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Student Engagement

How to Use Microtracking to Promote Student Autonomy

Guiding students to create lists of learning objectives and what they need to do to meet those goals on time can boost their independence.

October 15, 2021
High school students enter classroom in the morning
Maskot / Alamy

One weekend morning, I added “sweeping” to my chore list and then marked it off. It wasn’t originally on the list, and I had already done it, but I wanted credit and acknowledgment that I had completed the task. I feel so on top of it when my list is long and nearly everything is marked off. I feel capable and accomplished.

Our students feel the same way. When they know what the task is and have a clear pathway to get from point A to point B, they’re more likely not only to get to point B but to feel good about the journey. It increases their self-efficacy. Student self-efficacy regarding learning is their belief that they can do it. In the classroom, we can build student confidence by building opportunities to track their progress and make choices about their learning.

Consider Microtracking

Microtracking is using a weekly or even daily checklist for students that states what they’re trying to achieve in a set time period with a set learning outcome and two to three explicit success criteria. A microtrack is typically four to eight items long, and all the steps lead to accomplishing the learning outcome.

The teacher shares the learning outcome, the success criteria, and the tasks for completion. The first and very brief task is for students to use a defined structure or a template to determine their tracking list for the day or week.

The template has three parts: (1) the learning outcome, (2) the success criteria, and (3) the tasks. The tasks are the focus and the immediate, tangible next steps. A quarter sheet of paper or a sticky note is perfect for this. If the list will encompass more than one day, have a designated spot on the wall where students can place the sticky notes when they leave the classroom. They can grab their notes on the way in the next day and get started. 

Microtracking offers students the satisfaction of knowing what they’ve completed toward a goal at the end of a learning period. It also gives them confidence about what’s next. This eliminates students’ waiting for the teacher to give instructions and allows them ownership over the learning process. The teacher can scaffold the list for any grade level.

Offer Choices

Give students the opportunity to make choices or learning pathways as part of the microtracking. Offer flexibility about where they get their content, how they practice or apply the content, and how they demonstrate their understanding. These choices are called learning pathways because students have some autonomy over the items on their task list, which is their path to learning. Increase and scaffold the amount of options over time. Starting small with one choice will guide students to make choices that support their learning.

How to practice or apply the content is a strong place to start with choice, because the student can determine a direct correlation between their meeting the success criteria and how they practiced or applied it. If they weren’t able to meet the criteria directly, then they have choices about what they can try instead. For a math assignment, for example, they can try practicing division facts in an online game or partnering with a classmate to review with flash cards.

The teacher is there to support this process of choice by posing thoughtful questions to help the student determine if their pathway is working for them. There are a few subtle and healthy culture-of-learning components built into this:

  • First, the student isn’t alone in the journey. They’re trying to meet established success criteria.
  • Second, learning is a process, and everyone in the class will have a different journey either by choice or by need.
  • Finally, errors and growth are simply a normal part of learning.

By normalizing the process of learning and tracking the movement toward the outcome, students have a direct investment and ownership over their progress.

Add Reflection

Microtracking is particularly effective when students use it with reflection. Using an exit ticket is an easy way to help students determine if the choices they made support their learning, and it acknowledges both success and where to start the next day. Brief and efficient check-ins with small groups or individuals midway through the class will further support achieving their success criteria.

Students can gauge if their learning pathway is supporting their learning or if they need to make a change. It can also mean adjusting the learning outcome or success criteria to fit the student. They may be ready to demonstrate understanding and move on to alternative tasks, or they may need more time than that class period or week to complete something. The student and teacher agree on appropriate adjustments.

Microtracking connects with the students’ involvement in the learning process. Teachers can set the students up for feeling successful in their learning by offering them an active role versus taking the more traditional passive approach. Learning happens with the student instead of to the student. They get to own it because they’re directly involved.

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Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Student Voice
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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