Progress Monitoring: Teacher and Student Reflections for Problem-Solving

The practice of monitoring student progress for instructional decision making is an essential component of a tiered system of support. The purpose of progress monitoring is to have feedback systems so we know when students are learning and demonstrating essential skills and when we need to plan differently to meet their needs.

This concept was right in line with a recent endeavor of mine. I purchased a Fitbit – one of those bracelets that tracks my activity throughout the day. I can synch effortlessly with my iPhone, iPad, or through my computer. Instant feedback! I have learned very quickly that the daily monitoring, without a concentrated focus on changing my exercise habits, only makes my graph look good by chance (i.e., those days I happened to have a schedule that took me to many buildings and classrooms). For several weeks I was hoping that a daily look at the data would motivate me to get my routine going more consistently. It hasn’t. It will happen. As I’ve humbled myself to the point of getting serious, I find myself reflecting on the questions that I must answer in order to develop a plan that has a chance of working. I’m fortunate that my desire for a more fit and healthy lifestyle is one of preference and not a medical must.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the students for whom a tiered system is imperative. The purpose of our universal screening system is to provide an opportunity to identify early those students who need additional support in order to achieve important educational outcomes. It has a prevention orientation. Likewise, the progress monitoring component provides us a way to see a “motion picture of progress” over time so we can use student performance data as feedback so we know whether or not to stay the course or consider a change. It, too, is oriented as preventative. We want to be reviewing and responding to our data in a manner that will be sensitive to growth and indicate when we should stop, reflect, and consider a change. It is this last part of a data-based decision making routine that needs our attention.

In my district, we’ve adopted the “3-data point consecutively above or below the aimline” as data-decision rule to trigger the stop, reflect, and respond data-based routine. I have appreciated the simplicity in the guide and it has served us well over time. Given that our general outcome measures are collected weekly, this guide would be span at least a 3 week period of time. Given, too, that we have daily progress monitoring checks within our core and intervention programs, the 3 week look at overall progress provides a generous span for reflection.

To guide reflection, we have a basic set of questions that include the basic problem-solving process:

Basic Assurances
  1. Are we planning and carrying out proper differentiation during core instruction?

  2. Do we have an intervention that is well matched to the student’s needs areas?

  3. Do we have an adequate amount of time for our intervention?

  4. Are we providing the intervention with sufficient frequency?

Basic Problem-Solving
  1. What can we identify is working well? Not as well? Think about how the student is responding to the following:
    • Instructional delivery and strategies
    • Activities
    • Materials
    • Content

  2. For those areas not working as well, is it clear what should be changed or do we need additional information?

  3. What will it look like if the changes are successful?

While this is the basic teacher mantra for reflection, I encourage colleagues to include students in the problem-solving process as well.

Including Students in the Progress Monitoring Process
I’ve been excited when colleagues share that they have students involved in graphing their progress monitoring data. In many instances, the process proves to be affirming and reinforcing when their skills are accelerating. Colleagues have shared, however, that they “feel bad” when the data are plateauing or going down. I think we’d be wise to help student’s reframe the issue. Here are some thoughts:

First, when we begin to involve students in the progress monitoring process, we need to frame the purpose of the assessment upfront. They need to understand that these are snapshots of reading that give us an indication of progress and let us know when we may need to make a change. The student needs to be aware of their reading strengths and needs and active in the reflection process alongside the teacher. The focus of reflection isn’t that the “number is going up,” but rather being cognizant of what reading behaviors are improving.

In order to do this, we need to make sure they have a schema for what good readers do. I have found kids are generally good at generating this list themselves. We can help fill in gaps. We use this list to be realistic about where the student is starting in terms of strengths and needs and make sure they understand that our role in intervention is to help develop strong overall reading behaviors.

Once students have an understanding of the purpose of assessment and focus on essential reading behaviors, the last part is to reinforce that teaching and learning is a process. We need to make sure students’ understand that as we monitor, we’ll be talking about what is working, what isn’t working, and we will work together as a team to determine what needs to be changed. If students don’t understand this, then we run the risk of lack of progress being internalized as something that can’t change. The danger of this mindset is almost more difficult to overcome than the reading skills we are developing.

Slight changes in the reflection questions for students that promote the problem-solving mindset include:

Basic Problem-Solving
  1. What have you noticed about your reading this past (week, month…)? (be prepared to share some things you, as the teacher, are noticing that are developing reading behaviors)

  2. Our quick checks are showing… (A positive trend toward a goal that would represent strong reading skills and habits. When we are in group together, what is helping the most? [prompt questions around delivery, activities, materials] What about when you are in class? At home?)

    Our quick checks are showing (we haven’t found the exact match with regards to what I’m doing as the teacher, the materials we are using, the activities we do, etc. When you think about how you’ve been changing as a reader, what is working for you? What is difficult? Are there things I do with you that we could change?)

    Note that you’ll have to work to find the words that work best for you and the student. Anticipate that this may be difficult at the beginning because they likely haven’t been asked these questions on a frequent basis.

  3. If you come up with a different plan, have the student involved in drawing a phase line on the graph so they see the connection with the teaching and learning process.

I hope people with share their experiences with this! The potential for stronger intervention changes and student engagement in their learning process is exciting.
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