The catastrophism of student progress
Does student progress happen uniformly over time or catastrophically during light bulb moments? and if so how do we maximise these moment and jumps in progress?
If progress occurs uniformly then students gradually learn and make progress at a steady rate as a consequence of the typicality of teaching over time with the trajectory/rate of progress determined by the quality of teaching. If progress occurs catastrophically then students experience breakthroughs in understanding that accelerate progress in a stepped/spiked fashion. My contention is that progress is more catastrophic in nature and that the consequence of this is that we need to create the climate and conditions in classrooms that stimulate and maximise the number of jumps in progress that students make – and it is this that we should reward and observe as good and outstanding.
Recent observations have allowed the opportunity to consider how teachers increase the chances of “jumps” in progress – for these are likely to be a greater accelerant of progress. My thoughts on this revolve around some Dark Matter that I think provides that gravitational pull on progress that forces and inspires students to make jumps in progress:
- Depth and rigour: Students are more likely to make links in their learning and progress where lessons seek depth and rigour of learning. This depth enables students to focus on what matters – skimming of content removes the opportunity to make jumps in progress. Depth is relevant for content as well as where we are developing writing for example, requiring editing and redrafting. Jumps in progress happen when students consider their work to depth.
- Challenge and pitch: Lessons need to work in the proximal zone (Vygotski) – where students are challenged to work just beyond their abilities – this massively increases and maximizes the conditions required for students to make jumps in their progress – The more time the pitch of lessons is just beyond students present ability – we stimulate more jumps.Jumps in progress happen in the proximal zone; when work is just beyond them. (easier in sets than mixed ability?)
- Precision and professionalism: Teaching that is precise about where and how students jump increases progress. Where teachers understand the syllabus, levels and exam requirements (professionalism) – the planning, questioning and intervention are more precise and trigger jumps. The teaching knows where these jumps can be made and ensures they stimulate and create the conditions to realise these gains at whole class, group level or with individuals. Jumps in progress happen when teaching is precise and knowledgeable about when and how students can make jumps in their understanding.
- Tenacity and purpose: Teachers that maximize student jumps in progress are tenacious. Students are driven and focused by the teacher, because only under these conditions do students jump. Teaching that insist on silence (at times) and have exam conditions to provide the climate for students to commit to their learning create the conditions for catastrophic jumps in progress. Where teaching shows real purpose and desire in their language and approach secure more jumps. Jumps in progress happen when teaching is tenacious, shows purpose and the control to create a culture to enable student focus that increases the incidence of jumps.
- Widen progress: Urgency and the securing of wide progression creates the atmosphere, expectation and climate for students to achieve jumps in their progress. Modeling is key here to widen progress to hear and exemplify where and when these jumps in progress occur – particularly important where students hear others’ work and reflections on their learning. This enhances the students’ ability to realise and make links that allow them to enjoy jumps in progress. Jumps in progress happen when teaching widens, highlights, shares and celebrates jumps in progress
Measure quality of lessons by the climate and the conditions created by the teacher to stimulate jumps in progress, where the indicator of success is the quality of learning and progress and not just engagement and behaviour
These describe the climate and conditions required to stimulate jumps in student progress. Where these are absent, even in part, students do not spend enough time in the zone where catastrophic gains in progress are made. These that have a greater than expected influence on a students progress over time. We perhaps need to ensure that observations focus on rewarding the lessons that create these conditions and stimulate these punctuating and accelerating jumps in progress?
Dr Dan Nicholls