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One potent way to grow student mastery

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One potent way to grow student mastery


Student engagement for teachers is like light speed for space travelers. It isn’t a question of reaching it as much as getting as close to it as possible. 

At times, we need big gains, like when students feel they do not belong or that the work is of no value. But in most instances, the best progress is in the small gains over time.

And one of the most important paths to engaging students in those small gains is through clear feedback and accountability. That’s where Jim Huling and company’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution comes in.


Does it bother you to read that heading? To consider that it might be important to focus on a scorecard? In many ways, recent efforts in education have been about trying to reduce the “winners and losers” experience, and rightly so. However, the desire is not to be rid entirely of objective measures of progress. That’s where 4DX helps!

Huling, et al argue that there is profound value in the concept of internalizing a score card. More precisely, we need to provide a clear objective measure of progress that can then be internalized and acted upon. 

It’s a practicality thing. We, like business leaders everywhere, want our students to learn how to execute, in other words, to do their work. But we also want them working toward a goal beyond simply getting an individual score on an individual assignment. That’s what mastery in education is all about, but educators everywhere struggle with how best to create clarity around this concept. This strategy is one highly practical and simple approach to growing that mastery mindset.


As a strategy, the basic concept here is to objectify key measures of progress, then track them. This can be done by teachers or students, but remember that the underlying principle is for students to internalize the scorecard. Therefore, we encourage having students do the tracking and reporting.

Here it is in a few simple steps with examples.

STEP 1: Establish Objective Measures

In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, there is a clear distinction made between lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures are the things that happen as a result of the things we do (the grade on the assignment), while lead measures are the things that, when done, contribute to achieving the successful result. You can find a more thorough explanation here.

For our purposes, let’s use the example of an elementary classroom that is trying to grow mastery in reading. The lag measures are the reading scores. We are not concerning ourselves with those things right now. The lead measures might be things like how many books a student reads, how many times a student contributes to a book discussion, and how many times a student practices a fluency activity or answers comprehension questions. Why are those lead measures? Because we know that reading more and practicing basic reading skills are some of the things that contribute to mastery of reading.

Therefore, for this example, we note on a student’s scorecard the objective measures to be tracked: 

  1. Number of books read
  2. Number of contributions to book discussions
  3. Number of times practicing fluency

From there, we consider having students set goals for each of those measures.

STEP 2: Set Goals for Each Measure

Depending on the student, this process may be completed independently, with a teacher, or perhaps completed by the teacher. Older students are certainly encouraged to set goals independently, and in all scenarios, we recommend students be a part at least to some degree of the goal-setting process.

Once the measures and goals are set, tracking may begin.

STEP 3: Track Progress

As students participate in reading for class, they track their progress on the scorecard. If the goal is to read 3 books in a week, they note every time they complete a book and indicate if and when a goal is achieved (though it is always good practice to continue tracking even after a goal has been achieved).

This can just as easily be a paper and pencil dynamic as a digital one, but it is important to consider how students will access and who else can see it. There are times when such experiences are valuable to be public and times when they should be kept private. In either case, it is always helpful to be able to easily share progress with parents/guardians and others when desired.

STEP 4: Reflect and Report

At some point, generally after the set period of time for a given goal, students should reflect on their progress and report the results. Depending on the situation, the format for such a reflection and report can be any of a number of things:

  • Have students complete individual reflections like a video or a short writing that is shared only with the teacher.
  • Have students engage with a small group where they discuss progress with each other.
  • Have students share progress or report out to their entire class.
  • Have students reflect in a video or other medium for the class but keep the report specifics private.

Knowing your students and the culture of your classroom should inform this decision. At a minimum, students should be asked to reflect individually, even if it is not shared with anyone, especially thinking about how they can make better progress in the future or what obstacles prevented progress in that instance.

STEP 5: Repeat Steps 2-4

Reminding ourselves that this is an infinite game, the process of setting goals, tracking progress, and reflecting/reporting should largely be an endless cycle. Teachers often find value in slight adjustments to the focus areas over time to keep the work dynamic, such as changing some of the categories to be measured. However, the process should largely be a dependable routine.


In any implementation of such a strategy, the focus should always be on growing the sense of mastery. Teachers should seek out opportunities to show students progress over time and how the small gains contribute to that progress.

The Keep Score strategy is one simple way to make such things clear and practical, equipping students with a strategy they can just as easily take to any aspect of their lives, as well.


This strategy and many more are part of our Fostering Engagement Series. You can get six more strategies for building engagement HERE!

Or, go deeper and learn over 20 engagement strategies in our four-part webinar series. Learn more at

Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Student Engagement."

Learn More >

Zach Ripley

Author Since: May 31, 2017

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