As educators, we spend each day talking with our students, asking questions, listening to their responses, observing their work, and giving feedback. At the end of more than seven hours of interactions with 24 students, I have made countless mental notes: Nivek knows letter sounds and corresponding cue words but does not blend sounds together yet; Lyric can name the number that comes after but not the number that comes before. These interactions help to make my students’ learning visible to me and to themselves in the moment. But visible learning is more.
When learning is visible, it is actionable (Hattie, 2012). I can accomplish four critical teaching practices:
- I can identify the attributes of my instructional practices that are effective and ineffective for each student;
- I can name the contexts in which my students are and are not able to show what they know;
- I can adjust my instruction to target those effective instructional practices and facilitate transfer of knowledge and skills to new contexts; and
- I can help my students make informed learning decisions for their own deliberate practice.
This is where we often struggle. I made these observations – now what? How do I keep track of my mental notes? How do I intentionally use these noticings to make instructional decisions for tomorrow (Jacobs et al., 2010)? In other words, how do I monitor my students’ progress? The answer: effective and efficient documentation.
There are four key steps to effective documentation that makes learning visible, and therefore, actionable in a sustained and adaptable way:
1. Anticipate & Prioritize
When there are so many things to notice throughout each learner’s school day, we need to decide what to look for and what to write down before the day even begins. By creating expectations for your observations and conferences in advance of teaching, it is easier to identify where students are along the learning path to mastering learning intentions and, therefore, to identify opportunities to adjust and differentiate instruction.
First, narrow your focus by setting learning intentions and success criteria. (For more specifics on how to set effective learning intentions and success criteria see Teaching Mathematics in the Visible Learning Classroom Grade-Level Series.) Then, anticipate student strategies and reasoning by doing the math task yourself (Smith & Stein, 2011). Solve the problem or play the game using multiple strategies and consider multiple levels of representation that students may use: concrete, representational or pictorial, and abstract (Berry & Thunder, 2017). Finally, use your anticipated strategies and reasoning to decide which of these to look for that also align with your learning intentions and success criteria.
2. Create Monitoring Charts
Start simple with an open chart. An open chart is a table with each student’s name in a box and space to record your noticings.
After using an open chart to document your conferences and observations for one to two weeks, refine your chart so that it fits your formative assessment needs. There are many options for the format and content of monitoring charts. A truly effective monitoring chart is based on your planning. You can include other notes to yourself, making your chart a cheat sheet for effective teaching, such as: learning intentions, success criteria, materials students may use, anticipated strategies, anticipated misconceptions, significant vocabulary, and planned teacher questions. Most importantly, find one that works for you.
This is an example of a refined open chart. This teacher wanted to use her monitoring chart to 1) keep track of which task each student chose to work on from multiple choices and 2) to remind herself of her plans for learning intentions or success criteria and teacher questions:
This is an example of a monitoring chart based on anticipated strategies (Fennel et al, 2017), teacher questions, and materials:
You can also use monitoring charts to hold students accountable to mini-lessons by gradually adding the content of your mini-lessons to your monitoring charts (Moses & Ogden, 2017). This monitoring chart tracks students’ independent implementation of computation strategies from Number Talks (Humphreys & Parker, 2015; Parrish, 2014):
3. Make It a Habit
Prepare a clipboard with your chart and a pen. Carry it with you everywhere. Pause after talking with each student or group of students to make notes. Make this a habit.
4. Analyze Monitoring Charts
Protect five minutes at the end of each day, during planning, or the end of each week to use your monitoring chart to help plan instruction, and include a section for recording patterns.
- Look across one day or one week’s chart to notice patterns in your students’ needs: What does your whole class need? What common needs do a small group of students have?
- Look across multiple charts to notice patterns in the class’ growth and an individual’s growth/needs: Has the class implemented mini-lesson strategies into their independent work? Who needs a targeted mini-lesson and deliberate practice for a particular skill?
Creating and analyzing monitoring charts can take just ten to fifteen minutes a week. When recording becomes a habit, this regular formative assessment is woven into the instructional day and instructional time is maximized.
If you are interested in learning more about making learning visible and progress monitoring documentation (including downloadable, sample charts), Teaching Mathematics in the Visible Learning Classroom Grade-Level Series (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and high school) will be available in the upcoming months.
Almarode, J. T., Fisher, D., Thunder, K., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. (2019). Teaching Mathematics in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Berry, R. Q. III & Thunder, K. (2017). Concrete, representational, and abstract: Building fluency from conceptual understanding. Virginia Mathematics Teacher, 43(2), 28-32.
Fennell, F. S., Kobett, B. M., & Wray, J. A. (2017). The formative 5. Everyday assessment techniques for every math classroom.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
Humphreys, C. & Parker. R. (2015). Making number talks matter: Developing mathematical practices and deepening understanding, Grades 4-10. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Jacobs, V.R., Lamb, L.L.C., & Philipp, R.A. (2010). Professional noticing of children’s mathematical thinking. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 41(2), 169-202.
Moses, L. & Ogden, M. (2017). “What are the rest of my kids doing?”: Fostering independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Parrish, S. (2014). Number talks: Whole number computation. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.
Smith, M. S., & Stein, M. K. (2011). 5 practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.