Aggressive Monitoring – A Smart Move?

Ask most teachers how they go about monitoring student work and they will most likely say “I start with the slowest or weakest student.” They will not say “I monitor aggressively.” unless they have read Get Better Faster by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo. I know that for sure. I polled my colleagues.

One of the concepts mentioned in the book is the idea of aggressive monitoring. Doesn’t sound pleasant, does it? And yet, I put it to the test with my Year 10s writing their first full essay on Orwell’s 1984 and was amazed by the impact it had on my students. 

Here is a short account of what steps we took in class.

SCAFFOLDING AND MODELLING 

One of my teaching mottos is making implicit explicit, talking out loud through the thinking process behind complex tasks. Therefore the first two lessons in preparation for the writing focused on another extract using questioning and modelling slowly,  what happens automatically in the head of someone who is confident in attempting an exam question. We looked at how to:

  • break the question down, 
  • select and annotate quotations from the extract, 
  • make links to the whole text,
  • make references to the writer’s message and the socio-historical context.

We then studied an A* answer to the said question identifying useful phrases and analysing how the students met the A* criteria.

GUIDED PRACTICE

The following lesson the students got the opportunity to complete guided practice, analysing the extract they will write about in groups of three. I guided the students through the explicit approach to the question and the extract following the same steps students were introduced to in the modelling phase. At this point I stepped back and encouraged students to bounce ideas off each other and go back to their notes in their exercise books to plan their response effectively.

AGGRESSIVE MONITORING

Having done the preparation, it was time for students to write and for me to put the aggressive monitoring to the test. Following the script in Get Better Faster, I introduced the prompt codes to the students before getting them to write their essays. I briefly reminded them what each code meant although they are already familiar with these as they are directly linked to the success criteria we used for writing our analytical paragraphs.

I then explained that while they were writing, I would go around twice to look at their work and add the relevant code in their margin. I made it very clear I would not be discussing the code with them but they were allowed to go back to the A* model to see how the student met that criteria in their essay. I clarified that if I held conversations with every student then some students would not get the feedback they deserved, which everyone agreed would have been unfair.

At the start of this blog I mentioned that most teachers start with the weakest or struggling students but Get Better Faster actually argues you should go to your fastest writers first because they will have something written for you to mark when you get to them. I was surprised to read that and to be honest, it made perfect sense when I thought about it. I wish someone had told me that 20 years ago when I started teaching!

Once the students were engrossed in their writing, I made my way around the room. I announced loudly and clearly that I was coming around to look at their introduction only and reminding them that they were to look at the board and in their books to seek help on how to improve their work in response to the code given. The element of surprise for me here was that it was easy enough to identify the fastest and the slowest writers but getting the students in the middle in the right order proved a challenge. I have learnt a lot about the pace at which my middle band works during this exercise.

Surprisingly, this part of monitoring was a breeze and I was quite quickly able to move on to checking up on students and their first analytical paragraphs, ensuring they were on track to meet all the success criteria. I was stunned by the end of the essay writing task. Not only was I able to see 20 students twice in the space of 20 minutes, but also I was able to preempt students forgetting to meet certain commonly missed success criteria so by the end, when I took their books in for deep marking (something I planned to do to help me reflect on the effectiveness of the strategy), I found I was feeding back on their truly best work. I will most certainly be monitoring aggressively a lot more from now on.

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