Ongoing Self-Assessments: Students Reflect On and Document Their Progress

For the last two years, I have published several blogs detailing my journey away from traditional grading and assessment practices. The purpose of this shift was three-fold.

  1. I wanted to shift the conversation from points to the development of skills.
  2. I wanted students to take ownership of their progress and skill development.
  3. I do not believe grades should happen to students.

If students are going to develop as learners, then they need to track their progress, reflect on their specific skills, and identify areas that need more time, attention, and improvement.

Ultimately, I want students to take an active role not only in their learning but also in the assessment of their progress as a learner.Click To Tweet This is easier said than done. Students are rarely asked to think about their learning in a metacognitive way. That’s why my students spend time each week reflecting on the skills they are developing in our class.

My co-teachers and I designed an ongoing self-assessment document that we share with our students each grading period to guide their reflections on their progress and skill development.

Click on the image to make a copy.

First, students are asked to articulate three S.M.A.R.T. goals they have for the grading period and describe their action plan for achieving these goals. These goals are designed to guide their progress and keep them focused on developing specific soft skills and academic skills over the course of our six week grading period. Too often students become overwhelmed by all of the work teachers assign and lose sight of what they would like to achieve.

The ongoing assessment has a section for soft skills and a section for academic skills. My teaching team places an equal emphasis on evaluating the development of soft skills because our program is project-based. Students work in teams using the design-thinking process, which requires that they communicate, collaborate, solve problems, take risks, and manage their time effectively.

Their ongoing assessment document links to rubrics aligned with each skill so students can read the language of a 1, 2, 3, and 4 to accurately assess where they are regarding their development. In addition to assessing their skills, they must link to work that supports their self-assessment scores and provide a narrative explanation for why they gave themselves a specific score. If they have a question, comment, or request for support, they attach a comment to their narrative explanation and tag one of us so we can follow up with them directly.

To be successful, students need time in class to reflect on their learning. Once a week, I dedicate a station in one of our station rotation lessons to their ongoing assessment documents.

The more students stop to think about their learning and document their progress, the more they focus on developing skills. They begin to advocate for themselves and articulate their needs as learners, which makes it easier for me to provide the necessary support. These ongoing self-assessment documents are also critical to their ability to prepare for our end of the semester grade interviews. If they have not spent time reflecting on their learning, then they cannot make a strong case for why they deserve a particular grade in the class.

Teachers often lament they are short on time. This process of teaching students to set goals and assess their progress as learners takes time, but the payoff is worth it. I love that my conversations with students focus on the development of skills, not the accumulation of points.

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Station Rotation Model: Grouping Strategies

The Station Rotation Model is a blended learning model where students rotate through a series of online and offline stations. This model is an easier shift for elementary teachers who are already use learning stations with students. Unfortunately, most secondary teachers do not learn how to design lessons using stations in credential school. Most of us are still be trained to teach using a whole group lesson model, so reimagining a lesson to rotate students through a series of stations feels daunting. That said, there are clear advantages to using this model at the secondary level. It makes it possible for secondary teachers to:

  • Create smaller learning communities within the larger class.
  • Maximize limited technology since they do not need a device for every student.
  • Work directly with small groups of students.
  • Shift the focus from them to their students.

When I train teachers on the Station Rotation Model, they are quick to ask how I group my students. I tell them that I use multiple grouping strategies. I create groups based on:

  • Reading level
  • Writing level
  • Interests
  • Strengths in a group dynamic
  • Expressed learning preference
  • Random

Mixing it up is key! The grouping strategy should make sense for the specific lesson. Unfortunately, more often than not teachers place students skill level groups and leave them there indefinitely. Kids are smart. It doesn’t take them long to figure out what their group means. I worry about how this will impact their self-esteem and their feelings about themselves as learners.

Use Google Sheets to Keep Track of Your Groups

I know that creating groups is time-consuming, so I wanted to share the strategy I use to organize my groups.

  1. I create a Google Sheet for the school year labeled “2018-2019 Grouping Strategies.”
  2. I create a sheet for each of my classes. (See bottom of the Google Sheet to create additional “sheets” or pages.)
  3. I copy and paste student names in the A column of each sheet.
  4. Each column after the students’ names becomes a grouping strategy. As I gather information about their reading and writing levels, personalities, interests, etc. I create groups accordingly.
  5. I also use a random group generator to spit out groups when I don’t think the lesson will benefit from a particular grouping strategy. Here are some random group generator tools. If my random group generator spits out a great collection of groups, I capture those in my spreadsheet too!

I love not having to recreate groups every time I create a lesson. I also don’t think my students have any idea how they are being grouped because the groups change constantly.

Stealth Grouping

Once I’ve designed a Station Rotation Lesson, I select the grouping strategy that makes the most sense given the objectives of the lesson. If I am focusing on writing thesis statements in my teacher-led station, then I will break students up by writing level so I can tailor my instruction and scaffolding to each group. If students are working collaboratively at one station, I might group them by strengths in a group dynamic, so I do not have all of my type A students in one group. If I want to offer a differentiated reading station, then I might group them by reading level. The key is to match the grouping strategy with the lesson.

Then as my students walk in the room, I put a small colored post-it note on their desk. That post-it note signals that we are doing a Station Rotation. They grab their post-it and go to the corresponding station. I do not tell them what the different colors mean, and I change the colors up so there isn’t any pattern.

Hopefully, these simple strategies will help teachers using the Station Rotation Model to think about how they are grouping students. If you have other strategies you use that you think might save other teachers time, please post a comment and share!

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Students Learn More When THEY Do the Work

A major barrier to innovation in the classroom is teacher exhaustion. I regularly work with teachers who like the idea of trying new teaching strategies, blended learning models, and technology tools, but they don’t have the time or energy to experiment.

When I work with teachers, my goal is to get them to shift their mindsets. Instead of asking themselves, “How can I?” I want them to pause and rephrase the question, “How can students?” This shift in teacher mindset seems simple, yet it goes against most teachers’ instincts. We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to do it all. Unfortunately, that mentality robs students of opportunities to learn.

Below is an example of what it looks like to shift the work from the teacher to the student with the goal of placing students at the center of learning. The image below depicts a traditional workflow.

It’s no mystery why this approach is so draining and frustrating. The teacher is doing all of the work. After hours of grading and providing thoughtful feedback, there is little incentive for students to revise or improve that piece of writing.

In a classroom where the student does the work, that same assignment could have a dramatically different outcome.

I would argue that the student is going to learn exponentially more with the student-led approach. This second approach shifts the work from the teacher to the student. The student uses the Grammarly report to identify mechanical errors and edit their work. They have to think critically about their specific skills using the exemplar provided by the teacher and the rubric. Finally, they have to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves in their ongoing assessment document or learning log.

If teachers design lessons that require students do the lion’s share of the work in the classroom, the benefits are two-fold: 1) teachers won’t be so exhausted and 2) students will learn more.

I hope that if teachers are not exhausted, they’ll be more willing to try new teaching strategies, blended learning models, and technology tools. This, in turn, will make their classrooms more exciting and engaging for students. It’s a win-win, but it requires a shift in our mindset!

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