How To Be A Better Teacher: Progress and Proficiency

April 13, 2016 , In: TEACH

Our Numeracy program at Donvale Christian College is pretty amazing. Recognising that maths learning is sequential, our former Deputy Principal and Head of Curriculum, Alison Horn, organised each maths topic into progression points that students are explicitly taught. Here is a snapshot of what this document looks like:

progression point

The advantages of this includes being able to pinpoint where students are at and knowing what to teach them next in order to build on their knowledge and skill. This also means that although there is a range where the ‘expected standard’ sits (necessary in determining grades and standardasing), students are not limited to what is in the curriculum for their year level but they can go beyond as long as they demonstrate a good grasp of knowledge and skills.

For those who may be sitting ‘below the expected standard’, the emphasis is taken off from ‘being behind’ and instead the focus is on progressing from whichever level of understanding and skill they are at.

As a teacher, the achievement is not having a top lot of students who feel awesome about themselves but in seeing each child celebrate their own growth and excited about more learning and progress ahead.

In communicating with parents and students alike, the language is ‘Here is where you are at and here are the next steps – let’s work hard to keep growing!’

No one is simply behind, everyone makes progress.


Students see it themselves too as ‘progress scales’ (a form of assessment on paper, others may think of it as a ‘test’ – there’s a difference) results are shared not in terms of who got a hundred percent or so but in the language of growth or ‘moving up levels’.

Even before research on ‘growth mindset’ gained traction, this was already the language our school leaders were putting forward. Encouraging growth in all students is definitely one thing our school is a champion in.

‘Encouraging growth in all students is definitely one thing our school is a champion in.’


We’re also first to recognise that there is still much room for improvement. Point in case, every start of the term and even throughout, we have in-school professional development sessions to update us on the current trends and issues.

Our most recent speaker (not two days ago), Dr Janelle Wills of the Marzano Institute, took us through the principles and practices of ‘high reliability schools’. I won’t go into defining that and summarising her three-session talk but I will share one tool she introduced to us that I had a go at trying just today, in happy marriage with the numeracy progression point system I described above.

Proficiency scales

Clear learning goals and a way to evaluate progress are the advantages of having the proficiency scale. A rough template looks like this:

Level 4: Student demonstrates in-depth application or ability to go beyond what is taught.

Level 3: Student demonstrates a specific outcome, straight from a curriculum document.

Level 2: Student displays knowledge of or abilities that are prerequisites to the Level 3 outcome.

Level 1: With help, student is able to have some success at Level 2 and Level 3 content.

Confused? Hang in there – that’s how we started too.

To allow us some experience in creating a useful proficiency scale, Dr Wills gave us the outcome for Level 3 as ‘Tell time to the nearest minute in both digital and analogue class with the use of A.M. and P.M.’ This is an outcome straight from the Victorian Curriculum for a Year 3 student. Here’s how our group scale looked like.

Level 4: Understand and solve problems on elapsed time.

Level 3: Tell time to the nearest minute in both digital and analogue class with the use of A.M. and P.M.

Level 2: Prerequisites include understanding of –

  • the hour hand and minute hand
  • counting by 5s for the minute hand
  • the language ‘past’ and ‘to’ as well ‘half past’, ‘quarter’

Level 1: With help, some success at trying content in Level 2 and 3

Initially overwhelmed

You can imagine my first reaction when I thought of applying this in our numeracy teaching sessions where students are divided into four small groups, each at varying levels (so at least four different outcomes, four different proficiency scales?!).

So how did I apply it on the first day of Term 2, having only learnt about it two days before? No, I did not type up proficiency scales for each group until 3 a.m. (though that sounds heroic).

A simple change

You can say I applied it loosely but I daresay the principles behind it – the value of clear goals, the ability of students to track their own progress and take ownership of their learning – played out as bright as daylight.

the principles behind it – the value of clear goals, the ability of students to track their own progress and take ownership of their learning – played out as bright as daylight


I had my usual PowerPoint where students can see their groups and assigned learning stations. What I did differently was, instead of just having my copy of the progression points which I share with each group, I put them up on the slide as well so students could see their goals/outcomes.

I already look up these progression points anyway to teach effectively so the simple change was just letting the students see them, not just hear them. A simple copy and paste of these points for each group added no more than 5 minutes to my planning.

The next step was then explaining to the students how they can track their progress towards their goal. I did  this by writing and explaining the different levels in simple language.

Level 1 is being in the teaching group where they can learn the knowledge, practice and have success with my help.

Level 2 is when they go to the next learning station which we call ‘Practice’. In Level 2, they attempt to do things by themselves, remembering to break down the skill into the steps modelled and practiced while in the teaching group.

Level 3, still on the ‘Practice’ station, is independently being able to do the outcome described with confidence and accuracy.

Level 4 is thinking about how they can apply this knowledge in real life.

What it looked like

With today’s timetable, I saw the fruits of this trial with one group of six students. First, they were in my teaching group where I taught them two outcomes, (1) Count on and back by ones, tens, hundreds and thousands [progression point 46 in Place value] and (2) Rename thousands, hundreds and tens [progression point 47].

The students saw me model this and they practiced by answering items that I set. I was of course there to help. For the second outcome, MAB blocks were used.

After their teaching time with me, they then moved onto the ‘Practice’ station. Usually, I would give them a worksheet with similar items covered in the teaching group. Today, I gave them the instruction to set similar items for themselves until they are confident that they have reached the learning goals.

Wins so far

I had a group of focused students eager to reach the goal but working at their own pace.

There was not the pressure of a worksheet… ‘Oh the person beside me has already done five and I’m just on two.’

No questions such as, ‘How many do we have to do?’

The students actually surprised me with the amount of practice they did in their books.


Early days, but looks very promising!


Next, I’m looking forward to working on proficiency scales with our team of Year 3/4 teachers. We will decide on a few priority learning areas and develop proficiency scales for these. All in good time. :)

how to be a better teacher


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Rachel Herweynen

Teaching Principal

Alive because of Jesus. My husband Cameron and I have the privilege of living and working in a remote indigenous community, our home, Gäwa on Elcho Island, Australia. What a joy to not only be principal and teacher but also granddaughter, mother, aunty, child and mother-in-law. Above all, always daughter of the King.

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