How’s Your Learning?

This post originally appeared in AppoLearning.

Throughout the course of last year, I read several books on effective teaching practices. After reading through these high-regarded books, I used some of their approaches in order to help students track, understand and invest in their progress. Before we get to implementation, let’s first look at the books that can really enhance pedagogy.

The first one I read was Never Work Harder than your Students, which has a deceptive title because it sounds like a gimmick. However, it is a book that thoroughly details how to become a more effective educator using a variety of strategies. In this book, authorRobyn Jackson discusses the importance of curriculum mapping, clear objectives and – this is the most important piece – students keeping track of how well they are meeting those objectives. She mentions the usual topics such as engaging lessons and feedback, but the crucial piece is that students must monitor their learning to track their progress. In other words, students need to own the learning. It is not enough for us to merely give feedback, but students must also take that feedback, track it, and use it to monitor their progress towards learning objectives. Without this crucial piece, students will be disengaged and not interested in the learning process.

I also read Classroom Instruction That Works, the latest version of the famous series created by Marzano. Strategy number one is for students to receive clear expectations and that they should receive feedback on progress toward those expectations. I also began reading Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, and one of the most effective strategies listed was students’ expectations for themselves. They must be aware of the objectives and have guidance on how they can meet those expectations. Like Jackson, they argue that it is not enough to put objectives on the board (which may or may not be a relevant practice), rather, students need to know exactly what those expectations are and must be working to achieve those standards.

After seeing this clear strategy mentioned consistently in a variety of books, I decided to tackle this school year dedicated to this strategy. I created a variety of tools designed to tackle student-directed learning.

  1. I created a Google Sheet template for students to track how they perform on various formative assessments. I began the unit by having students enter their goal percentage on a final assessment. As students performed throughout a given unit, I had them enter their percentages so that they could track to see how they were progressing towards meeting their goal. I first used this method in grammar by giving them grammar formatives assessments on Google Forms so that they could track their mastery of grammar rules. These assessments included both multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank.
  2. For a reading skill, they tracked their progress by completing a graphic organizer assessing their mastery of inference skills. They read short story selections and completed the inference graphic organizer. These selections came from their literature textbooks and from resource books.
  3. To further bolster inference and close reading skills, they were required to annotate. I then graded their annotations on a rubric. With the graphic organizer and the annotated PDFs, I required that students re-complete the assignments after I had returned it to them, and they had to complete it to earn a score of 100%. I did this by showing students examples of 100% quality work, which opened their eyes to see what excellence looked like.
  4. They also completed an assignment on OpenEd, which is an app that allows students to see how they are performing on a Common Core Standard. It includes assessments and assignments, both of which give teachers and students actionable data.

As students progress through a given unit, they knew how they stood in relation to their goals. They knew how they were progressing and had to think of what they needed to do to improve to meet their goals. As a result, I have seen students taking ownership of the process of their learning. I have seen students reflect and find out what they need to do to master assignments. Often, students might want to succeed, but don’t really know the expectations or what they need to do to achieve those expectations. By placing ownership of the learning in students’ hands, we can see students achieve new heights. The more students own the learning, they more they will learn.

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