It CAN Work!

I know that I’ve said this many times before on my blog, and I’m going to say it again: I was wrong! Since last year, my principal, Paul Clemens, has been encouraging the use of student self-evaluations for learning skills. He’s suggested that teachers get their students to write their own comments and set their own next steps. I’ve listened to Paul in the meetings. I’ve written down his suggestions on how to get started. I’ve even spent some time thinking about this idea, but, to be honest, I didn’t think the plan could work (sorry Paul).

This year, I decided to take a risk and try Paul’s plan out. I’m so glad that I did! Reconsidering this option all started after ECOO. Last weekend, I wrote about my goals now that I’m back from the conference, and one goal was inspired by Scott Kemp: sharing weekly reflections with parents to help students out with goal setting. While I love Scott’s email option, I don’t have the devices right now to make this possible. I looked at some paper/electronic choice options, and this is when I decided to start the “reflection sharing” this week with student self-assessments on their Spooky Story Projects.

Since we were in reflection mode, I thought that I’d try to be brave and attempt Paul’s learning skills self-evaluation activity. I’m going to be honest here: my thought was that if this worked, I’d have some fantastic, personalized comments and next steps for the progress reports right from the students themselves. If this didn’t work, I’d have a good opportunity for student conferences and more self-evaluation activities in the coming weeks. This was a win/win!

I now needed to figure out how to make this work. I decided to create this self-evaluation form that outlined the different learning skills and gave some examples for each category.

report card format

I started this activity by reading through the categories together and discussing what each learning skill meant. Then I had students work in their table groups to determine possible next steps for their comments. We looked at my examples together first, wrote another one on the SMART Board, and shared a few more orally before getting started.

learning skills_8

Having groups of students with strong writers and strong oral contributors really helped in this case. Everyone could participate, and all students worked well together. Students were so excited to know that I would tweet their next steps, and some even mentioned that their parents (also teachers) would have a look at these next steps on the weekend as they wrote their progress reports. :)

After about 10 minutes, I had the students put up their Next Step Charts to help their classmates for the second part of the activity. I then explained that the students were going to be the teacher for the next little while. They were going to write their Learning Skills comment based on the different learning skills, their strengths, and their needs. I started by modelling how I would write my own Learning Skills comment. To evaluate myself on each of the Learning Skills, I talked through my decisions. I explained that I would get a “G” (Good) on Organization because I’m very organized on the computer, but horrible with keeping papers organized. Students chuckled when I gave myself a “G” on Collaboration because I like to collaborate with people that are willing to try new things, but get frustrated when people don’t. :) They were also amused when I gave myself a “G” on Self-Regulation since I can regulate my behaviour well in the classroom, but sometimes get distracted at staff meetings. :) While I wanted to make the class chuckle, I also wanted them to realize that none of us are perfect, and it’s good to be honest about our strengths and needs. Then the students helped me write this Learning Skills comment on myself (and, of course, I needed to be “Aviva” in a report card comment). :)

learning skills_9

Then it was time for the students to write their own comments. I was amazed with how thoughtful they were! Here’s just a small look at three of the comments.

The great part is that ALL of the children were equally as successful at this activity. While most students wrote their comments on the Learning Skills paper, one student used Dragon Dictation to share his reflections, and I partially or fully scribed for a couple of students. By having different options for different children, everyone was equally as successful at this activity.

Paul, you were right: students should be assessing their own learning skills and given the opportunity to write their own comments! What a great way for them to think deeply about their own skills and set their own goals.

Now I’m considering other options though. At the end of the day, Paul asked me how this activity went. He said that he used to love doing this activity too as a teacher, but he wondered how it would work in a primary classroom. I think that this Learning Skills Self-Evaluation would be a challenge, but the previous primary teacher in me wonders what would be possible. Could students learn about each of the learning skills and then orally assess themselves to indicate strengths and next steps? Imagine setting up a Learning Skills Speaker’s Corner in your classroom. During Literacy Centres, students could go over to the Speaker’s Corner (an iPad, on a chair, with the camera reversed so that it’s looking at you), and share their thinking. This could be great for oral language and metacognition.

If this Speaker’s Corner Reflection developed over the years to a written reflection, think about how great the students would be at self-assessment. (Instead of this activity taking me almost two periods, it would take significantly less time and with equally wonderful results!) Students in late primary or early junior grades could even write their Learning Skills comment, but in chunks, so that the teacher can model each part and help with the written component. A guided group would even allow the teacher to assist students that cannot write as well on their own. Think of this as differentiated instruction in action!

And what about the students with autism that may be on an alternative program? I wonder if these students could evaluate themselves based on their Alternative IEP Expectations. They may not be able to write the comments on their own, but in a Social Story/Task Analysis format, could they pick the comment that works best for them? Probably the student would need some more support initially, but with practice, he/she could become more independent. This speaks to the need to do self-assessment often. I’m definitely going to have to give this a try!

I may have been pessimistic about the potential for self-evaluation, but now I see what’s possible, and I’m excited to explore even more self-assessment and self-evaluation opportunities in the classroom. How do you get your students to reflect on their learning? How do you scaffold this self-assessment and self-evaluation process for students that need it? I’d love to know more!

Aviva

4 thoughts on “It CAN Work!

  1. Hi Aviva,

    Very interesting experiment, indeed! I certainly like the idea of empowering students to take charge of their own learning. By doing that, you are also encouraging them to work independently, which is also a learning skill! It would be interesting to see if there will be improvement in the students learning skills next term and to what extent, since they had the choice of setting their own next steps. Please, keep me posted!

    • Thanks for the comment, Liane! We actually started this at the beginning of the year (for the very first report card), and the students have done it each term since. They also reflect weekly — sometimes on Learning Skills and sometimes in academic areas. I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of the students have improved in Learning Skills over the year, and have even made comments referring to their previous goals and what they did to meet them. I love this! I’m not sure if the students only improved because they reflected, but this reflection definitely made them more aware of their goals, and this helped them reflect more on them.

      Aviva

      • That’s interesting, Aviva! It makes me think about report cards, how they should be structured and who should actually be writing them! Once the students are able to reflect on their learning, identify their weaknesses and strengths, with the teacher’s guidance, they could potentially determine their own learning goals/next steps for all the subjects. That would definitely require a huge mind shift! :-) But, I guess, all it takes is some open minded teachers like yourself, who are willing to try new things, document the process and share the evidence to empower the believers and get the non-believers thinking… :-)

        • Thanks Liane! It’s funny that you should mention report cards here. I find the students helping me set more and more of the next steps. It’s great that we can work together on this. This definitely takes time, but it’s so worth it!

          Aviva

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