Aggressive Monitoring: Analyzing and Responding to Real-Time Classroom Data

We began the “Data Series” blog posts emphasizing the importance of daily independent practice, then explored 5 concrete steps to ensure your lessons are aligned to state standards, and most recently the 3 types of meaningful data that will help increase results in your classroom. In the latest post, the second type of data discussed was daily classroom data: data that a teacher collects during the lesson in one class period. This type often helps determine who is on track for mastering the daily objective and who needs immediate remediation. The game-changing strategy used to collect data daily is where we will end our “Data Series” posts. Educators, allow me to introduce you to Aggressive Monitoring.

In his book, Get Better Faster, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo gives the following analogy:

One of the biggest differences between a teacher with strong results and one without (assuming both are starting with a quality lesson plan) is what the teacher does during independent practice.

Imagine attending a cooking class at your local community center. Would you prefer the chef to be walking around to see how you’re doing or to be just standing in front as you try out his or her recipe? The traditional model of standing in front of the room monitoring only for behavioral responsiveness is extremely limited in value. Monitoring each student and delivering feedback change the game.

Bambrick-Santoyo goes on to connect this analogy to the classroom.

…the teacher’s five hours of grading papers in the evening may help them [students] learn, but it won’t do so nearly as quickly as will a few seconds of feedback delivered while students are in the act of writing.

The picture he just described is the essence of aggressive monitoring. Aggressive monitoring is giving targeted, concise feedback to every student during every round of practice. Far too often we see teachers playing a game of “whack-a-mole” as they go first to Student A who they believe will struggle right off the bat, then they pop over to Student B who is off-task, then they look around and head to Students C and D who have their hands in the air and confused expressions on their faces. When the timer goes off, Students E and F have been working the entire time, whether it is correct or not, and they may never know because the teacher never made it to them.

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Aggressive monitoring solves this tiring and ineffective game by giving teachers a strategy on how to circulate and give feedback to every student with controlled urgency and purpose. Here are the keys to successful aggressive monitoring.

Successful Aggressive Monitoring Includes:

  • A teacher created exemplar of the classwork.
      • This is NOT just an answer key. The exemplar includes the work quality and strategies that you expect your top student to use. The exemplar sets the bar for how the teacher defines mastery of that lesson. The exemplar includes (usually in the margins) any additional questions (i.e., Break-It-Down questions) to scaffold student learning in order for them to master the content.
      • You must have an exemplar before you begin circulating, otherwise your circulation is purposeless.
  • A consistent, intentional pathway created and followed.
      • In the creation of the pathway, it is important to hit your “fast finishers” (often your highest students) first. Though this may go against your instinct of supporting your most struggling students first, this step in Aggressive Monitoring is critical. Why? There are several reasons!
        1. This guarantees that you actually have work to check as soon as you begin circulating.
        2. This gives your most emerging students (I prefer and use this language rather than ‘lowest students’ as it better communicates growth potential) additional time to progress through their work by the time you get to them. It also teaches them to embrace the struggle and work independently rather than expecting immediate intervention from the teacher.
        3. If the first 3-4 of your top students have the same error, chances are the rest of the room will also have the same error. By checking their work first, this allows you to catch a common misconception and address it early into the practice.
      • Here is an example pathway I use in my classroom. The numbers 1-24 represent the order in which I give them feedback on my path.
  • Having the exemplar, a pen and/or your tracking document in hand.
      • See #1 for why the exemplar must be in your hand.
      • You need a pen for marking on student papers and marking on your own tracking document.
      • Some teachers create columns directly on their exemplar by the question for which they are circulating (i.e., Got it, Got it with help, Not Yet) and they make tally marks or write the students’ initials under each heading.
      • I like to see a weekly overview for mastery on standards and student mastery, so I created an aggressive monitoring tracking sheet that remains on my clipboard while I circulate. I put a quick check or x in each column in class and then determine the percent mastery after class.
  • Using consistent norming codes for marking student papers.
      • This creates efficiency in your room so that you don’t spend time talking to some students, but instead are able to give feedback to every student.
      • You need to have the codes posted and tell students you will be marking on their papers using the codes. They should reference the posted codes to determine how to adjust their work (see slide 2 for examples).
      • About two months ago, one of my colleagues timed my laps. I was consistently able to provide every student (~24 students) with feedback in under 2 minutes. This was only possible because I had a consistent, intentional pathway and used codes instead of conversation.
  • Pre-planned scanning points.
    • When you get in the rhythm of following the pathway and coding papers, students feel seen and it is energizing for both teachers and students. Thus, it can be easy to continuously circulate without pausing to ensure the room as a whole is on-track. Pre-planned scanning points (you will see 4 numbered circles on slide 1 of my example) remind the teacher to stop and scan before continuing on your path.
    • Position your scanning points so you see the full room of students in 30 seconds and verify that all are continuing to work.

How does this look and sound in action? Here’s an example script!

Round 1:

  • Teacher: “When I say go, begin on number 1. I’m coming around first to check your annotations. Go.”
  • Teacher pauses and scans the room for approximately 30 seconds to ensure all students are working.
  • Teacher begins following the path, pen and exemplar in hand, and coding students papers as they go (little to no talking, only coding!)
  • Teacher pauses and scans at each of the scanning points to ensure all students are continuing to work.
  • Teacher continues following the path and coding students papers.

Round 2:

  • Teacher: “Continue working. I’m coming around next to….”
  • Teacher pauses and scans for ~30 seconds.
  • Teacher begins round 2 of the path.

Adjusting Course:

  • If teacher notices 3-4 students in a row with the same error, teacher pauses the class and addresses the common misconception.

Bonus Tips & Resources:

Edcite makes aggressive monitoring possible on technology with the Live Progress view on assignments!

live dashboard clip

Here a few examples of Aggressive Monitoring in action. Most of the steps above are followed. The only constructive feedback I’d give the teachers is to remember Step 3 → Have the exemplar and tracking document in hand.

Now that you have read and seen Aggressive Monitoring in action, try it out in your classroom! Create your codes, adjust your seating chart if necessary and time yourself to see how quickly you give feedback to every student in the room. Stop playing “whack-a-mole” and instead change the game by monitoring each student and delivering feedback in the moment.

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meghan thompson

Meghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.


  1. This is a complete waste of your time if you teach any scientific course. If you know your students you know who gets it and who does not. Charting a “path” around your classroom is ridiculous on its surface.
    Try having your students make reading to writing connections is key in a science course.

    If your working ELA or ELL or even ESL then this is possible a great tool, but not in science.

    This is another “data collection” tool that will destroy your classroom culture and instead places it in the hands of data miner over a real education for each of your students.

    Teach with planned differentiate instruction at the all level for all your students.
    Trying to get rid of you grading papers as a “just cause” if foolish.
    We don’t have to reinvent that wheel over and over again.
    Differentiated instruction works in science, this will not.

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