Monitoring students' progress

Author: Andy Sammons
Published: 11/08/2020

Monitoring students' progress

On reflection, it was probably the most ill-advised thing I’ve said in my ten-year career. I was in my NQT mentor meeting and I said, ‘Yep, I’m enjoying it, and the kids are getting the things I’m doing in the lessons.’ She looked back at me and said: ‘How do you know?’ Truly, I didn’t have an answer.

It’s a funny thing, progress. There are two separate ‘popular’ waves at the moment.

  • Knowledge is 'sexy' again. We all need knowledge-rich curriculums to plug gaps in cultural capital and vocabulary gaps.
  • An increasing propensity to sneer at the idea of ‘progress.’

I’ve laughed at the notion that progress in my lesson isn’t ‘rapid and sustained’ enough to demonstrate that I’m not an inadequate teacher. So what are we to do about the ‘checking of progress’ in lessons?

For the record, I’m a massive fan of the noises coming out of Amanda Spielman’s Ofsted at the moment – and she’s definitely putting her money where her mouth is when it comes to the judgement on Curriculum being based partly on plans as well as outcomes. The question we need to ask as senior and middle leaders – as well as teachers – is about the extent to which we are ‘owning’ the content in our lessons.

For me, it is impossible to assess progress unless we have a clear idea of what that progress is being assessed against. By this, I mean the way in which the lesson is tied into the medium and longer term, and the specific knowledge that is needed – and indeed the ways in which that knowledge will be applied.

For example, let’s imagine we are studying a topic in Human Geography, and we want our students to be able to write an evaluative essay on the overpopulation. There’s all kinds of knowledge and skills that go into this before the students can be successful at this particular task. This includes key words; academic words (tier 2); the specific language of evaluation; understanding of content – and there’s probably more, too.

This requires us to rethink sequencing of lessons and what the specific focus is during that lesson. Knowledge of facts? Key words? Academic writing? Only when we have a thorough understanding of what we are trying to achieve at any one time can we truly assess ‘progress’.

The key is to truly begin to reflect on progress. Not as an isolated entity, but as something which is measured against something else: in other words, you need a barometer to gauge your relative success. Learning is messy whether we like it or not, and the best we can hope is to provide some kind of indication as to whether what we are doing is moving the students in the right direction.

The resource below is a starting point. Essentially, we need to consider types of learning and types of assessment, and the most appropriate means of gauging the success of our actions.

Download Andy Sammons' resource Monitoring students' progress

Andy Sammons

Andy Sammons (@andy_samm)is head of department for a large secondary school in the north of England, and author of 'The Compassionate Teacher'. He believes that reflecting on students’ progress is key to their success.