How can Students Monitor Their Own Progress?

Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning

Many teachers, including myself, who write lesson plans consider two primary questions when making decisions: “What do I want my students to be able to know and do as a result of this lesson?” and “How do I want my students to act as a result of this lesson?” “How can I build an activity in which students can seek for answers on their own?” and “How can I design an activity in which students may search for answers on their own?”

Learning activities that promote learner freedom are critical because they encourage students to engage more deeply with the content—and that engagement should include students talking about their own work—than activities that do not. “Gone are the days when a quiet classroom was linked with a good classroom,” write educators Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. In class, it makes a difference who is talking since the amount of talking that students do is connected with their accomplishment.”

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My most interesting lessons are those in which I introduce a complex subject or problem to my students and then hand it over to them for further investigation…. Generally speaking, these lectures consist of concepts that challenge students’ thinking, call into question their preconceived notions, provoke discussion, and have numerous pathways to understanding. While students are preoccupied with finding answers, I participate in conversations, pose probing questions, and offer direction and feedback as they come to their own conclusions about what they have learned.

Making intriguing, open-ended exercises that target real-world skills, fit our learning objectives, and allow students to make choices while measuring and reflecting on their progress are all ways we may encourage students to take responsibility of their own learning and be in charge of their own learning.


Hanover Research found that “student choice encourages students to become active participants in their education, hence raising levels of engagement.” Particularly noteworthy, researchers point out that “in general, greater personal well-being and contentment in educational contexts, as well as improved academic performance, are connected with greater autonomy.”

When I challenged my ninth graders to write editorials about issues they were passionate about, they jumped at the chance to express their views on a wide range of topics, including gun safety, discrimination on gay dating sites, increased military pay, and whether veganism could be the solution to global warming, among other topics.

When I taught them about effective argument writing strategies, they were eager to start looking for sources to support their claims. They were attempting to convey the magnitude of the issues while also tempering their obvious bias, in the hopes of persuading readers to change their ways of thinking.

If you had listened in on our editorial meetings, you would have heard students asking, “Do you know where I can locate ?” “Do you know where I can find ?” alternatively, “Does this seem a little harsh to you?” “How do I acknowledge the opposing opinion if I truly do not comprehend their point of view?” is a more challenging question.

It’s these kinds of discussions that I want to see taking place in my classroom, because these are students who are taking responsibility for their own education.


“The quantity of input we can provide our students is restricted,” says Dylan Wiliam, a British academic. “In the long run, developing our pupils’ ability to provide themselves with feedback is the most fruitful technique,” says the author. The use of “I can” rubrics (such as this one) that provide meaningful measures to help students monitor their progress during an activity or project—as well as the opportunity to circulate and confer as they use the rubric to guide their work and ultimately improve their performance—can empower our students to track their own progress.

It is important that all comments provided by teachers during this process be objective and nonjudgmental because the rubric specifies the criteria for a successful conclusion. Teaching kids to self-assess helps them develop metacognition and independence, which are important life skills throughout their lives.


I give my pupils time in class to reflect on their learning on a regular basis. For the purpose of demonstrating the importance of reflection, I provide students with the following analogy: “Learning doesn’t just happen because we get an A or because we don’t make it onto the track team. We learn when we take the time to consider why we were or weren’t successful, and how we might make changes going forward to achieve a different result.”

Jay McTighe provides the following questions for self-examination:

Which component of your work, in your opinion, was the most successful? Why? What do you mean?
Which component of your work, in your opinion, was the least successful? Why? What do you mean?
Based on the comments you have received, what specific action(s) would you take to improve your performance?
What tips would you give to next year’s pupils in order to improve their success on this assignment?
What did you take out from your time spent on this activity – about the material, the issue, the process, and/or about yourself — is a good question.
A valuable formative evaluation tool for teachers, student reflections can also be used to make adjustments to the class design for future students, as demonstrated by a recent study.


Students who feel that they are in command of their own learning have a stronger sense of belonging because the classroom becomes a space that they have established. Students’ autonomy is increasing, which paradoxically makes teachers more necessary than ever, because only a professional teacher can build up the scaffolding for this kind of learning experience and mindfully guide students through each step of the process, which is becoming increasingly difficult.

When an experience challenges them, represents their interests, and allows them to express themselves, students feel appreciated and respected in the same way that they do as adults. As a result, when people are the authors of their own narrative, they pay close attention to each moment because they are profoundly invested in each of its components: rising action, falling action, resolution—the successes and lessons are all their own.