Witnessing Learning over Time: Monitoring and Documenting (Part 1)

As this learning partnership grows stronger… teachers and students work together to gather information about the strengths and weaknesses of their performances in ways that inform all learners and all learning in the classroom. Moss & Brookhart, 2009

In a previous post (Reflecting Back, Moving Forward: Witnessing Learning Over Timewe talked about possible feelings of being overwhelmed when trying to monitor and document the learning of each student. Progress reports or mid-semester report cards have gone out so take a moment to breathe, slow down and reflect on the first part of this academic year.

How’s it going? You’ve designed a learning plan;  you’ve established a positive learning environment; you’re started to get to know your students as learners and students are starting to get to know you. The anchor of the assessment loop has been well established: learning goals are being set, shared and clarified to engage students in the vision of learning and students’ understanding of success criteria are building over time. And so, the stage is set for an iterative process of educators and students working together as collaborative partners.

What have you observed and heard student saying? What have you learned about your students? Are students progressing towards learning goals as expected? How do you know? Are you asking yourself, ‘Where to next?’

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary* defines monitoring as, ‘to watch, keep track of, or check usually for a special purpose’. In educational sectors, monitoring is defined as,  ‘the ongoing gathering, reviewing and assessing of information progressing towards results and goals.’ (Michael Q. Patton, 2008). Neither definition stipulates who engages in monitoring. Is there an assumption that educators are the ones ‘in control’ of this process? (Changing how we think about assessment: Becoming partners in learning) We challenge this assumption. If we change the way we think about assessment, the simplexity reveals itself.

“… simplexity means that there are a small number of key ideas you need to know and be good at (the simple part) and then be able to create the chemistry and coherence with large numbers of people that make for effective outcomes (the complex part).” (Fullan, 2013, p. vi)

Applying Learning Goals and Success Criteria: The Simple Part

    • Involving students in the assessment process creates a ripple effect ensuring that all students know the language of assessment and can identify what success looks like and sounds like,
    • Aligning specific, descriptive feedback with learning goals and success criteria increases the likelihood of feedback being used to improve student learning,
    • Aligning the process of documentation with learning goals and success criteria streamlines the process of monitoring,
    • Gathering documentation of student learning, students working alongside educators, fosters self and peer assessment leading to personal goal setting.

Applying Learning Goals and Success Criteria: The Complex Part

Complexity resides in the application of practical, strategic ways of implementing the key ideas. These four ideas work in harmony to harness the power of assessment coupled with a mindset that acknowledges an assessment stance (i.e. witnessing learning over time).

Stay tuned: This series will make connections between the keys ideas and practical assessment strategies to support ‘how to’ witness learning over time.

Witnessing Learning Over Time 

running-297154_1280One last quotation to consider and a call to action!  “…we must create assessment-capable learners. Too many students are adult-dependent learners. Others are compliant learners… what we need are learners who understand their current performance, recognize the gap between their current performance and the expected performance, and select strategies to close the gap.” (Frey, Hattie, Fisher, 2018, p. 6)

Be part of the conversation! Talk to a colleague about one intentional move you embed in your classroom or school that supports witnessing learning over time. Send us a glimpse of your conversation using the comment box below.


Frey, N., Hattie, J., Fisher, D. (2018). Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K – 12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Fullan, M. (2013). Motion Leadership in Action: More Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Moss, M., & Brookhart, S. (2009). Advancing Formative Assessment in Every classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Patton, Michael, Q. (2008). Utilization Focused Evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


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