When I wrote my last blog post in January, and made self-assessment my personal learning resolution, I did not know that in a few months my brain would be incredibly tired from learning way too many things in a short amount of time.
I do not need to add any words to the uncertainty that we are all feeling. You know it, and you are all feeling it too. I could fill this blog entry with the questions I have about the next few weeks and months and ask you, my wise colleagues, for ideas, suggestions, and guidance.
Instead, I am going to return to that professional learning resolution of January, and think about self-assessment and how it might offer us some ideas about how to navigate these uncharted waters and ultimately provide our students with quality learning experiences.
Embrace the power of the rubric
My own experiences with self-assessment were brief and powerful. As an English teacher, I was frustrated with the quality of writing my students were producing. I have a love-hate relationship with writing, as it is my favorite thing to teach and also one of the most challenging things to teach. I started exploring the use of rubrics as they were gaining traction in professional literature. They helped me provide clearer feedback to students.
One day, on a lark, I made a copy of the rubric on a transparency, and showed it to my students using the overhead projector (young teachers, ask your mentors) before we started the writing task. I was amazed at the questions and discussions we had in class about the task, and was even more stunned by the responses. Students were much better at meeting those expectations when they knew what they were.
Over the years, I have continued to learn more about effective assessment practices and the value of clear success criteria. As a principal, I have been blessed to work with teachers who are so brilliant at getting students to collaborate with each other about their learning. I have seen elementary school students have the same kinds of conversations about a piece of writing that my colleagues and I used to have during group scoring of district assessments. The common denominator is clear criteria for success. These clear criteria were helping to build self regulation skills in our learners in ways we never could have anticipated.
Missing our ability to give (and receive) feedback
When I am experiencing stress and uncertainty, my typical reaction is to shut down and do less (and eat chocolate). When my own school district was preparing for the district closure, we talked about how we were going to cut down the district curriculum. As we are finishing our school year now, we are reflecting on what we have done, what worked, and what could be better. I have been in so many video conferences with teachers where they talk about missing their time with students and the interactions that they are used to having. They do not always use the word, but they are describing the feedback that they give and get from students on a daily basis.
I do not know when those interactions can and will happen again. I do think that we can still provide students with the kinds of learning opportunities that allow students to get that feedback from us, from their peers, and most importantly, for themselves. As part of your resolution for the next school year, identify some essential content or standards that you teach early in your school year.
Let criteria help students find the answer
Make the success criteria for that content incredibly clear to you so that you can make them clear to students. Find ways for students to formatively evaluate themselves using rubrics, checklists, learning progressions, or goal setting. Build in time for students to reflect on the criteria and share with peers or you. These practices are powerful and help students learn at high levels in any course or grade level.
There are dozens of positive examples, beyond the strong research base that supports it. Our students will learn that content in deeper ways, and perhaps even more importantly, develop their own skills as learners that will transfer in a variety of settings.
Let’s make these ideas about self-assessment part of our non-negotiables for next fall so that students continue to experience that learning we want for them—no matter where or how it takes place.