As Term 2 of 2023 draws to a close, it is time for teachers, parents and learners to reflect on student progress. With major achievements and milestones often prioritised, it is crucial not to overlook the significance of smaller steps and incremental growth along the learning journey. By shifting our focus to celebrate the progress each learner makes, we can cultivate a positive and supportive learning environment that fosters growth, motivation, and a lifelong love for learning.
But what does this look like, how can we make sure that we see progress when it happens, and how can we avoid making learners feel like they are getting a ‘participation certificate’, rather than having progress genuinely recognised?
Foster a Growth Mindset: The power of ‘yet’ beats the power of ‘can’t’. Encouraging a growth mindset empowers learners to embrace challenges, overcome setbacks, and view mistakes as opportunities for learning and improvement. When we help our children realise that they have made progress towards a goal, it enables them to see that their ‘I can’t do that’ inner voice is becoming less true, and their ‘I can’t do that - yet’ voice more true. And calling out ‘yet’ every time you hear an ‘I can’t/I don’t know how to’ will make them laugh (go on, ask me how I know!)
Help your learners see that while they might not be at the end point, they are closer than they were before. Visuals can be helpful for a lot of learners, so think about how you can make something abstract a bit more concrete, without falling into the trap of the data walls of the past.
Create a Supportive Learning Environment: Celebrating progress throughout the year, as well as during a reporting period, fosters a positive and supportive learning environment. Learners feel seen, valued, and encouraged, promoting a sense of belonging and enhancing overall well-being. It is important for learners to see that learning looks different for each of them, and there is nothing more powerful than watching learners who might be achieving at a higher level recognise and praise a learner for making progress at their pace.
Create opportunities for all learners to share their work, not just those who complete tasks, or create the best final products. ‘Best’ looks different for everyone. This can provide the stories that keep you going too - I still vividly remember the expression on a learner’s face as he received glowing feedback from his classmates. He had asked to read his reader to the class after lunch, and those chapter book reading peers clapped and said how much they loved his red level story. They could recognise the progress he had made!
Tailor Instruction and Personalise Learning: It is crucial to acknowledge individual strengths, weaknesses, and specific learning needs. By recognising incremental growth, educators can tailor instruction and personalise learning experiences to meet each learner's unique requirements. This personalised approach maximises potential and ensures that no progress goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. This means flexible and fluid grouping, this means being responsive to needs, this means seeing all learners where they are at.
Consider how you group your learners - are they in one group until they are all ready to move on? Is there opportunity for learners to accelerate by being included in workshops aimed above where they are at? Are you easily able to identify exactly where the sticking points are for learners who can’t seem to move past a learning progression? Having the right system to support the admin side of this makes your life easier - and ensures you can see what all your learners need.
Empower Learner Agency: When students have a clear understanding of what they are learning and how they can assess their own progress, it empowers them with a sense of agency in their education. The value of progress becomes even more pronounced as students actively participate in setting goals, monitoring their growth, and celebrating their achievements. When learners have a clear roadmap of their learning objectives and the means to gauge their progress, they become active participants in their education, driving their own success and developing valuable skills such as self-reflection, self-direction, and metacognition.
Provide students with the tools and knowledge to self-assess, in order to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning journey. You probably already share the what, through learning intentions, and the how they know, through success criteria. Support them to identify how what they have done fulfils that criteria, or if they aren’t understanding something, how to indicate that they need more support by setting a learning goal.
Education is a lifelong journey, and celebrating progress instils a passion for learning that extends beyond the classroom. By empowering learners to recognize their progress, we nurture a growth mindset that transcends academic endeavours and encourages them to seek challenges, set ambitious goals, and pursue personal growth throughout their lives. Let's embrace the transformative power of progress and inspire learners to cherish their journey, as much as the destination.
Kylie Dawson is a former primary school teacher in Auckland, New Zealand, who now supports other teachers in developing their practice for Te Kete Hono. She is passionate about learner agency and mentoring educators.
If you are interested in a tool that can support you to ensure all learners make progress, that progress is shared and celebrated with the learner and their whānau, that gaps and strengths are easily identified, and learners can take control of their learning journey; Check out SchoolTalk!