Sunday, June 19, 2022

Monitoring Learning

How do you know when learners get it? How do you break learning goals and targets down so that you can see or hear students’ progress? How do make that progress transparent, shareable and part of your instructional routines?

When I am teaching, I think about those questions and more. When students are learning and practicing in small groups or independently, I need to be close to the action to monitor and support them. 

Monitoring versus Circulating

Circulating is movement. Circulating is not gathering evidence of learners’ knowledge and skills. Monitoring means keeping a close watch. Monitoring is strategic. Monitoring keeps notes and confers. Monitoring requires relationship and trust.

I used to think about monitoring learning in more in terms of presence and furniture. “Lift Off from the Teacher Desk” captured that thinking. 

Now, I know that being with the people is the first move. Circulating, walking around the learning space, sitting momentarily with small groups as they work, these are important initial markers of monitoring learning. To monitor though, I had to have strong relationships with students. 

Students needed to see me as a coach who was working to help them win—every learning target became an opportunity to prepare for the big game, the summative assessment. One move beyond circulating, for me as a teacher, is paying attention—because let’s be honest, sometimes we’re in the room, but thinking about something else. Taking notes helps me pay attention to students and their learning. Tracking where students are in relation to our learning targets gives me important information about what students may need next in order to continue to grow and deepen their understandings.

 I cannot hold data about 22 or 25 or 31 students in my head, especially not when I’m teaching back to back classes, so I do what others have called “clipboard cruising.” I used to attach a roster sheet or a grid on paper to a clip board, list students names down the first column and then and as Brenda Power says, I would take note. Notes took a variety of forms then and now.

Now, I use an iPad and  a variety of digital tools to monitor learning: sheets, GoodNotes 5, Equity Maps and Pear Deck. GoodNotes 5 is an app that lets me take picture, record audio, type or draw my own notes and I can share the notes with a co-teacher, so both of us have editing access to real-time data about our learners. Here is a messy page from the start of our year when I was monitoring students’ independent reading. 

Practically, using a sheet and conditional formatting to sort learning data quickly helps me see patterns quickly, form small groups, and  provide targeted practice. Capturing my assessment data in these ways supports learners during conferences when we work together to review learning and to plan or co-plan next steps for learning. 


I use a variety of formats and tools to monitor learning and gather data. I love it when students and I have set goals and planned our check ins. Exciting work that kind of teaching and learning. The best thing is when students see their own success and  trust me to monitor their learning, give them continuous formative feedback and coach them toward the goals we set— sweet indeed. 

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