Progress in my classroom? How it is made and how I know it

This months looks at the nature of progress.

Before we start, I will take this opportunity to say the following:

There is a recurring problem in education. I've not seen anything like it before and I've worked for international companies as well as small businesses in the UK. You'll probably recognise it within a paragraph of my blog.

Teachers are a funny bunch. If it wasn't for such traditional things as calendars we'd never agree on the day, the month or the year. I've never heard of such a vitriolic response to anything - and I mean anything -  that may cause teachers to change their methodology.

The blog title "Progress in my classroom? How it is made and how I know it" sums it up. I could get you 100 teachers to discuss this. And they won't be finished by next year.  The first word "Progress" would cause consternation. Every child progresses at their own rate so you won't be defining what progress is any time soon.

The superb says that progress is:

progression (n.) Look up progression at
mid-15c., "action of moving forward," from Old French progression (early 15c.), from Latin progressionem (nominative progressio) "a going forward," from progressus, past participle of progredi "go forward," from pro- "forward" (see pro-) + gradi "to step, walk," from gradus "step" (see grade).

If you want to know what progress looks like, I suggest you have a look at this (2011 Education Standards Analysis and Research Division report looking at progress at KS2/3) The UK government have been good enough to consider what progress is and to write a report on it. I would wager that most teachers won't know about this document. But you can guarantee they will dismiss it so that they can keep their own methodology intact.

Back to Progress in my classroom: If you take the work of Hattie (Visible Learning), you'll see that pupils will make progress even without any explicit teaching taking place. Fascinating! What we therefore need to look at is progress made as a result of teaching.

By the end of this blog I'll have shown you how I plan for progress to occur in my lessons. It strikes at the heart of what education should be. Over time there have been too many initiatives in education. We are awash with new ideas. These have served to muddy the water of how to educate. They have been well-intentioned (and profitable) but they have taken us away from what simple learning is.

Firstly, it is crucial to establish the baseline position of each and every pupil.

I do this by giving 2 tests to pupils. The first one is the diagnostic and is selected to assess what pupils already know about the teaching points I aim to cover in the  next 2 weeks lessons. I then give the same test at the end of the teaching. I can then measure the impact of my teaching. I know how much progress each person has made. I also know what my effect size is. In simple terms, that allows me to see how people's progress in the group compares with the groups progress. I can spot where the successes are. And I can do this every 2 weeks in a controlled environment.

Anyone that thinks that pupils will be able to perform better in the 2nd test just because they have already seen the questions really ought to stop reading now and go and do something else. The pupils aren't made aware of the correct answers until after test 2 and I don't think they'll be remembering the questions after nearly 50 hours of learning a host of other subject matter.

By using the diagnostic test, I can record how each and every pupil performs on each and every topic to be taught. As a result, the pupils have an individual learning plan that they then follow for the next 2 weeks. Sometimes the class will work on the same topic, sometimes they won't. Any pupil that doesn't need to learn about, say, level 5 algebra can be given the opportunity to stretch into level 6 algebra.

As they say, "simples".

Am I helping pupils to make exceptional progress this way? I think so. I can also spot those pupils that are likely to struggle to make progress and ensure that support is given at the level that is right for them.

Progress can only occur if the individual pupils are given opportunities to work at a level that it higher than they already occupy. It makes sense to check where they are before you start teaching. It makes sense to record this on a document that allows them to see where their strengths and weaknesses are so that revision can be spent in the most productive and efficient way possible. Some would say that I am teaching to the tests. I would disagree. I am teaching from the tests. I have used formative assessment to inform my next teaching steps.

And here is the clincher for me.

I can use a variety of approaches to help pupils makes progress. Because I am using the same formative/summative cycle, I can work out just what has the highest impact on my classes. No more guessing, no more crossing fingers. I can actually see just how well the medicine is working for my patient. I can do this every 2 weeks. As such, I become a better teacher for each pupil in my group as I know what works best for them.

This level of detail is surely the goal of any evidence-based teacher who wants to see pupils make exceptional progress. The pupils improve and I improve. There is room for me to improve this method. I hope that discussions following from this blog will do just that.

Do you know more now than you did at the beginning of this blog?