Noticing your progress vs measuring it

To which extent can we notice our progress and to which extent do we need to monitor it? Our mind is full of biases and not to be trusted, however if we focus entirely on measurements we may loose something precious that forgot to measure. I will tell tales of two students and then we will discuss various aspects of measurement.

When Anna just started independent teaching practice we had to deal with problematic students, students that we simply would not take today.One of them came to us and demanded all of his money back. When we asked why he claimed that he learnt nothing because he does not feel any different. So we asked him to measure his reading speed. He scored 800wpm with 80% retention. When he started his speed was 120wpm with 20% retention. He needed to test twice with different texts and with timer in front of his eyes to believe. Speedreading felt so natural for him, that he felt he was speedreading all along.

Another story has to do with a student whom we had a year ago. This was a very nice student who measured his progress daily. He was using some software for measuring his reading speed. His progress was great and he sent us plots of his progress. One week a student cancelled and I suggested Anna giving a free lesson to this student since he has shown such an improvement. To my amazement, Anna said that the guy reads very fast but understand nothing of what he reads. Apparently his speedreading software asked him multiple choice questions and he guessed the answers, but was unable to explain what he read. With this level of understanding, he could as well read 20000 wpm…. Eventually he needed to retrain his speedreading for three months under Anna’s spervision until he qualified with 1250wpm with 85% retention.

Learning is hard and the gap between your current state and the state you want to reach is probably big. There is a trick most of our students use. To stay focused and happy it is reasonable to focus on improvement over the initial condition using “I learn faster than I used to” mantra. To do this we suggest to monitor reading speed and retention once a week. We do not recommend to monitor reading speed more often, since it may encourage behaviors optimizing specific metrics – reading ever faster instead of preserving understanding etc.

Do not trust the way you remember yourself. So called consistance bias makes us feel that nothing changed and we did not improve. Do write down your previous results. If you have access to peer coaching (mastermind group or equivalent), use the coach to monitor your progress.

We tend to complete what we started. This Zeigarnik effect will force you to mark your task as complete even if it is not really so. Do not trust yourself to decide when you are ready to move on. Put a reasonable numerical target and move on only when you reach it.

So these are my recomendations: measure your progress but not too often, do not trust your common sense or numeric results: double-check yourself in several ways.

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