Early Childhood educators are probably most likely to already be employing this strategy. They are responsible for teaching every standard in every subject to every child. They are then responsible for assessing whether that child shows progress, masters the concept, or does not show enough progress to move on to the next skill.
In addition to core subjects, early childhood teachers have to teach, monitor, and help refine students’ motor skills, success strategies for the classroom setting, and general life and school skills (don’t sneeze in your friends face, wash your hands after using the restroom, cleaning up after oneself, why we do not lick the floor, etc... ).
One of the ways early childhood educators keep track of all of this information is by using checklists. Checklists give you a “big picture” view of where each student is on the learning spectrum on a variety of skills at a glance.
That being said, checklists are not just for early childhood educators. Checklists can be significantly helpful for any subject at any level.
Here’s why: whereas early childhood educators only teach 23 students (give or take a few), they teach all 4 core subjects, plus motor skill strategies, school success strategies, and do a lot of behavioral management.
You may be a senior English or math teacher with 150 students. Technically, though, the amount of information you have to keep track of is likely to be about the same.
Not only can checklists make your life easier (a big sell), but they can be extremely handy for differentiating lessons. When you know your students have demonstrated an ability authentically, you’ll be able to plan for them to move forward with confidence. If a student is unable to demonstrate mastery of a skill in daily work or informal assessment, you’ll know they need more time before assessing formally and moving on.
Additionally, checklists can be extremely helpful for students to use as well. Younger children can use a personal copy of directions for a project (laminated or placed in a sheet protector for reused, if applicable). Older students can check off tasks for projects and assignments as they complete them.
When students have individual checklists for projects, teachers can keep those for records and grading or include them as part of the project. Having a detailed list can really help students who struggle with executive function skills.
In this blog, we’ll be addressing checklists specifically for the use of teachers, although there are quite a few blogs out there for how students can use them effectively.
Create or Find a Template
The first step for using an index for monitoring student progress is to make or find a template.
Creating a template is fairly simple in a word or google document form. If you’ve never created or used a checklist in either of these programs before, type “how to create a checklist in Word” (or Google docs or whatever program you are using) into your internet search engine. There are lots of articles and videos on how to do this.
The most useful way to do a checklist is by entering the standard or standards you are teaching in the top row, leaving the first columns for names or initials. It’s most useful if you can condense or separate elements of a standard so that they are easily assessed and noted quickly.
Some teachers who use checklists like to compile all the standards they’ll be teaching for the year, especially if some standards overlap.
Before you create a template, there are a few other things to decide. How will you rate each standard? Here are a few ways to record the information.
You can simply record whether the student has mastered the skill or not with a checkmark. This “yes or no” is the easiest to set up, but it may not give you enough information in the long-run.
Scales are a lot more useful. You can assign numbers, like 0 or a blank for having not made any progress, 1 for progressing, 2 for approaching mastery, and 3 for mastery. You might even use the letters for each of those categories - No Progress = NP, Progressing = P, Approaching Mastery = AM, and Mastery = M.
Whichever you decide to use, be sure you make a key either on the top or bottom of each page to remind you what the parameters of the scale are. It will also help if you share the data with other people for record-keeping purposes.
One other consideration you might make is to create room for dating your data. You can write the date when you introduced the information or standard, how long it was taught, when you retaught the information, and when (if) it was mastered.
This is remarkably handy information for Sp.Ed. documentation, ARD meetings, and meeting with committees about student success. It may even help you discover trends in your students’ learning, areas in which they are weak and need more support, and even areas within your teaching that you may need some help boosting.
Combining Scales and Dating Data
A more advanced way of keeping track could be by using color to organize the scale (for example, red for no progress, blue for progressing, purple for approaching mastery, and green for mastery). If you do it this way, you could note the date in the color that signifies the rate of progress. Just remember to always include a key (suggesting for a friend - “none” of our writers have “ever” forgotten what their organization strategies stood for...).
There is no need to recreate anything, though, if you can find a checklist premade. Thankfully, there are many templates in existence. If you type your grade level and subject matter into your search engine, you’re very likely to get lots of examples. Teachers Pay Teachers has many of these. We simply typed in “standards checklists” and got nearly 14,000 possible matches.
Granted, you’ll need to specify which standards you’re following along with your grade level and subject matter, and that will pare down quite a few matches.
Keeping Track of Learning
So, basically, the idea of this is to keep the checklist handy. If you carry an iPad, tablet, or another sort of device all day and can keep track electronically, that would be great. Most teachers, however, find easier it to print out a hard copy of the checklist, keep it on a clipboard, and attach a pen (or a few, depending on your method of recording).
Another advantage to using a pen and paper hard copy list is that when you write, you are far more likely to remember what you’ve recorded more accurately.
Regardless of which way you choose, though, once you’ve introduced a topic and students are working on either an individual or group activity, you’d take your checklist with you around the room and just mark where each student is in their understanding.
If you’re doing a simple “yes or no”, “check or no check” list, this task will be pretty quick. Check the box for everyone who’s mastered not just the lesson, but the standard. You may be able to assess their understanding of other standards at the same time.
For example, if you’re teaching fourth-grade math, and you’ve been working with a student who’s struggled with one-digit to one-digit multiplication, and they demonstrate capability while working on a group project measuring angles, you can check off both standards at the same time.
It won’t take a lot longer to assess and place their learning on a scale, though, so if you’re able to do that, it will give you a more accurate understanding of how to organize your next lessons and move forward. In our example above, being able to note that the student did demonstrate mastery or one-digit to one-digit, but that he or she did so months after it was reviewed as a third-grade concept could mean the difference between getting that student tested and qualified for pull-out 504 help or not.
Repeat the process each time you discuss the topic, do an activity, or have students do independent work on the subject.
One of the big advantages of doing this is that even when you are working in another subject, or your students are doing some free or self-directed study in a genius hour or something similar, you can still note their progress if you witness it. It makes you far more aware of where each student truly is, and your assessment of their progress is more authentic.
Whereas test questions and formatting can be confusing at times, truly identifying whether the student has acquired the skill taught should always be the most important goal, and authentic assessment makes it possible to do that.
Using the Data to Form Lessons and Group Learners
This data is very useful for forming remediation groups, deciding which students have already mastered the content and need more advanced or “deeper” work, and which students are right on track developmentally. As you plan your further instruction, you’ll be able to differentiate precisely who gets what instruction.
You’ll continue this cycle - tracking data, using it to inform your lesson planning, offering specific and differentiated lessons, offering engaging activities, and tracking data again.
Often, when not using these kinds of helpers, we get very focused on what we can see right now - what standard(s) we are responsible for in one small window of time. We approach our teaching in segments, and we get mentally distant from whatever learning we aren’t dealing with right at that time.
When you use a checklist or similar tool, you broaden the timeline for students to achieve.
If you have a student working far behind - six months or more - there’s no reason you can’t make checklists to show exactly where they are. In fact, having the opportunity to see the standards leading up to the current grade level can help tremendously.
Most teachers know their own grade level’s standards, but the standards in the grade levels above and beyond are absolute mysteries.
That does not greatly benefit learning.
If you know what they are missing, you are far more likely to fill the gaps as you go than you are if you don’t have that information.
Once each 6 or 9-weeks, depending on your school’s grading schedule, compile all the information you’ve recorded into a more formal document. At the end of the year, creating individual information sheets would be incredibly helpful to pass on to future teachers if at all possible.
But if you are starting this sort of record-keeping for the first time ever, start smaller, perhaps only using a “yes-or-no” checklist. If you see success with it and see the need for more detail, next year do something more advanced. As you figure out what works best from you, and you are able to reuse templates and get more specific about what information is most helpful for you, then you’ll be more likely to know what information should be passed on.
When you get to that level, you’ll likely have more time and energy to develop something individualized to pass along. That may be a goal to keep in mind for a few years in the future.
BONUS: Cool Resource
ClassMax is an app you can get for $5/month or $39.99/year (there are also subscriptions available for schools and districts). It does a lot of the “legwork” for you in compiling data and applying it to students with information on specific standards. It has lots of other bells and whistles, too, like hall pass and behavior tracking. Here’s the website with more information: https://classmaxapp.com/wicm/
(Full Disclosure: We don’t have any sponsorship from ClassMax or get anything in return for mentioning them, we just think it’s a cool product at a great price.)