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Although the idea of “learning progression” is something to which all teachers aim – if there was no progress there probably wouldn’t be much point in the class taking place – one problem is that it’s frequently difficult to successfully and succinctly document progression, whether you want such documentation as proof of progress to an outsider (such as a colleague or inspector) or for your own peace of mind.

A Progress Mat…

And this is where the Progress Mat comes into play.

It provides a simple way to record and document learning within a class.

It’s also a useful starting-point for a particular teaching technique.

Who originally designed it, I’m not quite sure since the metadata simply reveals the rather enigmatic “Keith” as the author. All I’ve actually done is change a few minor things like the size of the presentation, replaced a rather horrible rainbow triangle with a “prior learning” square, added a couple more boxes and changed the colours slightly.

I’ve also removed the rudimentary and frankly-quite-annoying animation. Because I could make such executive decisions and also because it was, frankly, quite annoying.

Be that as it may, the Mat reflects a simple way of demonstrating progress: it begins with a baseline set of ideas – what students “already know” about a question or topic – and then documents how they add to and develop their knowledge and understanding during a lesson. The three broad areas on the Mat (new ideas / concepts, contemporary applications and links to sociological studies / writers) were created by the aforementioned Keith and while they fit broadly with the kinds of categorical skills students need to understand / acquire, I’ve left the Progress Mat in its original PowerPoint form so you easily change any, or indeed all, of these categories.

Consolidate and Challenge

Aside from its usefulness or otherwise as a documentary tool, the Mat has another (and what I like to think of as a more noble) function, that reflects a teaching technique I’ve used in the past for both GCSE and A-level classes (and whether or not that’s a useful recommendation is probably something only you can decide).

The basic idea is to start a lesson with a general question designed to see what prior learning students bring to a topic. You might, for example, start by asking “What is Family?”, “Why do people commit crime?”, “Why are people religious?” and so forth. The answers you receive can be used to both consolidate student understanding and, as is more-usually (and perhaps more-helpfully from a teaching viewpoint) the case, challenge their everyday, commonsense understanding of and explanations for various social phenomena.

In terms of consolidation, for example, it can be the case that the kinds of initial answers students provide hint at a deeper understanding / explanation that you can lead them towards during the lesson. For example, when thinking about “why people commit crimes” students may initially suggest ideas like “people being forced into this behaviour” that can be linked to more-sociological areas, such as strain theory.

In terms of challenging received notions, you may be able to use initial answers (such as “some people are naturally bad”) as a way of introducing studies and evidence that lead students to question their initial preconceptions and, by so doing, start to develop a better understanding of whatever topic they’re studying.

Building on the Past

Linked Learning
Linked Learning…

A further dimension to the Progress Mat is the ability to use it to continually consolidate ideas and information by replacing the “Prior Learning” information at the start of each class / syllabus section with the information learnt in the previous session: the “New Learning” in the last session becomes the “Prior Learning” of the next session.

Each new Progress Mat in a series, therefore, encourages students to reflect on what they’ve previously learnt in order to build on that knowledge to create a deeper understanding of an issue, question or topic.

Although I’ve used general sociological examples here, the Progress Mat is sufficiently general in design to accommodate a wide range of other subjects.

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