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Today's One Thing for Teachers: Setting Up Systems of Accountability

Bianca Davila

Bianca Dávila

The Learning Accelerator

Getting students to fully engage in learning activities and complete assignments isn’t a new challenge, but it’s one that has taken on new dimensions with the shift to remote learning. Many teachers are wondering how to hold their students accountable for attending class, actively participating, and completing their work without in-person touchpoints.

Given this, the big question we’re tackling this week is this: how can we develop systems and strategies that help students self-manage engagement and progress and own accountability for their work?

Last week, we discussed how to support independent learners through deliberate structures and goal-setting. This week, consider how you can leverage students’ growing independence to cultivate self-monitored accountability. Here are four action areas that will help:

  1. Identify your goal. What do you want your students to be held accountable for (e.g., class attendance, milestone completion)?
  2. Leverage technology. How might you leverage technology to achieve this goal?
  3. Hand over the keys. How will your students “own” tracking? How often should they be inputting “data?”
  4. Build in opportunities for interaction and reflection. How will you connect with your students to determine how they feel about the tracking process and assess what works best for them?

As accountability looks very different depending upon the age of your students, we’ve differentiated our suggestions for this week’s series by grade level (K-5, 6-12). Continue reading to find tips and resources to keep your students engaged and invested in their own remote learning.

1. Identify your goal:

The first step is getting clear on what you want to build accountability for. What activities matter most, why, and how will tracking them help students? Ideally, the most important thing to try to track is learning – what are your objectives, and how might students be able to track their own progress towards mastery? In some cases, teachers and students might be able to use data from a tool (e.g., an online assessment) or learning activity (e.g., an assignment they check on their own). See this page for several examples of different learning trackers teachers and students use.

At the same time, it might be difficult to track assessment data when your students are struggling to get online, complete assignments, or stay focused. In addition, perhaps you’re also interested in building student accountability for actions, like time on a specific task. Consider starting out by tracking basic components that can help you gauge students’ engagement with the content. Be careful, however, not to ask students to track everything (which could be overwhelming). In addition, be sure to not add accountability tracking just for accountability’s sake; you should have a clear reason for wanting students to pay attention to and document specific actions or progress.

Find examples of areas to track below; areas that are appropriate for students in grades K-5 are marked with an asterisk.

  • Attendance*
    • For students who are unable to keep to a regular schedule, consider setting a goal for a certain amount of time spent learning each week so that the time can be spread out across the days, boosting flexibility.
  • Participation*
    • Set reasonable expectations for how long you expect your students to spend time engaged in a given task. Create goals for learning time based on what’s appropriate for their age.
  • Completion of a task* (e.g., watching a video of a lesson, completing a worksheet)
  • Time spent using an online program
  • Completion of different components of a project
  • Connection with peers
  • Achievement of personal goals

By building accountability around smaller goals, you can build up to bigger ones later on as students learn how to track various milestones and why they are tracking them.

2. Leverage technology:

    Once you have identified your goal, think about different ways students can track progress and try to use a tool or technology platform they are comfortable with. If your school is already using a specific learning management system (LMS) or another online platform like EdModo, Google Classroom, or Google Docs, consider how you can use these tools to also track progress. You may also be able to take a typical paper tracker you use in the classroom and build an online version – like this playlist tracker from Valor Collegiate Academies. Using a familiar tool in an online version can be particularly helpful when designing structures for students in grades K-5. When creating or evaluating new tools or trackers, it is crucial to ensure:

    • Students have access to input their own data.
    • Students cannot access data from other students or edit/delete the original tracker.
    • The platform is user-friendly and age-appropriate.

    When designing a tracker, be clear about how many assignments your students should be completing and by when. Do you assign work that should be completed daily, weekly, or both? Answering this question will help you set guidelines around how your students should track completion of their work and when they should expect you to review their trackers. Expectations are crucial to any accountability system, especially when it is being done remotely.

    Remember: keep it simple! Something as basic as a Google Sheet with plain cells for students to mark based on completion can be helpful when monitoring progress. Start off with tools and structures that make sense for you and your students, and be willing to adjust your approach over time. Here are some examples of trackers used by different schools.

    • (All grades) See how one teacher uses Google Sheets to maintain a student tracking system.
    • (K-5) Teachers at Lovett Elementary use a paper tracker sheet that could be made into a Google Doc for students to fill in daily.
    • (6-12) This progress tracker from Lindsay High School and this data dashboard from Leadership Public Schools can be adapted to allow students to only monitor task completion, rather than grades.

    3. Hand over the keys:

    When giving students ownership over their tracking, clarity and transparency are key. Be sure to clearly explain what students should track (and, importantly, what they shouldn’t). Also, how often should they complete their tracker? When can they expect you to check their tracker? Once you’ve decided on the metrics you would like students to track, it’s time to let your students know how they’ll be accountable for their own learning.

    • (All grades) Give a virtual lesson outlining your expectations on tracking so that students (and their “teachers” at home!) can see a clear model for what they should be doing. Allow time for questions and provide opportunities for students to test out their trackers while you’re around to provide live support.
      • Be sure to record your lesson for students who are unable to attend and create a discussion board where you can field questions directly related to tracking.
    • (All grades) Give students deadlines for when to complete their trackers and add this into their daily schedule to serve as a built-in reminder.
    • (K-5) Consider using a planner, printed worksheets, or homemade paper tracker.
      • A homemade paper tracker may have students color in days on a calendar to illustrate their progress or fill in a checkbox when a task has been completed.
      • Have students or parents take pictures of their trackers and share them with you via text, chat, or your school’s LMS.
    • (6-12) Use a banking system to encourage accountability while also allowing for flexibility.

    4. Build in opportunities for interaction and reflection:

    Connect with your students to review their trackers, help them set new goals, or make adjustments to existing goals based on their needs. Encourage time for self-reflection so that students understand what they’re tracking and how it can help them reach their goals.

    • (All grades) Use office hours to review data trackers with your students and to discuss progress monitoring.
    • (All grades) When connecting with students in real time isn’t an option, use an online discussion forum or comment on their tracker to check in and provide feedback.
    • (All grades) When students have reached a goal on their tracker, celebrate! This could be done individually during your check-in time or in a group setting (e.g., writing a comment on your class discussion board congratulating them for achieving their goal).
    • (K-5) Connect with parents to have them support their students with tracking. Parents of younger students may be able to sit alongside them to help them complete their tracker, and parents of older students could build tracker-checking into a daily review of their students’ work.
    • (6-12) If you’re using an online tracker like Google Sheets, utilize the comments feature to check in with students. Ask students to share their reflections and future goals.
      • For incomplete trackers or missing work, avoid making assumptions and check in with them to see what support you might be able to provide. Ask probing questions, such as:
        • I noticed you haven’t filled in your tracker, is there a way I can support you to get this completed?
        • How can you adjust your work time to better meet your needs?
        • What will you need to work on for next week?
        • What worked well for you this week? What didn’t work well?

    We hope you’ve found these resources helpful! Check in with us each week to learn about more vetted resources for remote learning. You can also follow #TLAOneThing on Twitter to track all of our tips in the coming weeks.

    Looking for more help? TLA has partnered with GetSetUp.io to help teachers access free group-based online training on screencasting and video tools.

    We would love to hear your feedback on this series – or your requests for additional help! If you haven’t yet, we would love for you to fill out this survey so we can better understand how to support you. Also, feel free to reach out to us at bianca.davila@learningaccelerator.org to share your thoughts and questions.

    Bianca Davila

    Bianca Dávila

    The Learning Accelerator

    Bianca Dávila is Chief of Staff at The Learning Accelerator. She blends her expertise and passion for educational leadership, team culture, process innovation, and organizational management to support the TLA team.