Home > Pedagogy, Teaching > Progress, ’til there’s nothing left to gain.

Progress, ’til there’s nothing left to gain.

This is a response to the April #blogsync topic

“And progress is not intelligently planned;
It’s the facade of our heritage, the odor of our land. They speak of
Progress, in red, white and blue.
It’s the structure of the future as demise comes seething through. It’s
Progress, ’til there’s nothing left to gain,
As the dearth of new ideas makes us wallow in our shame” – Greg Graffin

 When Bad Religion released the album “No Control” at the back end of the 1980’s they included a song called “Progress”. It was not written about classroom practice, but that does not mean that the sentiments are not relevant to the day to day life of all of us classroom practicioners. The opening line “And progress is not intelligently planned”, could easily be written about the education system and some of the things that get said within it. We cannot “plan progress”. We can plan lessons, we can plan what we will teach, we can plan what we want them to learn, we can plan activities and we can even plan ways to show and track progress. All these things are planning for progress, but progress itself is the result of good teaching and good learning.

 Progress, ’til there’s nothing left to gain, As the dearth of new ideas makes us wallow in our shame,”

 We are told in training about this measure, that measure and the other measure. I hear people say “Ofsted want you to show progress like this”, etc and I worry, I really do worry, that all this things are geared up to give the impression of progress, rather than to enable pupils to actually make it. I think that when you are planning a lesson, if your thought process goes “I’d better do this because Ofsted like it”, or “I’d better do that because it was mentioned in training”, then you are doing things for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should instantly write off everything that Ofsted like, or that I think people should ignore everything they are told in training. Far from it, in fact. I just think that it needs to be appropriate. If you try to incorporate all of the strategies, all of the time, you don’t have any time left for teaching or learning!

I was interviewed last week for a TLR role at my school and one of the questions I was asked was “what makes a good maths lesson?” My answer was simple: “There are no one-size-fits-all ‘good’ maths lessons. A lesson which is good for one class could be terrible for another.” The centre of all lesson planning should be the students. The lesson should be built around their needs, not the opposite. And I think the same goes for tracking progress.

As a department we have developed a number of policies to track progress over time, but the most successful and useful is the marking policy. It has evolved over the last couple of years and is centred around giving good, detailed, personalised feedback and questions for the pupil to answer. At the end of each topic (every two weeks or so) all classes sit a short mini-test on the topic. These, along with bookwork and other activities done in class, inform the feedback and as such the questions asked. The questions are either on an area of the topic the pupils struggled on, which enables the pupils to consolidate the learning, or an area similar but further on, to extend those who have fully accessed the topic and are confident in all areas. Pupils are also expected to comment on the topic and let the teacher know how they feel about their learning. This is a valuable tool when marking and is superb way of seeing the progress all pupils have made over time. (Read more on our marking policy here )

 Progress over time.

That is the key right? Those three little words sum up what we’re judged by, and I have to say, “quite right too.” As teachers we are working to ensure that pupils leave us with more skills and knowledge than they had when they joined us. It is our job to make sure they progress over the time they are in our care. We need them to make progress over time. And we really need to be able to prove it. Obviously, the biggest proof comes in the form of exam results, but we need to be able to evidence that pupils have made progress over time. And the marking system set out above does this. The mini test results are also logged into a RAG rated spreadsheet, which gives a hand sheet to show the progress made by the group, and also gives a handy list of areas that pupils need to work on when revision time arrives.

Other ways I monitor progress over time is by mock exams. These work great for tracking progress, as you can see how far pupils have progress in relation to grades and/or levels. They are also great tools to inform future planning. If your entire class scored zero marks on solving equations, then you had better go back over the topic.

Progress in lessons

We are also judged on progress in lessons. I often hear people referring to progress in lessons and progress over time as two different things, but I don’t think they are. I think if you are making progress in lessons, you will be making progress over time. If you are not progressing in lessons, then you will not progress over time. I have a few strategies which I want to mention here that I find extremely useful for checking progress in lessons, but I must say that again, it’s picking the right thing for the right group in the right lesson that is important.

Exit tickets: – I love to use exit tickets and I have a wide range which I use, some I have designed, some colleagues have designed and some I even asked pupils to design. I find the best ones are the ones where pupils sum up in their own words what they can now do, and what they need help with. Some classes are superb at doing this, and some are not.

Whiteboards: – I often use whiteboards to complete show me activities at the end of the lesson. Asking pupils to quickly answer a range of questions based on the lessons activities. This gives me change to see where they are in relations to the objectives to inform future planning.

RAG rating: – I’ve used this in many different guises. One way I discovered on someone’s (can’t find who but will endeavour to add in later!) blog was to have three piles (they used trays) and have pupils put their books on the relevant pile on the way out. I also use RAG rating on mind maps, exit tickets and on objectives themselves to get a self-assessed version of progress in the lesson.

Peer assessment: – This can be a good double marker for progress; the work being assessed is checked against success criteria and as such is checked for progress. But the process of doing this checking shows that the checker has progressed enough to tell whether the work meets the success criteria.

The song concludes:

 “It’s Progress, ’til there’s nothing left to gain, it’s
Progress, it’s a message that we send.
And progress is a debt we all must pay.”

And this to me reads: We must strive to enable the pupils to progress to the height of their potential and we must show those to who we are accountable (The leadership within school, Ofsted, but most importantly the pupils and their parents) that progress is being made.

So, in short:

Do pupils make progress in my lessons? Yes, they do.

How do I know this? A variety of ways, most of  which can be boiled down to the statements: “They show me they have”; and “They tell me they have”.

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