I’m enjoying another weekend of days in the 80’s here, but I know this won’t last–it’s one of those last-hurrah New England weekends that makes the humidity of summer worth every second. Fall has already shown up, a blaze of color starting to creep across the landscape.
And we’re back at school, forgetting and re-remembering that we start each year with 6th graders in our 7th grade classes, students who don’t know how to self-assess, how to use their tools and resources, how to advocate for realistic options. And parents who need to learn, too. Just like the trillium I found at my farm this year and the snow that melted last spring and is on its way again, these learning curves come in cycles…but I have to re-remember each year.
Self-Assessment and Self-Awareness
The Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) call for teachers to help their students “Develop self-assessment and reflection (9.3).” This is always easier said than done, but well worth the time that we invest in it. One approach I use is to put an open-ended prompt on the board and invite students to write up their questions, with no names attached. Periodically, I set up shop and invite students to come join me to explore a topic listed on the board–it doesn’t matter (nor do I know) if a particular student who comes to discuss it is the student who wrote it on the board or not; anyone who is interested in the conversation is welcome to join.
One area where I have to push myself is in expecting my Standard (grade-level) students to engage in this practice, too. We are more directive in Standard, calling students for small-group instruction almost every day and tracking to ensure that they are all seen by a given teacher (or both teachers) during a given class period. While this serves the curriculum, it is exactly the opposite of what these students need–these are the students with the least confidence and skill in math, so they need Universal Design for Learning even more to bridge that gap.
I had asked my Standard students to write on the board before the first Module Assessment in Rational Numbers, but the board had remained stubbornly blank. As I reflected on the feedback from the students through the Exam Wrappers, I realized I had to make sure that I was holding these students to the expectation that they would be active participants in the conversations about what they needed more help on, so I tried again as we started our second Module (Ratios and Proportional Relationships). The results were better!
As you can see, students got the message this time and I got great questions, some of which preview key topics and concepts we are hoping students will take away from the Module, such as the one about y/x versus x/y, one that my colleague and I are grappling currently as we revise this Module in light of new assessment data from our State test.
Another area of learning at the start of each year is helping parents understand that the best growth, the kind that actually creates change, comes both from within the students AND from external evidence. I was speaking to a parent who said that her daughter “lacks confidence” and the mother’s solution was for me to provide confidence by praising her daughter. I’m not a researcher, but my gut tells me this is not the way to go about things. I want my students to measure their confidence from external data, to know that they are ready by using resources to self-assess prior to assessments, not waiting for me to provide a grade or a number. And not waiting for me to say their work is good, but to be able to measure that themselves with external data. I think there is also value in teaching our middle school students to measure their worth in ways that are not dependent on peers or parents. We had a speaker in recently who talked about how she measured her self-worth based on feedback from parents and peers…and how she found herself wanting. I hope to partner with parents to model how students can build an accurate sense of self from the inside out.