How Ownership Can Get Rid of “I Suck at…”

Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?

Think again.

Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.

It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”

The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”

When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.

Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.

Enter student ownership.

Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.

Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.

Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”

This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.

When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.

When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.

A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.

 

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Sharing Benchmark Scores With Students? #TeacherMom

I recently came across this article from Fountas & Pinnell entitled, “A Level is a Teacher’s Tool, Not A Child’s Label.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe very strongly that students’ reading levels have no place in teacher evaluation or on report cards to be sent home to parents. Too much emphasis on levels can lead to misconceptions on the part of families. Informing parents of the level at which their child is reading can make them uneasy.  They may see the level as a very exact measurement, but students don’t always read at a precise level. Parents also talk with other parents, and if they find that their child is reading at a lower level than other children, they might panic. But they don’t understand the intricacies of how those levels work the way you do.

I completely understand where Fountas & Pinnell is coming from here. As a teacher myself, I was glad during my daughter’s last parent teacher conference to possess the background knowledge of these assessments’ imperfections — we chatted about their subjectivity and the uneven spacing between levels (for instance, in the program my school used, it was an extra wide gap between levels T and U for some reason).

I also worry about our students and their parents taking too much stock in these assessments and therefore experiencing pressure, lack of confidence, and yes, even labels. And I recently wrote about my quandary over whether to share scores at all yet with my first grader (Will it Help Or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader?).

All that said, I believe that in order for students to take the wheel in driving their own learning, they should be able to reflect using available resources and data to inform their decisions and progress. Not to mention the whole idea of “No secret teacher business!

So is there an in-between place here?

The more I reflect on this, the more I believe there can be — but with some important considerations, including, but probably not limited to the following:

  • Data should only be one piece of the feedback puzzle. Reading benchmarks are a much less frequent and much more formal form of assessment. Students should rely much more on regular formative assessments as they make course corrections in their learning/growth.
  • Seek transparency not just about the data itself, but on its limitations. That it’s not an exact measurement. That there is a definite degree of subjectivity. That it’s meant to compare individual students’ levels against their own progress — not against anyone else in the class.
  • Are students developmentally ready for the type of data you can share? If, as in the story I shared in “Will It Help or Hurt to Review Scores with My First Grader,” the student has yet to even comprehend the nature of data, then it would be counterproductive to share.
  • Ensure there’s a clear connection between the data, metacognition, and “what’s next.” Help students tune into their own thinking about their progress, and maintain a dialogue on the strategies that will best help them move forward.
  • Ensure that students understand that the data is never the goal, but a guide. The goal is always learning, and data serves as lampposts along the way.
  • Protect intrinsic motivation. Students should want to progress for the sake of progression, not for the sake of their levels moving up.

There’s not necessarily a clear-cut answer to the question of whether we should share benchmark data with students. But as long as we are actively engaging with our students to help them take ownership over their progress, we are on the right track.

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Why Do They Want to Erase?

Last week, I came across this interesting tweet:

With how much I value process, I initially thought I’d just retweet with an “Amen!”

But then I started to wonder: why exactly do kids want to erase their work, anyway?

As a teacher, I used to think the answer to this question was simple: my fifth graders had been thoroughly trained that all that mattered was the product, and therefore anything that showed the process (or anything less than perfection) was undesirable.

And for many children, maybe this is the case.

But others, I wonder if it’s along the same lines for why I don’t publish my blog posts to the world with every edit in parentheses next to its original boring synonym, punctuation error, or run-on sentence. I want the final piece I’ve worked so hard to improve to take the spotlight.

What’s more, when I reach back further to my own childhood school years, I can recall a certain sulkiness when we were all forced to use the same writing tool for a given assignment. My desire to use a pen vs. pencil alternated many times throughout the day and different assignments. I always had my reasons, even if I couldn’t always articulate them (the ink was stuck in the pen; my pencil was broken and I wasn’t allowed to use the pencil sharpener; I wanted to shade my letters a certain way; I had a new glitter pen that I was dying to try).

 

If we are truly interested in helping students own their learning process, we need to remember that ownership and choice are inextricably connected.

So instead of making a single choice for them all, why not try instead:

  • Asking students to choose how they will share evidence of their learning.
  • Teaching students explicitly about the value of process vs product.
  • Helping students to cultivate a deeper sense of metacognition to focus their decisions — even simple ones such as choosing a writing implement — on what will best serve their learning process.

Ultimately, this is just one small example of how we can help our students take the wheel to drive their learning. But even small things add up!

 

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Provocation into Possibility

We stick so closely to the known facts and conventions all in the name of preparation (whether for testing or for becoming grown-ups in general) that I wonder if we sometimes limit our own capacity to push what might be possible in the future…

Resource #1: How to Unboil an Egg, by Ted Ed

Years ago, to help my students better understand the difference between physical and chemical change, I created a Prezi that included frying eggs as a clear irreversible change because it is a chemical change. But in the video below, the word “yet” simply radiates the pioneering spirit that has brought and continues to bring most scientific advances to the world.

Resource #2: Balderdash!: John Newbery & the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books.

This picture book will take you and your students back to a time when the accepted custom was for children only to read books of rules, study, or religion — until John Newbery changed all that.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a pioneer?
  • How does pioneering differ across different subjects (science, history, etc.). How is it the same?
  • What is our responsibility to ask questions?
  • Why might some worry about questioning the way things are already done?
  • What is pioneering like in the 21st century?

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Mistakes & Trust, Expectations & Understanding #TeacherMom

Close the door behind you. Use both hands to carry things that might spill. Keep your voice down when baby is sleeping. Eat breakfast in a timely manner. Shoes off in the house. Toilet lid closed. Coat hung up. Mess cleaned up. 

The list goes on and on and on. And then these small humans go to school with a similar, but separate list.

With lists that long, mistakes are inevitable. The question is, what becomes of trust?

As usual, Brene Brown nails it here. As parents and teachers, we have a precious opportunity to teach children what it looks like to “make amends, stay aligned with our values, and confront shame and blame head-on.”

We can model to them what we do when we make mistakes to try to forge trust in our relationships, as well.

But of course, when backpacks get left on the floor again, or when the milk glass gets spilled again, it’s easy to let frustration take the driver’s seat and throw all trust and understanding out the window. It’s also easy to feel like they should know that expectation by now, and to show understanding would be to void responsibility.

But if we do that, we leave no room for trust, for opportunity to “make amends” and try again.

So instead, choose trust.

Give them a chance to clean it up.

Work together to build greater mutual understanding.

Exemplify vulnerability and the messy, hard work of relationship-building.

And while we’re at it, print off this Engaged Checklist, also from Brene Brown, and keep it posted in a handy spot…

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What About When They Don’t Choose What’s Best For Them? #DCSDBlogs Challenge

This is in response to the #DCSDblogs challenge prompt on sharing mistakes. (Note: While I’m not associated with the Davenport School District, I’m grateful for the warm invitation to participate in their blogging challenge, which is a wonderful initiative to encourage teacher blogging)!

We talk and share and write about giving students a voice and choice. To encourage them to own their learning process and make thoughtful, personal decisions along the way.

But after all the choices we give them, what happens when they don’t choose what’s best for them?

Like when you allow them to choose the classroom layout — and they choose rows, the most collaboration-unfriendly arrangement?

Or when you ask them for input on classroom management and rules — and they clamor to institute a stickers/candy/otherwise extrinsic-reward system?

Or when you turn time over to them to decide what kind of literacy word work task they will pursue — and they choose the option you know is least valuable to them right now?

In the past, when I encountered each of these, my response was to withdraw, clamp down control, or persuade.

But as I’ve learned from amazing teachers in my PLN (like Taryn BondClegg’s example when she encountered the exact experience of kids picking rows!), these, too, are precious learning opportunities. If we could just set aside our fears of falling behind or causing inconvenience, we might find a veritable goldmine of growth mindset/#FailForward/metacognition learning moments.

In the face of possible failure, if our response is to always snatch away the reins, our students will never have to opportunity to investigate and discover for themselves why and how these processes work. That means stepping aside and honoring their choices, no matter how painful it might be. 

Of course, sometimes their failures have more to do with our own failure — for instance, in the literacy example, we might not have done enough scaffolding to teach stamina, metacognition, or other tools to empower students to take informed action (see, “That Time I Failed at Inquiry“). In these instances, we can and should be constantly making adjustments in our approach as the teacher. But even when we’ve made mistakes, we should seize the opportunities to model our learning process!

In this way, the only real failure is when we try to mask it, hide it, or preempt it with control. Instead, let’s bring it into the light. Bring it into the learning.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto