Progress in my classroom? It’s Invisible.

Posted: April 29, 2013 in blogsync, Progress
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Progress is central to everything we do, but I also feel that it is sometimes misunderstood.

Plenty of excellent posts have already been submitted for April Blogsync outlining specific ways in which progress can be planned and measured, and everyone will have their own approach to this. In terms of technical procedures I have an Excel system which allows me to measure the progress of individual pupils through the Curriculum for Excellence Experiences & Outcomes, and it has helped me to develop specific and personal areas of weakness for my students in S1-3. Here’s a screenshot of a demonstration version of the system:

A screenshot of my Curriculum for Excellence tracking system for Literacy and English Experiences & Outcomes

A screenshot of my Curriculum for Excellence tracking system for Literacy and English Experiences & Outcomes (I should probably point out that I hate this type of approach, but is was my attempt to make some sense out of the nonsense that is ‘Developing’ ‘Consolidating’ and ‘Secure’ sub-levels)

The tracking system is not, however, what I’m writing this post about. The thing about progress is that I care much more about the little, individual steps made by my pupils that don’t generally show up in the paperwork (what I tend to think of as Invisible Progress). As my April Blogsync submission, I’ve decided to simply share the following stories about two of my students to show what I really think of as progress.

Pupil 1 – Way back in May 2012 my PT told me that, if I wanted it, I could take on the Advanced Higher class for the following year. I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer and immediately asked about numbers – he told me that there were two pupils confirmed, but that I might be able to persuade a few more. In the end I managed to increase the class size to three pupils by adding a student who, despite struggling with aspects of the Higher course, clearly had the ability to go a step further. She – like the other two pupils – worked incredibly hard for months, continually developing her analytical  and creative-skills; however, her moment of Invisible Progress came just last month – while working on her dissertation she turned to me and said that she didn’t think it was good enough “to get a high mark.” What made this special? Well, as I pointed out to her, when the course started she genuinely didn’t believe that she would be able to pass, and even after months of work maintained that she would be happy to scrape a C – now, seemingly out of nowhere, a C wasn’t the target anymore! That, more than anything else, made teaching that class worthwhile this year.

Pupil 2 – This year I’ve been teaching our top set S3 class, and from day one there have been a few pupils who simply weren’t convinced that they deserved to be there. Throughout the year they’ve produced some brilliant work but one or two still doubt their abilities. Today, though, one achieved her own moment of Invisible Progress while I spoke to her about the upcoming close reading exam. She’d been struggling through the last couple of lessons on exam technique, but without really believing that she could pass. Today, though, she had the courage to tell me: “I’ve done this for years though, ever since primary school – I always tell myself I can’t do things before I start and I realise that’s making it harder.” Admitting the problem is the first step to a solution, and I know that I’ll now be able to help her get over this self-inflicted mental roadblock.

I’m not sure if this is the sort of thing that this edition of Blogsync was supposed to be about, but the longer I’ve thought about ‘progress’ the more I’ve realised something important: if you don’t have a grasp of the Invisible Progress going on all around you, then the facts, figures and spreadsheets don’t really mean a whole lot. What progress looks like for each individual, and knowing whether it has been made, is, more than anything else, down to knowing every single pupil well enough to be able to spot the ‘Invisible Progress’.

Read the other ‘Progress’ posts for April blogsync.

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing your ideas. At the same time I agree with you that learners must realize the invisible progress going on around them, it is possible for teachers to ‘help them’ realize this progress which sometimes is not so clear to their eyes. By asking simple questions or showing them where they were and where they are now is possible. Also, by making it clear to students what they achieved by the end of one lesson generates a sense of accomplishment to them. What do you think?

  2. […] James McEnaney: Progress in my classroom? It’s invisible. […]

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