An important caveat: what follows is a blog post, not particularly serious or academic – just my own practical take on progress and on how to make it more obvious in the classroom. It’s a synthesis of all the previous posts in the series and the sources they contain, and I’m making loads of assumptions and generalisations here! There’s research supporting some of the ideas, but none of them will work with all learners all the time, so feel free to experiment and let me know what has worked for you.
Why is the sense of progress so important?
Because it’s directly related to student satisfaction. It’s human psychology: when we feel we’re making progress, the sense of accomplishment releases dopamine, which affects our emotions, perceptions and motivation. So, when our students feel a greater sense of progress, there’s a greater chance they will enjoy their lessons, see even boring tasks in a more positive light, study harder – and learn more! Even better: if we consistently work on the sense of progress, we can create a positive feedback loop for our students, and then just sit back and relax 🙂
How exactly does it work?
By regular achievement of meaningful goals. Small wins, or ‘proximal subgoals’, are very useful because big goals can take too long to achieve. So, it helps to break down goals into small tasks and mark their completion in a tangible way. We also need to remember that there is a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability about progress, and manage our students’ and our own expectations.
What can we do?
PURPLE (one of my favourite activities in the series is the purple pen of progress – a nice metaphor!)
- P is for PURPOSE. When we help our students understand the aim of the lesson, of the course or an activity, when we talk to them about their study goals and the ‘big picture’ — we give them an opportunity to plan those ‘small wins’ for themselves and keep their learning meaningful. There are a lot of activities that can be used for this: signposting on and off the board, ‘why we are doing this’ discussions, goal-setting activities and can-do checklists.
- U is for UPGRADING FEEDBACK. As teachers, we need to observe our students in the classroom and give them feedback that would help them grow: model desired performance, praise and challenge when necessary, provide continuous support and communication (sometimes this has to involve parents).
- R is for RESULTS. To feel progress, it is useful to provide some evidence of learning: comparison of ‘before’ and ‘after’ results, focused reflection activities, tangible results of time and effort spent. All kinds of pre- and end-of-course tests could help here, as well as diaries and portfolios, vocabulary notebooks and progress charts.
- P is for PEER SUPPORT. When organised well, peers can become real ‘nourishers’ for each other and help us create the positive feedback loop. From motivational pairs to peer assessment activities, there are a lot of ideas that can help use the group power.
- L is for LEARNER AUTONOMY. If progress means different things to different people, it makes sense to let each student chart their own course in learning. All those learner autonomy principles can in fact help increase the sense of progress: self-assessment through various taxonomies and the CEFR scale, reflective diaries and blogs, focusing on personal goals and learning pathways, using adaptive learning systems…
And this brings us to E for EXCELLENCE. Well, at least closer to it.
To tell you the truth, I’m quite excited about the topic, especially now that it’s part of our teacher development strategy this year. Certainly, we shouldn’t forget about ‘progress paranoia‘ and ‘weighing the pig’, but let’s face it: wouldn’t you like more of your students to do well and to know that they are doing well?