Can There Be Many Ways?

Last week, I got involved in a Twitter conversation with David Benay, Stephen Hurley, Andrew Campbell, and Brian Aspinall. The conversation started because of some tweets shared from the Self-Regulation Symposium (#selfreg2015), but as you can see in my Storify Story, it definitely evolved from there.

While reading the comments from David, Stephen, Andrew, and Brian, I came to a conclusion that started to make me feel very uncomfortablemaybe I’ve been looking at the Learning Skills all wrong. Since Friday morning, I’ve been thinking back to comments and marks that I’ve put on the report cards for Learning Skills, and wishing that I could have a “do over.” Why? Because when I’ve evaluated Learning Skills, I think that my definition of success is too narrow, when students might actually be meeting these expectations in many different ways. 

Let me think back …

  • If students need to move around or fidget with objects in order to participate in group discussions, are they still self-regulating?
  • If class discussions are too much for students to handle, and they can recognize this in themselves and come up with alternative options for these times, what mark do they deserve for self-regulation?
  • If students can quietly engage with their peers while working independently, how do I perceive their independent work?
  • If large groups overwhelm students, but they can collaborate well in groups of two or three, what “value” do I give to collaboration?
  • If organizing paper is too much for students, but they can organize their ideas and assignments on a tablet or computer, are they getting evaluated lower on organizational skills? Am I giving students opportunities to choose the way in which to organize their work, or am I enforcing a system that may not work for everyone? Am I being hypocritical knowing that the traditional systems of organization do not work for me?
  • If I’m asking students to take responsibility and show initiative in the classroom, what opportunities am I giving them to do so? If they take initiative, but extend learning in a way that I don’t want, are their marks reflecting this? Is this fair?

I wish that I thought of these questions before now, because maybe then, I would have done things differently than I did in the past. While I’d like to think that I always look for ways to meet individual student needs, I don’t know that I always consider these different needs when it comes to Learning Skills. I am now going to change!

Educational Twitter chats and numerous blog posts talk about the need to change the classroom learning environment. There are lots of discussions on Project-Based Learning, Inquiry, and Game-Based Learning. While we talk about the impact that these approaches have on academic learning, what impact do they have on Learning Skills? How might changing viewpoints on Learning Skills change the classroom and school environment? Are we ready for this change? Before, the marks for Learning Skills never really bothered me as much as the grades in subject areas. Now I question more what these different levels may look like, and if marking Learning Skills is just perpetuating a system where there is one view of success. What do you think?


26 thoughts on “Can There Be Many Ways?

  1. You have offered some thought-provoking questions here that I will need to ponder further.. One concern I have had over the years is, are we actually teaching Learning Skills or just evaluating them? Can we show in our plans where we have specifically addressed (taught) all the learning skills each term?

    • Thanks for the comment, Cathy! You make an excellent point here. Based on the needs of my students, last year, I spent time introducing, teaching, and reinforcing the learning skills. This was done in the context of our academic learning. Just like we would have Learning Goals and Success Criteria for academic areas, we would also have them for Learning Skills. I used the language of the Learning Skills with my Grade 1’s (e.g., collaboration and self-regulation), and they used this language with each other. I think that overall they were far more aware of how they met these Learning Skills, and what they needed in place to be successful. They all met these skills in very different ways though, which is maybe part of the reason that I’ve thought so much about this post. I wonder if all of my marks really reflected all of their different learning, or if I thought of these skills in one way, and evaluated them as such?


  2. Aviva,

    You definitely pose some great questions about teaching practice. I too specifically taught my grade 1s what the learning skills were and how they could build skills in those areas. It is hard for a 6 year old to understand the implications for their future learning as their perspectives are not well as developed. I believe that we should have much more personalized comments and provide clear examples of student demonstration of skills – but how do we do that and still have the evaluation be reflective of the “standards”?

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! I guess that this was my concern before as well, but now I’m wondering if it’s the standard that’s driving our evaluation or our own interpretation of the standard. For example, if a student recognizes that he/she cannot be effective collaborating in a large group, but chooses to work with one or two students well to demonstrate his/her learning, what mark do we give for “collaboration?” In the past, this wouldn’t early more than a G, but is this fair? If this child is consistently making good choices to collaborate in small groups with peers, then is he/she excellent at meeting the standard? Does a child need to collaborate in all sized groups to be excellent? Why does it matter? Maybe this is why marks can be such a challenge in this area. I wonder though, as teachers, are we ready to have such differentiated ways to meet with Learning Skill success? What implications may this have to the classroom and school learning environments? I’m still thinking …


  3. Aviva:

    As always, you’ve twisted my head around. I really have to think about this in the context of my classroom. I’m an extrovert, and one of my challenges is assessing students in my FSL classroom (where there is a big focus on speaking), who may contribute quietly. I am lucky enough to have colleagues who are happy to talk with me about what I see in terms of learning skills when I work with their homeroom students, and incorporate that into their comments. I’m also a little bit ADD, and I know that my university professors often wondered about my self-regulation skills when I brought my knitting to class, because it helped me focus (I always knew when a prof was really paying attention it, at the end of term, they let me know that they realized that the knitting obviously helped). I often wonder what my own learning skills comments might have looked like (I tend to process out loud).

    So much to think about here – thanks for sharing your reflection process.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! I think that your experiences sum up my concerns. There are so many different ways to maybe even demonstrate the same skill, but when it comes to Learning Skills, are we really open to all of these different ways? I think of myself here. I always take minutes at Staff Meetings. I can’t make it to a meeting without my computer. Why? Because if I didn’t have it, I’d really struggle with paying attention and remembering what happened (and what was discussed). Taking minutes keeps me focused. In a way, I guess that it helps me self-regulate. If I was at a school though where the expectation was that all devices must be put away for meetings, and teachers must stare at the principal and just listen, I wouldn’t be successful. I’d probably get an N for “needs improvement.” 🙂 But with my computer and the system I’ve created, I consistently listen and do not interrupt the learning of others. If I was marked for this Learning Skill though, what mark would I receive? Can somebody that needs a computer or requires the knitting needles to listen, really be “excellent” at self-regulation? What would teachers say? Maybe Learning Skills need as much differentiation as academic skills, but are we ready to differentiate in the same way? What are we doing now, and what else could we be doing? Our Twitter discussion the other day really has me wondering, and these comments, have me thinking even more.


      • I’m not allowed into the staff meetings in my building without either knitting or a device – if I’m not multi-tasking, I’m processing out loud, and it drives my colleagues bananas, in a loving way. We’ve actually included it in the norms in small-group work in our building (Lisa needs knitting or a device) – but these are people who are willing to recognize my needs (and their own). I’m not sure how good we are at acknowledging those same needs in our classrooms, when it comes to evaluating/assessing learning skills. Your question about what that means for the classroom environment really intrigues me – people accept my modifications because it tends to mean I ask fewer questions (always a good thing at a staff meeting, but not necessarily a good thing, if you know what I mean).

        • Thanks for your reply, Lisa! You have me thinking more as well. I love that your colleagues accept you and encourage this modification that works for you. I think I could say the same thing for my colleagues. I wonder though if we’re always so open to this when students are involved. I don’t know if I’ve thought so much about this as I have in the past few days. And if we are open, is this because it’s what’s best for the child or because it leads to fewer interruptions (and when do we know if that’s what’s best)? Then comes the question of how would we eventually evaluate this learning skill? What actually results in an “excellent,” and how does that vary from “good” (not to mention the other levels)? Never did I realize how complicated Learning Skills could be.


  4. Aviva,
    Implications for teachers is huge – but for students even more so. I am not sure where you are from, but where I teach we don’t really have standards by which to evaluate learning skills. We have definitions of the areas and some suggestions as to ways students can demonstrate these skills, but there really is not a straight forward standard for evaluation. I would say that my evaluation would be different than most colleagues, even that of my teaching partner – and we usually agree on “marks” for content areas. So having no set “standard” of comparison makes it even harder. We try as a staff to discuss and agree on general characteristics and example of each area. Some interesting discussions have come forward in the past – such as: 1) if a student is not achieving accademic standards as expected than they should never recieve more than a “satisfactory” in their learning skills. 2) if a student strggles with self regulation than they can’t possibly manage or be evaluated well with “independent work” or “collaboration” since regulation is something that often underlies these skills. 3) can a child demonstrate iniative, but not be an independent worker? These are just a few discussion points that have come up with colleagues and do not represent my personal opinions. Ultimately if we as professionals can’t agree on what it looks like – why are we evaluating it? Should we not just be commenting on the spectrum of development of the skills anecdotally? Let’s help our students see how far they have come with their skills and help them to plan for where they need to go next – not give random mark assignments to skills and qualities that are in constant flux.

    • Thanks for adding more to the conversation, Sarah! I think that the experience in my Board is similar to yours, although I’ll admit that I’ve asked many of the same questions that your colleagues have during the evaluation process. Now I guess that I’m asking different questions. 🙂 I can’t help but think of Cathy’s comment to me: how often do we teach Learning Skills versus just evaluating them (I’m summarizing here)? Maybe we need more discussions about Learning Skills with our students, and we need to let them continue to share how they meet them (both for educating us and giving new ideas to others). Maybe the students are doing things that we’re not noticing, and maybe they can help us generate new ideas for strategies when others struggle with meeting these Learning Skill expectations. Maybe we also need to share different strategies and approaches as we intro dice the different Learning Skills. Just like we continue to have academic marks, we may have continue to have Learning Skill ones, but I wonder if these types of conversations might change both our marks and our understanding of the skills themselves. Thoughts?


  5. Aviva,

    When we had this discussion via twitter, I considered the fact that I (like most) always have had a “list of thing to do when you are finished” usually generated alongside students in September.

    I used to credit students with a good “initiative” if they got to work on something from that list when they had “free time” but now I wonder how that differs from compliance in this context. A compliant student will work on something without being asked to do so, because it is the expectation.

    You have given me much to think about with respect to self-regulation and how that will differ for each student.

    Shameless plug: Edmettle was only created to help model and identify different skills in different students.The key now is what does this look like for each individual.

    Thanks for making me think.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brian! I’ve actually done many similar things to you in the past, and I think that having this list of possibilities is still a good thing. Some students may need this scaffolding. But what about the child that determines his/her own way to extend the learning or his/her own next step? Is this individual demonstrating initiative or not following the rules? Maybe the line between the two is much smaller (or maybe even blurrier) than I once thought.

      I’m so glad that you mentioned Edmettle here. I’m thinking back to a comment that I made in reply to Sarah on this post. I spoke about the importance of talking to students about how they demonstrate the different Learning Skills. They may have some ideas that we don’t have, and they may also be able to support students that need strategies for specific skills. These same ideas and strategies could be used in Edmettle: helping both the students and teachers realize that there are various ways to meet the same expectations. I may be questioning if there’s a need for Learning Skills marks, but regardless of what I think, these marks are still a reality. Even more so, good assessment of these skills and determination of next steps have to happen. Edmettle could certainly help with that, and make all of us a little more aware of what differentiation in Learning Skills looks like!


  6. Thanks for the Edmettle plug, Brian, I was going to do it if you didn’t. I was thinking about it in the context of Aviva’s reply to Sarah as well. If we allow students to give feedback on learning skills, maybe we find out what their perception of those skills looks like, and how it differs from ours. Thanks, all, for the great conversation. I,m really starting to think about ways to allow “rotary” teachers, like me, to have some regular input into that learning skill discussion.

    • Thanks for the continued conversation, Lisa! I love that Brian mentioned Edmettle as well, and I think that you make a great point here too. It would be interesting for both students and teachers to see how their perceptions of learning skills are the same (and different). I wonder if this may help lead to an even better understanding of the skills. With Edmettle, rotary teachers could also add to the Learning Skill comments and/or students in rotary classes could do so. I think it’s important to realize that Learning Skills don’t just apply to homeroom classes. I wonder how others address this in their own teaching situations.


  7. Rotary teachers more often than not are not consulted in the process of evaluating learning skills. I have been guilty of this with my homeroom classes prior to have had the experience of being a rotary teacher. When I was providing prep I often found ways to comment on the skills within my content comment, but was never able to contribute to the “mark”. Since returning to a homeroom class I have made more efforts to work with my prep teachers and asked for input for the learning skills areas. For many students the comments and marks were very similar, but for a few students they would often been drastically different. Those cases required much more discussion in order to determine how to reflect their skills and comment on next steps.

    Again I think it comes back to need for discussion – with colleagues and our students – in order to determine the best approach to documenting the development of learning skills.

    • Great point, Sarah! This discussion is so important. I know that I’ve also been guilty of this in the past, and sometimes, the impact is huge. Since Learning Skills are not supposed to determine subject marks, it’s important to be able to reflect these differences in the Learning Skills comments. I think Edmettle could help with this prep coverage/homeroom teacher discussion. I wonder if people have used other ways to consult with prep coverage teachers and have these important discussions.


  8. Aviva, thank you for sharing your thinking ‘out loud’. I am going to share this post with my classmates in my Self-Regulated Learning class. One of our current assignments is to participate in a professional learning network related to this topic and you are raising a great application of further understanding of SRL.
    I think, without understanding their motivation, it is difficult to know whether they are being compliant or engaged and self-motivated to begin a new task/stay on task. When observing a class of 30, compliance can look a lot like engaged, self-regulated learning.

    • Thanks for the comment, Erin, and for sharing this post with your classmates! I’d love to know what they think. I wonder if observation has to include even more conversations with students about their learning and the thinking behind their actions. Maybe then we can learn if students are “engaged” or just “compliant,” as I think there is an important difference between the two.

      Large class numbers can always be a struggle. A couple of years ago I taught Grade 5 with 31 students in my class. This was the year that I made the biggest changes to my teaching practice, and considered the use of more small group learning with the use of more inquiry. All of a sudden, I had way more time to talk with students (than even when I used to have far less students in my class). I wonder if the challenge of numbers has to push us to explore new ways to reach out and converse with all of our students. If we don’t do this, then how can we really plan with our kids in mind?


  9. Learning Skills is clearly a topic that creates questions and discussion for many… thanks for bringing up the subject, Aviva.
    I had some time to think about this and I think what I’ve concluded is that I don’t really teach these skills directly with intention throughout the year. When it comes time for marks to be inputted, I think about whether or not they have shown that particular skill during the reporting time period and then to what degree they have done it (which, as you’ve said, is VERY subjective). I can say that some students already have many of these learning skills right from beginning of the year (some kids just fit the school mode very easily) but not all we come in contact with have this advantage. It’s our job as a teacher, to help guide and teach skills that they may not have and need to for the betterment of their future – both, academic and learning skills. So that being said, I can say I may have indirectly taught some of these skills, maybe not using the terminology or had a “lesson” about it, but have I REALLY taught each of these learning skills that I’m assessing for my students? Our students are not going to learn how to be independent workers, self-regulators, or initiators through osmosis – as nice as that would be. 😉 It’s time for me to really think hard about how I teach each of these learning skills and how my students can show me (and their other teachers) throughout the year in a variety of different ways. Thanks for making me think! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Jenni, and sharing your own experiences. Last year, I moved schools, and the needs of my students made me remember about the importance of teaching the Learning Skills. This was something that many of my students needed. How I taught these skills though varied depending on the student learning needs. For some students, this was done through modelling, for others it was done through small group sharing of ideas/strategies linked to the specific skills, and for others, it was simply naming the skills as the students demonstrated them. I think this comes down to the need to differentiate. I just wish that my assessment/evaluation of these skills were better differentiated as well (e.g., while I may have varied how I addressed the skills, did I really look at students being able to demonstrate success in many different ways?). For those students that come to school with these skills in place, maybe we don’t need to teach them, but giving them the vocabulary and allowing them to self-reflect on their success (and the strategies they use to succeed) seems powerful to me. Maybe for some, it’s just a matter of being able to “name” what they’re already doing, and incidentally and/or explicitly, teaching others about how they do this as well. Thanks for adding even more to this discussion!


  10. Aviva,
    When I have evaluated learning skills in the recent past, it included co-constructing success criteria. i.e. What does good collaboration look like? And though that seems to be student-centered, after reading your post and the various comments, I realize that though this is a good start, there is much more to consider. I also recognize that the LS my assessments of students for Working Independently, Initiative, and Self-Regulation have been based on compliance and MY idea of that LS more than anything else. The questions you raise are important ones that we need to ask ourselves and each other and there is lots to consider in the extended conversation as well! Thank you for pushing my thinking!

    • Thanks Jennifer! I think that we share similar thinking and did similar things before. I’m also wondering how much I really wanted “compliance” before, and if there’s more to the Learning Skills than this. I’m curious to see how this conversation changes my evaluation (and thinking) of the Learning Skills next year.


  11. I am really enjoying the ideas that are being shared about this topic. In my opinion, learning skills are something that have no apex stage for they are meant to be continually developed. If many of us as educators are still trying to figure out the nuances and role that learning skills play in the classroom (this is a good thing), how can we assume that students are experts or understand the essence of these skills as well? In addition, if students can still be “engaged” while being “compliant”, the differentiation between these two terms only becomes alarming if “compliance” is the de facto approach to addressing these skills.

    When it comes to learning skills, my focus has always revolved around improvement. As a rotary teacher, it was not enough to talk with my colleagues about learning skills to confirm if we had parallel assumptions. The information we divulged to one another became conversational pieces that were discussed with students so that they could make adjustments to how they approached their learning. If you want students to broaden their views on learning skills, aside from identifying their strengths/weaknesses, they must be encouraged to set goals for elevating their performance (and actively monitor their progress). My conferencing with students enlightened me that learning skills are not only intertwined but can take on many forms. Students exhibit success in different ways so a rigid view of each learning skill will not suffice. Perhaps the real challenge is to personalize how we give clarity to each student about these skills so that they can navigate life with more adaptability.

    • Thanks for adding to the conversation, Daniel! I think that you make some really important points here. Your comment on “goal setting” is so important. How do we get more students — regardless of age — to set, and refine, goals? As teachers, how do we get more comfortable with such different “looks” for the same Learning Skills? I love your use of conferencing to really hear these student voices, and get all students actively involved in setting and meeting goals. This is something that I’d really like to do next year in Senior Kindergarten, and I’m curious to see what these conversations might look like at a Senior Kindergarten level (and based on the Kindergarten Program expectations).

      As for your compliance versus engagement comment, I think that you make a really good point. How often though, do we say that we want “engagement,” but we really want “compliance?” I’m really questioning myself on this one. Yes, some students may comply, and still be engaged, but what about ones that aren’t? How are we supporting these students and ensuring that they also meet with success? This is something that I continue to think about, and I’d love to hear more about what others do.


  12. Aviva,
    I love this conversation! I have written and deleted 3 comments so far, let’s see if this one sticks. I, too, have many of the same questions you asked. I feel as though these learning goals are more important than the academic areas. Without these learning goals it is impossible to achieve the academics. I think you bring up a good point about the Game based learning and PBL having links to academic success however, I have found (and upon reflection during this response) that PBL is effective because students have the learning skills to be able to gain their own meaning. Our purpose as educators is to create citizens that will enhance our society. Those skills to be a citizen are the learning skills. Can they acquire information, synthesize, and use it to help the better good whether it is themselves or others? I have seen PBL fail in my classroom and I attribute it to the lack of these learning skills being taught or fostered. I hope to fix that so my classroom can be more student centered. It’s not always about meeting the academic standard or completing the extra assignment but stretching the mind to learn something new and valuable on their own.

    In terms of the compliant vs. engaged student conversation, I think this blogpost ( by Justin Tarte explains a lot of the differences.


    • Thank you so much for the comment, Jess! You make a great point here about PBL, which I think is also true for inquiry learning and likely game-based learning as well. Students really need these strong Learning Skills to succeed. So how do we ensure that we’ve helped develop them? What strategies can students use to help them if traditional approaches to these Learning Skills don’t work? Maybe something such as smaller group sizes or specific tasks for students to complete, would help. I wonder if this may be a case where scaffolding is needed for some students to succeed.

      Thanks for the link to Justin’s blog post as well. I think that I’ve read it before, but I’m going to check it out now (just in case).


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