Lauren Hodson | April 2018

Visualizing Student Growth

Just as with anything, as we work on accomplishing a goal little by little, it is difficult to remember where we began or how we started. Being able to visualize student growth allows for some important reflection and celebration of one’s accomplishments. Having a display in the classroom of student growth is crucial to promoting student learning. By creating a visual that students can reference every day it reminds them of what they have learned and provides opportunities to show what they know in creative and empowering ways.

In my computer art class, we tackle complex programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Students learn specific tools and then complete a project using those tools. The ultimate goal is to learn how to use the tools well enough to be able to create anything on the computer that their imagination desires. The program and the skills required can rewire how we problem solve. We approach problems backwards. We reflect on the solution or product first and then use critical thinking skills to solve it with learned design skills.

The process often reminds me of math and other content areas. I tell my students, “It would not be possible to complete difficult calculus problems if you didn’t know what a number was. You couldn’t play music without knowing what a note is and how to use it. You couldn’t be in the NBA without knowing how to dribble and shoot the ball. Practice makes perfect. We are going to learn the fundamentals first and then you’ll be able to solve any problem presented to you by combining your skills in different ways.”

Every content area has fundamentals and basic knowledge that is important to promote mastery, growth, and exploration. Nailing down the fundamentals is not only crucial for understanding and advancing, it also allows students to feel comfortable enough to step out and take risks in their own learning. Students feel more secure in their understanding and therefore will feel more successful and confident. When students feel successful, they will want to learn more, try more, and experiment with combining learned skills to create new and different outcomes.

It is important for students to be able to visualize their growth as a learner in the classroom. This could take on many forms. In my classroom, I have created 8.5×11 posters of the different tools, what they do, and how to use them. I have designed the curriculum in a way that shows student’s their own growth by giving them the power to use learned information and tools and expand on them while learning new skills. The next lesson will use their previous knowledge and add new information, so they are reflecting on their own skills while expanding into new areas of inquiry.

As soon as students have used the tools in a project, they are added to the wall. The next lesson uses a new set of tools as well as the previous set. When that lesson is complete, the new tools are added to the wall until the wall is filled with all of the tools, skills, and abilities that the students have learned. This is useful for students and teachers. If a student has difficulty problem solving how to create something in one of the programs, teachers can direct students to the wall of knowledge and ask which tool should be used to create the desired outcome. Students feel empowered in their own learning and overwhelmed by their own success.

Why Visualizing Growth Helps Students and Teachers

This process can be applied to any content area and is important for many reasons.

Students Can…

  • feel success while at the same time trying out new ideas
  • reflect on what they know
  • use what they know to expand and experiment
  • directly use previous knowledge
  • directly see where they started and how far they have come

Teachers Can…

  • assess quickly if there are learning gaps and address students who need extra instruction.
  • empower students to independently problem solve and be in control of their learning
  • provide opportunities for students to celebrate their accomplishments, successes, and show what they know
  • design lessons that utilize independence and creative thinking

Having a display in the classroom of student growth benefits students and their learning goals. It is a visual reminder of their accomplishments and an access point for independent learning and risk taking.

How do you celebrate student growth in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author

Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.