Tuesday / April 23

Defining Progress in Learning

One of the most confounding issues that schools face is the development of a common definition of progress. In many of our current accountability systems, we focus much more on levels of achievement (Advanced, Proficient, Basic, or Minimal) than we do on the progression of learning students make from the beginning of the year until the end. In addition, when students join us on this journey, we are able to engage them in the most powerful innovation that Professor John Hattie found in his definitive research of Visible Learning (2009): the nurturing of student assessment capabilities.

For successful learning to occur, it is critical that teachers take into account four significant considerations before teaching begins. These considerations are:

(1)  Current level of performance (prior achievement)

(2)  Desired levels of learning (the learning target)

(3)  Rate of progress from start to end (intended learning progressions)

(4)  Effective teacher collaboration and critique in planning so as to efficiently facilitate the effective monitoring of progress, which can inform future instructional adjustments depending on the ebbs and flows of the learning journey.

The importance of defining progress cannot be understated as it impacts many issues in relationship to effective use of assessment, instructional decision-making, and lastly, the importance of how we think about our work as evaluators, change agents, and adaptive learning experts and the impact these thoughts can have on student achievement and the success of our teaching. When thinking about what progression in learning might look like— that is, what it means to improve in math, language arts, or art— it is also important that teachers have a common conception of progress. Teachers need to share an understanding amongst themselves, across schools, of what the progression of challenge & difficulty looks like from grade to grade and course to course, what progress looks like in regard to the levels of challenge within the context of the subject area under study, and the extent that teachers are interchangeable in their knowledge of challenge.

The tricky thing about progress is that for many students it may not be linear. There are many starts and stops in learning, and a great deal of how this journey goes relates back to what kids already know, even if that knowledge contains misconceptions. Madeline Hunter is credited with saying, “New learning is like wet concrete: once set, it can be very problematic if there are errors.” Attending to what learning progression might look like, being able to determine metrics of how and when we might measure this progression, and thinking about how we might engage students in this conversation are all essential considerations brought to light by the Visible Learning research.

Students and teachers alike truly must be adaptive learning experts to make a working understanding of progress function for both teachers and students, the latter of whom are the most critical stakeholders in the process of learning. Ongoing dialogue, the use of assessment as feedback, and the evaluation of instructional decisions and learning tactics used by students hinge on the picture of progress painted in the context of the intended learning outcomes.


How do you and your colleagues currently define, communicate, and monitor progress in your school/district in order to inform all stakeholders about the target of learning, the current status in relation to the target, and possible next steps in light of this evidence?

 2nd Annual International Visible Learning Conference

B.R. Jones is presenting at the 2014 International Visible Learning Conference on Thursday, July 17th at 1:30pm PT. To register for the conference, please click here. For more information on B.R. Jones’s session at the International Visible Learning Conference, watch this video here.

Written by

As a professional educator, BR Jones spent nearly 20 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and supervising principal in K-12 schools in Mississippi. Recognized as the State Administrator of the Year in 2010, BR began traveling the nation sharing effective practice to improve student achievement. BR seeks to provide world-class service to educators across the world while helping to improve education one child, one school, and one district at a time.

BR is the author of The Focus Model.

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