I am trying to move away from a system where students are working for the grade that the teacher will give them, a system where their goal is to measure up to our bar. I want to stop being the person who knows what is the right way to do each and every task, and where it is their job is to do it my way. It is the model that I grew up with and that worked exceedingly well when the end goal was producing factory workers for whom there was a single task and one way to do it. I was a master at the art of “figuring out the teacher.” It had nothing to do with learning Math or Science or English. It was about how to get the grade.
The problem now, however, is that we are not teaching students who will end up with those kinds of jobs where memorization and rote learning will lead to success. It is our job to train students to think, to experiment and move beyond the old boundaries. We need to take down the fences that surrounded our own education and allow them to test new waters. There is no way that they should do this alone, without the guidance of experienced and wise teachers. It is just the goal that has changed. We must teach them to trust their own thinking and to develop the skills to be independent creators and innovators. Part of being able to do that means that they can evaluate their own learning.
As I was preparing to grade the assessments that I wrote about in the last post, a reading and a writing assessment, I realized that if I wanted to teach the students to be more independent thinkers and to understand their learning process, I needed to teach them how to assess their own work. I had to give them more control over evaluating what they did. So, instead of sitting with a red pen and marking their work, I spent time developing a way to teach them what I wanted them to get out of the lesson – which was how to be more effective readers, annotators and writers. I had to model for them what to looked like to do the task itself effectively. They needed to learn how to ask the kinds of questions that I ask of their work. Do they have control over the material? Can they organize what they know? Did they make progress? How could they do it better next time?
For the reading and annotating part, where they had read the chapter and identified the significant facts and ideas, I simply did that task, creating a model of how it could be done. Instead of criticizing their efforts, by giving poor grades, I annotated the chapter. Then I made copies with my annotations and will use it as a way to show them what it might look like. Many of them want to underline the entire page, so part of the lesson is to show how a few annotations and words underlined can capture all that is necessary. It will not be for a grade, but for them to make a comparison. I also will talk about the fact that my annotations are not “right.” Each person’s can vary, as long as they capture what is most important and allow the reader to remember what is in the text.
With their writing, I wanted to start by looking at all of their topic sentences, so I created a document that I will project on the SmartBoard that has all of their topic sentences. I didn’t put their names on them, just the sentences. Tomorrow, we will go over each one and discuss which ones present a clear idea for their argument and which ones do not. Usually by the end of a conversation like this, they are beginning to get a better idea of what a topic sentence should look like. With the ones that clearly state an idea, we will talk about what facts could be used to support the idea.
I also copied the sentences from the other class, and I will then have them, in pairs, identify which sentences work and which ones do not, and how they could make them better, and what facts they would use. Just more practice in reading strong and weak examples.
The final step will be to write a self-reflection on the process. It includes questions like: What skills are you the most comfortable with? What skills are the most challenging? If you had to do this activity again, what would you change about your work? What would you change about the activity itself?
Hopefully by the end of the process, they will know more about the skills that I want them to learn and also about their own learning. My goal is for each one of them to be able to write their End-of-Term comment, knowing their own learning as well as I am supposed to know them. What a powerful learning experience to feel, as a student, that you are trusted to speak about yourself and what you have done and what you find challenging!