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Councourse 2

Strand 1: Monitoring


You arrived here because you agreed or fully agreed with this statement:

When my students are working on a task I usually keep out of the way as far as I can

People are often told to monitor but rarely told how and when.
As we develop as teachers, we start to worry about this.


Two sorts of monitoring

Check monitoring and support monitoring are different.  If you can come up with a definition, do that now and then click on the headings to show the answer.

Check monitoring
Support monitoring


Lev Vygotsky (1962) posited something known now as the Zone of Proximal Development or the ZPD.
Briefly explained, it is the learning zone in which the learner can achieve the task with a little help or scaffolding by someone who knows more (you).  It lies between tasks which the learner can already do without help (so won't learn much) and tasks which the learner cannot even attempt (so won't learn much).  If the task is too easy, the learner will get bored.  If it's too hard the learner will become anxious.

You can visualise it like this:


Part of the business of monitoring is to check that the task is in the green zone.  The other part is to supply just the level of help and information that the learners need to complete the task but no more or less.
If you find yourself having to do the task for them or that your help is never needed, the task is outside the green zone and less useful (or even useless).
That's the theory.


Whether and how to monitor

The first step in developing your monitoring skills is to decide what you should be doing.  Clearly, at the outset of any task, you should do a bit of check monitoring but what next?

Decide what kind of task it is:

  1. Are you interested in the product?  Do the learners need to get the task right before you can go on?
    Yes to both questions:
    • Is the task in the learners' ZPD?
      • Yes: monitor carefully, sit with your students and scaffold their efforts by helping and leading.  At the end, feedback from and to you should be thorough and searching.
      • No?  Then ask: Can you move the task to the ZPD by asking for more or helping more?
        • If you can, amend the task and start monitoring closely again
        • If you can't, change your plan now, cut the task short and get on.  Your planning was flawed.
  2. Is this task simply one to raise awareness or get the learners thinking about the topic?  Does it actually matter to the rest of the lesson what they come up with?
    Yes to the first question, no to the second question:
    • This is a process task:
      • You can wander around, pausing briefly to overhear what people are saying but you don't need to sit with the groups
      • You need to take some notes so you can focus on what some people came up with.  There's no need to get feedback from everyone.

Here's a kind of flow chart of this to keep on your desk in the lesson.

monitoring flow chart

Improving your monitoring

Step 1: Plan what you will be doing

  1. Look at all the tasks in your lesson and apply the questions.  The sort of task will determine the monitoring you do (and, incidentally, how you will handle feedback).
  2. Make sure that any product task really is in the learners ZPD.

If you would like to try a short test on identifying task types and appropriate monitoring, click here.

Step 2: React accordingly in the lesson

  1. Always check monitor.
  2. Do not interfere with process tasks but know what's going on.
  3. Always sit with learners and stay longer when they are involved with product tasks.  Don't flit around.

Gauging progress

There's a guide to gauging progress for any development process in this section for some general ideas about how to gather data on your classroom behaviour.
In the case of monitoring, however, you need to keep some kind of diary or at least notes on the plan concerning how you monitored, what the consequences were and how the lesson flow was affected (usually positively, if you get it right).
It's helpful, too, if you think about how you handled feedback.  Was it matched to the task type?

You could explain to the learners what you are trying to achieve and get their feedback on whether they feel your monitoring seems more helpful and more relevant but be aware that some learners expect you always to be there to help, no matter how easy the task.  They need to take more responsibility.
Ways of getting feedback are suggested in the guide to gauging progress.

Vygotsky, L (1962): Thought and Language, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press