Pupil progress is a tricky topic. All too often used synonymously with overly-detailed, workload-heavy paperwork. Transformative pupil progress tracking uses fundamental principles aimed at improving pupil outcomes. Tracking pupil progress in the classroom is one of the best ways a school can ensure they have involved every stakeholder in a child’s future.
There is a fundamental purpose of monitoring pupil progress. It is to feed this knowledge back into teaching and learning. Without that it is a fruitless endeavour which will, indeed, eat into a lot of time with very little return. Some pupil progress focuses too much on a destination rather than the road travelled. This is not very rewarding in and of itself. Where the focus of pupil progress tracking is on “how do we use this information to better support this child/cohort?” then it becomes well worth every minute spent.
How to monitor pupil progress in the classroom
Monitoring pupil progress happens on an individual basis all day in a classroom. Every part of lesson planning includes opportunities to assess and evaluate progress throughout. Usually, it starts with a check of prior knowledge and understanding. Then some sharing of the next step in the topic/curriculum and regular checks that this is being understood. Then there is an opportunity to put this learning into practice with some sort of task.
The teacher will be assessing progress throughout the task in a number of ways. This may all happen in one lesson or be spread over the unit. Retrieval practice is often used to check learning is transferring to long-term memory. This may form part of homework or a revisit lesson. All of this helps a teacher to be agile and flexible. Planning small and large changes for individuals/groups of learners can occur over the course of a lesson, or block of lessons.
How pupil tracking can support learning and development
To take monitoring pupil progress a few steps further, it’s useful to track progress at a granular level, especially for those curriculum objectives which are built on over time.
“But I am doing all that monitoring in the classroom!” you may cry. Relying on the teacher alone to gather and use all that information every day is not the most efficient method to get maximum impact.
Aside from the fact that sometimes things are outside our control, a teacher may be away for a while, or move schools, and we cannot expect that all monitoring happens with the teacher. It’s unrealistic for a teacher to be expected to remember every detail of every child’s progress – especially in every subject or every lesson across months of work. A teacher can also only control so much.
So, what should we be doing?
The level of detail with which you track is entirely up to you, as is the method of recording. But it is important to track enough detail to enable changes to be made by any stakeholder in a child’s education. If the teacher does keep all of this knowledge of each child in their head, how does a parent access that to help at home? How can school leaders best resource the school if they don’t know where the biggest need is? How can a school keep improving their own provision if they do not spot trends across cohorts?
No child learns in isolation
Children don’t usually learn efficiently when completely alone. They don’t even learn just from the teacher in the classroom. There are guides and support all over including peers, parents, teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors and school leaders. Also, resources such as homework diaries and websites/apps. By sharing progress information we have about a child with lots of these influencers, we can create a maximised learning journey for that child. That is not to say they need to know every single piece of data about that child. But by curating the data, it can be shared in the right way with the right people.
Can we really measure pupil progress?
There are many schools of thought on pupil progress tracking. Some big issues came about with the old levels system. One was that pupil progress was often restricted into lovely linear graphs. They always pointed upwards on a pleasing diagonal. In reality, of course, children are humans and learning is messy. Fitting them all neatly into a “two sublevels per year” progress line is likely, at best, to ignore the actual stops and starts and spiky profiles. At worst, it’s holding some pupils back with low expectations and, also, putting a ceiling on challenge for those who are ready for the next step. This may also represent the same child in two different lessons or subjects.
But if we ignore the idea of pupil progress as a tracking of ‘grades’ or overall descriptors, we can hone in on the tracking which does matter. This happens at objective level. Each objective is a step in learning. Some children will jump onto the step. Some will carefully step up. Some will, unfortunately, trip right over it! That is where great teaching comes in to help every child to get the support they need for that step.
By recording how that went, formally or informally, we can start to pick up trends and patterns for each child. We track pupil progress on those steps as a cohort. This leads to picking out ways to help everyone and be efficient in that learning journey. We can see where we need to make the steps smaller and when to build a bridge across instead because they are racing through.
What should I track?
Well let’s take a step forward to the end point and work backwards from there…
Which data from pupil progress tracking is useful for whom?
For the child: giving a child the right feedback about their learning empowers them to take ownership. Sharing with the child simple successes can boost their engagement in the learning. Verbal feedback in the classroom is the most timely example of this. “Well done Catherine you got that spelling correct. Did you use sounding out? Do you think you are finding that easier now? I think you have met your target with all these examples.” Conversations where a teacher is modelling this reflective opportunity will lead to children being able to do this for themselves. They need to be aware of their targets. Then they can see that when the teacher says they got something right they can relate that to their target. They can see progress for themselves. The sense of pride that comes from this process helps spur them on to want to work on the next target.
It’s important for the child to see how the small steps they are working on fit into a wider picture and how they fit into the curriculum coverage. Those small steps are what helps them to get a sense of achievement. This then builds into wider achievement and better attainment.
For parents: A parent does not get to see everything happening in the classroom. They may hear from their child that they struggled with something, or may hear about a sticker they got for something good, or a certificate for good behaviour. More likely, they may hear what was for lunch!
An engaged parent will try and dig into the detail of these individual events. It is hard for them to place them into the wider context of the learning journey for their child. On Monday, their child says measuring objects was tricky, then they hear nothing else. They might assume their child continued to struggle. They may also infer that the lessons are too hard or not planned well. They may not realise that the teacher spent considerable time challenging the children and that the learning has been scaffolded. By Friday, the class had all progressed from finding it hard to being confident. They may want to jump in and help if they know their child struggled. This is a well-meaning action. But if they do not know the curriculum for the age group well enough, they may actually halt progress. They may try and get the child doing something much harder than was attempted in class. They may muddle through it together. It may end in tears! This is a natural part of a parent trying to help. We do not want them discouraged from doing this. So, we are best to give them the appropriate knowledge and support to help.
Regular information from school helps parents to understand the pupil progress line. They will learn that learning is often messy with struggles to overcome. They will learn that it is natural for their child to have days when learning is challenging. If they also have information from the last time their child did measuring in maths, they’ll be more realistic in what the next steps are. They will see a journey unfold in front of their eyes and be more empowered to support.
Their child may be learning something they cannot do either. Some targets for the child, and some resources to support them both, can help them learn together. This can be powerful but needs scaffolding, as you would do for the child in the classroom. This parental involvement can have a much bigger impact on their attainment too.
For teachers: Recording for a teacher is often about spotting trends. Teachers will often focus on an individual at a time. This will be tailored to the children who need the most support and the ones who need the most challenge. That is the nature of having 30+ children in a class. Recording pupil progress as often as possible, whilst being realistic with workload, can help to feed into planning over time which will lead to better outcomes for all. It does not make sense to record against objectives after every lesson, especially not formally. Many teachers will make reflective notes in rough onto lesson plans, as a way to remind them who needs extra support the next day. But when a unit is complete it makes sense to record against a couple of the key objectives from that week. On the whole you would hope, at this point, that the majority of the class has achieved the intended goal.
Technology can help you to record against multiple children with the same results to save time. But tracking pupil progress can help to record for those who did not meet the goal, or were very nearly there. It can also help to plan in some intervention for them in the form of follow up, or homework. Alternatively, you could put on an extra session before you come to this topic again. It may be that you only want to record against objectives by using gap analysis from tests. This is another way to do this little and often.
What matters is how you can use the data to inform planning and to impact on learning. If you look at the data and cannot make head nor tail of it, then it is the wrong data. Workload recording assessment should always be able to give you useful outputs and meaningful gap analysis across your class.
For school leaders: If teachers are recording little and often assessment at objective level, then your system should be able to support you in analysing this data. You might hope this results in lovely graphs which all go upwards in a lovely linear fashion. It is important that you can use the data to have an impact. If the data is used well, then the progress graphs will point upwards in pleasing style. But the cart must not go before the horse. The impact goes first, then the graphs start to change. If discussions about pupil progress have phrases like “Why did X not get to score Y?”, particularly if performance management targets are to get a set number of pupils to a point on the graph, then this is unlikely to result in great learning impact. You might end up with the graphs looking better. This is going to be the impact of teachers adding data to fit the graph, rather than the data informing teaching.
Instead, school leaders should be looking at pupil progress and asking questions such as: “Has that intervention we bought in been effective?” and “Can we provide any more support for this Year 4 cohort who are struggling with reading?” and “How can we support our staff development to address the weakness in writing?” If teachers feel that their honesty in recording pupil progress is rewarded, and are getting the support they need to best support their learners, then more realistic tracking happens. When the tracking is a real reflection of learning, and then is acted upon, THEN the graph goes up! And then you know that tracking pupil progress does have an impact on learning and development for every child, no matter their level or abilities.
To find out more about how Learning Ladders can support you with tracking pupil progress in the classroom, without impacting heavily on teacher workload, learn more about our data and analysis features.