the quality of their teaching, to ‘show’ that their students are making progress.

With all this pressure, it is understandable that so many conversations and resources shared on twitter revolve around ‘showing progress’. And, despite some pretty convincing arguments that attempting to show progress in a lesson is futile,  it still seems to be a very common idea. A google search for ‘how do you show progress in lessons’ yields approximately one hundred and twenty-eight million results.

Even if we are focusing on progress over time, the idea of precisely what ‘showing’ this to someone might look like needs some scrutiny. I’m pretty sure many teachers feel they are busy helping their students make progress, and spending too much time showing or demonstrating this progress might get in the way of actual learning.

So, when we talk about showing progress, who might we be talking about? I have four ideas, but may have missed some.

To an observer.

This year has given me the first opportunity in my career to observe other colleagues formally. I love observing lessons, and find the processes different teachers go through in lessons fascinating. But, the thought that any teacher I was observing might change their lesson because I’m in the room fills me with unease. I don’t want to see a demonstration, or a show, I want to see someone plying their day-in, day-out trade. To see how your students are progressing over time, I’ll look in coursework folders, speak to the students and hopefully have plenty of time to speak to the teacher I’m observing. I would hate to think that any colleague I was observing spent any extra time in their already hectic schedules trying to ‘show’ me progress. You’re busy teaching, and I’m the one who’s lucky enough to be a temporary passenger on your class journey. I’ll do the extra work, not you.

Too often, demonstrating progress to external forces feels like an exercise in paper, and it can be frustrating to feel that you’re producing paperwork simply to prove something that you’ve already done, such as a specific technique you’ve integrated into your teaching. I think a quality discussion between the observer and the teacher being observed is preferable to another layer of paperwork.

I know this might be an unpopular opinion, certainly with teachers in my school, but I favour no-notice, low-stakes observations. No one is under any illusions that some teachers change their lessons when they’re being observed. And even if they don’t, they probably spend more time on paperwork than is sensible in a busy week. An open door policy, with friendly, supportive, positive observers would solve both these issues.

To the students

I have blogged previously about how, when teaching vocabulary, the influence of levels can get in the way of deeper thinking about the actual meaning of words. I’m fairly sure that the negative influence of levels for showing progress has a wider influence. I have definitely taught many lessons in the past where I ask students to rate their confidence at the start of the lesson, do a bit of teaching, and then get them to rate their understanding at the end. Ta-Da! As if by magic, everyone in the room has made progress. Reflecting back, I feel bad I didn’t spend more time explaining that their progress in English would be the result of weeks and months of hard graft, and my 5 minute ‘measure your progress’ activity probably wasn’t going to get them very far.

At best, this type of end-of-the-lesson progress check is a little disingenuous. No-one goes from a B to an A in an hour or so, it’s much harder than that. But, at its worst, it might completely undermine a student’s view of their own learning. For example, if I ask my year 11 class to rate their confidence at the end of a lesson on the theme of loneliness in Of Mice and Men, they might give themselves a 10 out of 10 because, at that point, they were really confident. If they truly believe this, are they really likely to revise the topic sufficiently before the exam? Might I be better off at end of the lesson telling them that however confident they feel now, in reality they will forget all of this unless we continue to revisit it, either in class or at home?

Moving forward, I’m hoping to keep better records of student work, so students can see their progress over time based on how their work is improving. We have just started having ‘best books’ at key stage three this year, for all summative assessments. They act as a record of important pieces of work and important pieces of feedback. I’m sure many schools do this already. What I like most about this is that students are able to quickly access their targets for improvement, and keep reflecting on how they might improve based on these targets. The books are easily accessible and help promote pride  and a sense of achievement in excellent work.

To parents

With parents evening only occurring once a year, it can be hard to share specific details about a child’s progress with parents. Regular school reports help, and contact home is important. Most of all, I like to keep records as obsessively as possible. Instances where homework is not on time, instances where students have shown a poor attitude to learning. Where I teach, these are the things which seem to matter most to parents: Is my son/daughter working hard? Are they doing their homework? Are they getting on OK? I need to be able to provide answers to these questions comprehensively.

To ourselves

Ultimately, we have to be the ones who question whether our students are making progress, and what the best ways to secure progress for our classes is. When the observation is finished and parents evening is over, it’s us, the regular every day teachers, who will be planning lessons and marking books. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but there is plenty of advice on last April’s blogsync. What I do think though, is that progress is hard work. It takes months, maybe years of practice for students to make the kind of progress we desire. It won’t happen in linear 50 minutes chunks, and it’s unpredictable. It doesn’t come easily and we shouldn’t be changing our lessons to ‘show’ progress in an observation. And, it isn’t something that a 5 minute AFL plenary involving a traffic light is likely to prove.

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3 thoughts on “What does ‘showing’ progress mean anyway?

  1. Pingback: One Year On – Why I Still Blog. | mrbunkeredu

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