Progress should be SEEN and heard!


What is progress monitoring and why do we think it is essential to learning? Remember the days when only the teacher and parent knew how well the student was doing? That was back when we would get a test or assignment returned to us and stare in disbelief at the grade —- wondering how did that happen????

Self-regulation and the common core moves the learner into the key position of measuring his or her own progress in a specific area of study.

A fourth grade teacher (Bronx, NY) reported how graphing practice test goals and results helped her students track their progress for state exam preparation…….

As part of our 4th grade test prep we give students practice tests 3 different times (January, February, and March) before the state exam. After they take their practice test they record their score on a graph and create a realistic goal for the following practice test to aim higher. Several of my students were highly motivated with this graphing system, because they saw the numbers and knew that is not the score they wanted. They wanted to aim higher so they worked very hard by getting tutoring, asking for additional practice, asking questions etc. As a result, the students saw their growth and felt extremely proud of themselves which took off lots of anxiety for the state test because they knew they had been working hard to prepare themselves for the test.” This teacher later reported the outcome of individual progress monitoring…….All of my students passed the state exam! Not only was our grade the highest scores in the entire school but not one of my students failed. Our overall percentage of 75% in ELA and overall 89% in math!

Graphs, checklists, charts, all provide simple ways for students to SEE their progress. When proximal goals are set (and NOT distal), students can see their accomplishments even if they are “baby steps” toward accomplishing a greater goal. Seeing one success at at time leads to increased self-efficacy in that specific area.  Students love to enter data, especially when it reflects hard word that has led to improved scores. Teachers who provide extra help, tutoring, and support can show students how taking advantage of extra help can lead to improved performance!

Self-Regulating Me!

This summer I am writing a book with a colleague about self regulation and the common core.  This blog began as book notes and now that I am nearing the end of the project I realized I have not been able to find the time to blog.  I cannot complain, I have had great work space and time, maintained focus, and approached each writing session with self-set goals and self-instructions.  However, I should have set aside time to blog…….


Self instruction is the way we focus our attention on the task at hand.  I think we all do it at times, some call it “self talk” others call it “self-verbalizations” – however, training in self-instruction is critical for even our youngest learners.

I find that before I begin a day I self-instruct with a plan of action, make a list, and check the list to evaluate my progress.  If I have made significant progress and am satisfied with my performance, self-efficacy goes up! If I have struggled to find a resource, citation, or idea for a new chapter, my self-efficacy goes down. The self-instruction helps me manage my self-efficacy beliefs when I taking a closer look at my progress and I can attribute success or failure to a particular behavior.  When I add a comment next to each of my goals that attributes my behaviors to whether or not I accomplished the goal, I can realistically evaluate my progress.  At that point, I know what to do, what to change, and how to reset my goals to make those I did not attain manageable and realistic, to try again.

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So today’s self-instruction included blogging, and now that I have accomplished the task, I can attribute specific behaviors that led to my satisfaction.  First, I planned how I would set aside the time early today…Second I decided to use one of my writing breaks….Third, I considered the importance of keeping up with the blog (which made it a priority)…..Fourth, instead of procrastinating over a cup of coffee, I did it!!!!

What does this have to do with the common core?  Self-instruction can help teachers manage their classrooms and their lesson planning in a way that can turn the standards into goals, and instead of becoming overwhelmed with what we cannot do, we can consider our accomplishments and keep going……

Are the Common Core Standards Goals?

high goals

So much chatter about the CCSS has made it to comedy television with hosts reading math problems and evaluating the common core based on curriculum.

One important aspect of the CCSS that appears to be overlooked is where the curriculum comes from – the standards are national, the curriculum and implementation is local. If you play soccer in your backyard it is not the same as playing it in the World Cup, the playing field might be different, the amount of players adjusted, but a goal is a goal. Curriculum can be changed, but the standards are critical to finally having an educational system that provides students with a strong foundation from which to develop critical thinking and information processing strategies.

Many chuckles were heard as the comedy host poked fun at the way we are asking children to think about math as they do math. When Johnny and Mary compute a math problem, we don’t only want the answer, we want to know how they arrived at the answer, what was their reasoning? This is critical thinking about computation and something we have lacked in American education for too many years.


The CCSS are an opportunity to encourage self-regulation not only amongst students, but teachers, teacher educators, teacher candidates and the educational community at large. They are a series of specific and proximal goals that keep us all on track (nationally) to produce college and career ready young adults. For example, in order for a first graders in New York, Mississippi, and California to set specific goals and check the progress of performance towards meeting those goals, there has to be a standard! If the first grader does not meet the goal at the first attempt, self-regulation (and the CCSS spiral) invites them to review their performance, and reset the goal – there is no fear of failure, just a gradual progression towards success. The CCSS is repetitive and encourages walking up the staircase of complexity slowly but surely, accomplishing goals in order to move to the next level.

Standards are a good thing, the way we are implementing them is where the controversy lies. Educators need to agree on the goals, and find a way to get administrators to listen to the voices that can inspire successful implementation at every level.

Give me a goal…


How we experience something defines how we will remember it. We can inspire information writing if we help young learners set goals to define their experiences. Self-regulated learners set goals, for reading, writing, and also for what the environment can teach them.  If the goal is to have fun at the beach then they go to the beach with sand pails and shovels.  If the goal is to learn something about the beach they bring along a camera, journal, or paper to take notes about what is seen and heard.  What is wonderful is when both things happen, fun and learning experiences are the most memorable. It will not destroy the wonderful memories of surf and sand if after leaving the beach someone suggests reading a book about the sand castles they had so much fun building in order to learn how it is even possible!

There is much of chatter about the shift to information reading and writing, but not enough excitement. The CCSS require a balance of literature and informational texts for young readers and writers culminating in a third grade literacy test that might appear to be a bit overwhelming if preparation is not begun as early as preschool. Writing from sources is nothing new, being required to inform is!  When the source is memories stored in the brain, some of us come up empty, when the source is a book or a personal binder of notes and pictures, we are all on the same page. If a student describes his/her summer vacation s/he might be asked if while at the dude ranch did s/he learn anything about horses, or was it just fun? Writing for information inspires young learners to look for information while they are having fun, and teachers can encourage young learners to do both.



Let them write!

IMG_2681Will this kid ever write? Already in kindergarten and still using invented spelling to compose a note to her grandma? Well, she independently communicated her thoughts in writing and stickers…and today is a proficient writer creating professional “books” with data and vocabulary fit for high level Wall street investors.  Of course her mom did not feel that this note required revision, but as this little girl learned the mechanics of spelling she applied them…and by first grade grandma was seeing the results of the work of a good teacher who taught her to put her ideas down first, then revise, and then edit…making writing fun and not a chore.

IMG_2679 Recognizing that at the earliest stages writing is a process that requires feedback from a more proficient writer is a hallmark of the common core and reflecting earlier writing initiatives such as Writer’s Workshop. Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), or Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CISW).

The CCSS have placed practice in three types of writing as the centerpiece of the shift towards being college ready and for this we should be cheering!  The standards promote writing in three categories (narrative, argumentative, informative) first and foremost getting kids to write.  Students are engaged in a writing process that encourages ideas or responses to writing prompts to flow and applies the mechanics afterwards. So when one looks at what the CCSS “expects” of a kindergartener one has to keep in mind that the expected outcome relies on the recursive process of writing which is Think…Write…Revise…Edit…Think again…Rewrite…Revise….Re-edit!

Initially, practice in writing tasks is what molds a good writer, not perfect mechanics.  Many years ago I observed a writing lesson in a bilingual school in the Bronx.  The second graders were editing a composition about Johnny Appleseed provided by a brave young writer who was open to “feedback”. The teacher put the composition on the overhead (yes that long ago, no smart boards then), and said to the class, “Before we begin to make suggestions to Mary, who wants to be the first to pay her a compliment about her composition?”  Little hands went up and what followed were positive statements about the writer’s penmanship, choice of topic, and willingness to share her work.  Then the teacher guided the class in making suggestions, and Mary looked on smiling and thanking them for their help.

The scenario described above was almost 15 years ago and the CCSS have reiterated the call to write (with spelling errors), revise (after receiving feedback on content), and edit (fix the mechanical errors).  One of the reasons our youngsters hesitate to write is because so many still focus on the mechanics before the free flow of thought.  Self-regulated writers set writing goals keeping in mind only one goal can be reached at a time. If the first goal is to put an idea on paper, the second to revise, and the third to edit, the outcome will be a product of process writing and the self-efficacy of the young writer will increase each time a goal is reached.

There are many writing programs that provide guidelines for writing using self-regulatory learning (see links below) or process writing. Yes, it takes time, it is a process, and it is laborious…however the results are significant.

Self Regulated Strategy Development

Writer’s Workshop

Cognitive Guided Instruction in Writing





The earlier we begin teaching CLOSE reading the better……

confused reader 

How many times have we heard the term, “close reading” and wondered what exactly that means for children who are not yet reading independently? For one thing it is a requirement of the common core and as Martha Stewart would say, “….it is a good thing!”

Text comprehension begins with listening and monitoring our comprehension of the massive amount of words and ideas that flood our brains throughout the day.  Our filtering systems require us to STOP the flow when we don’t understand something that is being said or read to us that is how we build prior knowledge.  Learning to differentiate when we are understanding, vs when we are not, is the foundation to building a vocabulary that leads to reading comprehension.

Young learners become self-regulated when they are taught to closely monitor their comprehension during (teacher) read alouds. Raising the awareness of both teacher and learner that we all process information differently and that each individual learner should be given the opportunity to alert the teacher when confused about a read aloud text can fulfill two requirements of the common core state standards —(CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.3Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.)


  • Close reading (during read alouds) can motivate children to recognize when they need help. Directing children to ask for help in specific situations, with appropriate motives and questioning strategies, helps them distinguish between adaptive and excessive help seeking.
  • Young students can be trained to ask for help strategically. For example, by asking the teacher to revisit a misunderstood phrase or posing a specific question when trying to figure out the author’s intended meaning.

We cannot begin the process too soon – we are accustomed to checking for understanding by having the teacher pose the questions, but not the other way around.  If we are to train self-regulated young learners to be college ready, the earlier we teach them how and when to phrase and pose the questions, the sooner they will be able to access information from text.


Being test ready….

test anxiety cope

With all the chatter about the common core and testing I have again been reminded of what it means to be “college-ready.”  One thing I learned in all the courses I took on the validity and reliability of testing was that if we only used test results for their intended purpose we would be safe from having any one test measure the success or failure of our students.

I recall learning that my daughter could begin to take the PSAT’s when she was in the seventh grade. Prior to that I did not know there was a practice period of testing that came before the actual TEST.  Allowing her to begin to participate in the process early on gave her a sense of power over the exam, raising her self-efficacy over time.  First of all, in the beginning it was for practice, the test had no consequences other than for her to become familiar with standardized testing, time constraints, and any anxiety that might accompany test-taking.  Over time, as she familiarized herself with the test, she was able to self-regulate.  She would set goals, self-monitor her performance, and then reflect on whether or not the strategies she used led to a performance that was successful (or unsuccessful).  By beginning this process almost three years prior to the PSAT’s, she was able to approach the even more critical SAT’s with a calmness that was not necessarily her own, but that of a prepared student. This is not true for many of our learners, who meet the PSAT for the first time in the ninth grade, cannot afford tutors for content or instruction in strategic test taking, and as a result do poorly on the SAT’s and are not able to enter higher education.


Practice in taking standardized tests can allow our students to plan and evaluate their performance using self regulation strategies from the earliest grades.  Rather than emphasize the score on the test, we should consider emphasizing which test taking strategies are being measured, and whether or not using them has an impact on performance. The common core community is beginning to realize that the validity and reliability of the standardized testing associated with the common core is not credible; it requires a transition phase (at the very least).  Taking time to evaluate the reliability and validity of the new measures is critical to the success of standardized testing.