Learning Should Not Be a Mystery

It's that time of year...the time of year where many teachers are noticing a sudden surge of growth in their students and a comfort that everyone knows each other very well. It's the perfect climate for risk taking in learning.  (Some of you are in the middle of State testing and the end of the year.) Maybe there are still a few darlings that haven't had that surge in growth and a bit of worry is setting in, on their part and yours.

This is when I usually begin to really let students start taking over the ownership of their learning in terms of self assessment.  Although I teach with self-assessment in mind all year as it guides my instruction and helps me to differentiate learning for all students, I start to release more and more of the teacher directed assessment and place it in the hands of the students. In this post, I will show you how I do this.

                 (credits: Morguefiles, My Cute Graphics and KG fonts)

When I taught 4th-6th grade, my favorite part of teaching was building criteria with students for their assignments and projects.  At that level, I could start doing this by early October because they were old enough to see what a great piece of work looked like.  Students loved that I valued their opinions enough to have them tell me what would make a great project. I loved that THEY were the ones in control of their learning and what mark they would ultimately get.  I rarely heard, "My teacher gave me a C+" because they understood that they earned a C+.

I always started my lesson with:  "There is no mystery learning here.  You will be marked on the quality of your work.  The quality of your work will be the result of the PROCESS  and EFFORT you put forth to complete it. Let's talk about exactly what you need to do to achieve the mark you would like to achieve.."

Together, we built criteria for writing assignments and SS or Science projects.  We built criteria for the concepts that should be included in the work and we always started at a B or fully meets expectations level.  From there we would include criteria for students not quite there and those that exceeded those expectations. For example, if it was a country research project, things like Location, Population, Cultural Celebrations etc would need to be included. If one was missing, the mark would drop.  Everyone was aware of exactly what it would take to achieve that level. We would also talk about and include things like "interesting sentences", with good word choice to make the sentences more descriptive and nicer to read. The last thing that we included was the mechanics (good sentences, punctuation etc) of writing.  I always included this last because students would look at the criteria and be excited to know that they were ALL capable of doing it.  Then, I would simply say that if all of that was included but the reader could not understand it because it was missing punctuation or words were spelled incorrectly, all that effort would be wasted.  It was important to have a readable piece of work.  Students really got this!  I wanted them not to get hung up on the mechanics but realize their value and importance once it was done.

Giving them the criteria sheet to take home and use as a check list also helped students to monitor their own progress.  Knowing how you are doing and realizing that you can complete something accurately is very powerful for students.  It doesn't feel good to hand something in and then just wait to see if "the teacher liked it".  The same thing applies to little learners but in more of a self-esteem or emotional way.

                (credits: Dollarphotoclub, KG fonts)

Younger learners often equate good scores on their spelling tests or other things as "the teacher liked it, therefore the teacher likes me".  As educators, we want to get away from that and put the learning and achievement back into the hands of the learners.  We want them to see learning as a process and not a product.  Just how high can I climb?  The sky's the limit is what I want them to know.  Effort and awareness of what good quality work is = achievement = increased self-esteem.  :)

With my 2nd and 3rd graders, we spend a lot of time reading good quality children's literature so that they can hear and see what it looks like.  We spend time looking at different Mathematical solutions to problems that students in the classroom have used and we talk about and celebrate the various methods of thinking.  It is then that we can look at perhaps a more effective way of solving a problem that wouldn't take as much time  to solve. If students have number sense and can "see" that that solution makes more sense, they are more likely to try and use that method next time.

I use this criteria sheet with my students.  I have one for student-teacher and one for student-partner.  For little learners I use cupcake criteria - everyone loves a good cupcake. :) With older students, I would use the "meets expectations" one.  Here is a look at it. I created a sampler pack of assessment from my Ultimate Literacy Assessment Binder with these samples inside. They can be used for any subject area.  Click HERE to grab the free sample and give it a try. Students love it!

There are some districts that are working on dissolving letter grades altogether.  That doesn't mean students do not have learning outcomes or criteria to follow!   It just means their learning is on a continuum. As educators, we all know this already but it's taking the policy makers a little more time to figure it out. (Surprise!)  This is why it's so great to use formative assessment as it tells the student and the teacher how far along the continuum they are and what they need to do to move along. Moving along the process of learning is what we want all students (and teachers :) to do). Not only do we want students to monitor WHAT they are learning, but we also want them to monitor WHO they are as learners and HOW they learn.  I created a self-assessment just for this too and it's FREE!

I love how this type of assessment can be used for Genius Hour or Project Based Learning.  It's a great way to build trust and community amongst all of your learners!

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