Friday, February 27, 2015

You're not the boss of me! Rethinking Self-Regulation and Assessment for Learning

Teachers are expressing frustration that focusing on behavior just isn't enough - after all, teachers are interested in self-regulation because of the expectation that students will learn more. And they will, as teachers move beyond teaching students to self-regulate behaviors to teaching them how to manage their learning. What is needed? A clear, intentional focus on learning.

Strategies that shift students from anxiety, stress and panic to mindfulness, intention, and thoughtfulness are important but not sufficient. Heidi Andrade (2010) argues that assessment is the missing key in this work. Consider Zimmerman's (2000) work on self-regulation focused on forethought, performance control and reflection. Notice how Hattie and Timperley's work (2007) extends these important ideas:

  • Where am I going? (forethought)
  • How I am going? (performance control)
  • What's next? (reflection)

What does it look like? Here's an example from a second grade class. Ms M. posts a sample of work. Together the students and teacher talk about what makes it a quality piece of work. The ideas are recorded. Then, as students work, they check their work against the posted sample.

What happening here? Quality classroom assessment is happening. Let me explain...

Students know the learning destination. They have a sample to help them understand quality. The students were part of co-constructing success criteria. And now the students can start to produce their own work sample. And, as they work, they can check their work against the sample (self-assessment). They can talk about what is working in their work with their peers (peer assessment). They can figure out what they might do more of or less of (next steps goal setting).

What are they doing? They are learning. They are practicing. They are improving.

And, as students work with the teacher over time, more teaching takes place. Students learn more about quality and how to next those next steps to move from where they are to where they might be. In other words, students will be able to "be the boss" of their learning. They will be able to self-regulate their own learning. How did they get to be their own boss? Through using assessment in the service of learning!

Let me illustrate using an example from a secondary classroom (Butler, 2002) outlines Strategy Content Learning. The four steps are:

  1. Co-constructing criteria for learning strategies
  2. Helping students to self-assess prior to submitting their work
  3. Talking about what might be done differently
  4. Articulating strategies to use next time.
Simple. Powerful. It is self-regulation in support of learning. Think about it - the students know the learning destination. They have help to understand quality and to frame a strategy in their own words. They get to work and, as they receive feedback, they record it themselves - they put it in their own words. And, as they work, they have a growing collection of ideas to improve their work the next time.

That's it! Helping students be the boss of their own learning.

 All my best,


Friday, February 20, 2015

Relationships: Reflecting on Alignment

Over the last two weeks, I have been working in classrooms in Blaine Lake, Borden, Perdue, and Duck Lake in Saskatchewan, and Whitehorse and Carmacks in the Yukon.  In each of seven classrooms, I was given the opportunity to demonstrate with students the power of classroom assessment principles.  In previous postings, I have described the structure and learning of these observations for the educators who are present.  But as I leave the Yukon for Ontario, I am struck by the word ‘relationship’ over and over again.  What a privilege it is to work in relationship with amazing teachers and leaders in both Saskatchewan and the Yukon and what an honour to be invited into their school communities so that we can learn even more together.

The first chance that I have to meet the students and their first chance to get to know me is when I enter the classroom at the beginning of the lesson. Twenty or so other teachers usually accompany me and, in those first moments, it can be overwhelming – not just for early years students, but also for senior years students alike.  I can never build trust with the learners under 18 in that room, as there is not enough time.  But I can very quickly build rapport.  And therefore, in the opening moments, I speak with each student with the intention of making a personal connection.  I work to remember each of their names – whether the class has 18 students in it or 36.  We enjoy some laughter and then we are off to begin the instructional sequence.  I don’t have the luxury of days or weeks to establish a personal relationship – I need to dive right in. 

And yet, the ability to create a personal relationship with our students is one of the most important tools that we have as educators.  As Margaret Wheatley says, “Relationships are all there is.”  This sentiment has been echoed over and over again by educational authors and researchers.  We work deliberately and intentionally to not only remember our students’ names, but we come to know their likes and dislikes, who had a ringette tournament the past weekend, or how grandpa is faring in the hospital.  We even keep food for our students who might need it or quietly provide a student with a warmer coat for the colder weather.  In these ways and in so many more, teachers and administrators build personal relationships with their students.  It is part of what some term the “unwritten curriculum” and we all know of the depth of its importance. 

However, a personal relationship goes hand-in-hand with and is strengthened by a strong instructional relationship with students.  That is to say, we can know our students by name, we can remember things that are of importance to them, and we can slip them a granola bar.  Nevertheless, if our instructional stance is one of, figuratively, standing “across from them” while standing “beside the curriculum” with the expectation that the students “figure both of us out,” then the disconnect between the two relationships becomes palpable.  The misalignment is one that students can sense, even if they cannot name it.

Rather, we build an instructional relationship with students when we stand beside the student and, together, we face the curriculum to “figure things out together.” Let’s not forget that the root of “assessment” means “to sit beside.”  And so, as we consider the principles of quality classroom assessment practices, we recognize the ways in which they place us right alongside the student, instead of standing across from them.  These instructional moves include:

·      Sharing the learning destination

·      Describing quality and proficiency through the use of samples, progressions, and the act of co-constructing criteria

·      Providing to students, and having them provide for themselves and to each other, specific and descriptive feedback

·      Having students set goals based on the areas where there is a gap between their knowing, doing, and saying and the expectations

·      Collecting evidence of student learning from not only product, but observation and conversation, as well

·      Allowing students to collect evidence of learning to prove to us what they know and are able to do and say

·      Inviting students to communicate to us and others about what they are learning about themselves and the learning destinations

And that brings me back to the lessons over the last couple of weeks.  I heard over and over again from those who observed that they appreciated the ways in which I quickly built a connection to their students.  Their comments were heartfelt and yet I attribute that only in small part to the things that I do as I begin my hour with them.  If the shaking of hands and the remembering of names were to be accompanied by a 25-minute lecture followed by a series of questions that needed a response, I believe that the initial rapport would be quickly severed.  Instead, in each of these lessons, the students engage in uncovering deeper understanding.  They are placed as the owners of the learning and I serve as the designer and activator of instruction.  In some classes over these two weeks, we inquired into quality by de-constructing samples; in other classes, together we compared samples and their own work to criteria that had already been established; and in other classes still, we had students collect evidence of the ways in which their work was in alignment with descriptions of quality and proficiency.

Our teaching makes a difference.  The instructional stance, design, and strategies that we use further cements a relationship that begins with rapport and extends to trust.  It is through our instruction that our students get a glimpse into how we think of them and what we think of them.  Our instruction matters and it can either reinforce or enhance the personal relationship that we have or it can call it into question.  We matter and so does our instruction.  A big thanks to the teachers and administrators of Borden School, Perdue School, Stobart School, Blaine Lake School, Vanier Catholic Secondary School, and Tantalus School.  It has been a deep joy to work with you and your students!!