As we enter the second month of school, I’ve had a chance to talk with many of you about your goals for the year and hear what you want for yourselves and your students. So many of us have talked about the desire to see students take responsibility for their learning and truly engage. No doubt, increasing student autonomy and ownership of learning is a work in progress, nation-wide. The good news is there are some easy steps you can take to help build these habits in students.
When we explore responsive instruction and attempt to meet students where they are, this requires a bit of metacognition on the part of students. Before they can buy-in, they not only need to understand what they’ll be expected to know and do in terms of skills and process, but they also need to know where they stand now. Students tell me they appreciate “I Can” statements more than lesson objectives because they’re often written more simply and students can see a progression of skills and concepts among them. (This doesn’t mean you should ditch objectives.) Students can pick out “I Can” statements to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, but sometimes need help aligning the statement to specific tasks or applications they might perform in class.
Another great way to improve student autonomy is through the use of rubrics and success criteria. Students not only reported greater understanding of tasks when given a rubric, but teachers reports greater time-on-task for students when students referenced a high-quality rubric. When a peer is involved in assessing one’s work against a rubric, student-ownership and attention to quality increases two-fold. Crafting a quality rubric or set of success criteria is also easier said than done. If you’re not sure of the quality of your rubric, test it out on your students – their feedback, and the quality of their initial work, will give you a good idea about how to improve it.
For some other ideas about empowering students to take ownership in learning, check out this article summary from The Marshall Memo and consider how you can build lesson-closure routines around this teachers’ idea:
Getting Students Actively Involved in Consolidating Their Learning
In this article in The Reading Teacher, Kathy Ganske (Vanderbilt University) recalls that when she was in elementary school, her father would ask almost every evening what she’d learned in school that day. Knowing the question was coming, she recalls, “I kept my eyes and ears open throughout the day for potential candidates for demonstrating understanding…”
When she became a teacher, Ganske began to ask her students as they waited for their afternoon buses what new ideas, concepts, facts, or processes they would share with someone at home. “At first, students were slow to generate responses,” she says, “but that gradually changed. In anticipation of the talk, they sifted through our day’s journey, as evidenced by the occasional announcement of ‘I’m going to hang on to that one!’ that punctuated our classroom learning. The end-of-day wrap-up provided a satisfying sense of closure, and the recap of learning made students aware of what they’d accomplished.”
A few years later, Ganske took this a step further: her second graders began to publish a Friday parent newsletter of the week’s learning dubbed The Koko Report (in honor of the class’s bake sale support of Koko the gorilla and the Gorilla Foundation). It emerged from a meeting on the carpet in which Ganske jotted key content areas on chart paper, had students suggest other events – field trips, visitors, special projects, birthdays – and together they constructed a web of the week’s learning. Initially students had difficulty remembering what had happened during the week, but the routine improved their ability to retrieve information from several days ago. “[U]nless we make a conscious effort to help them solidify their learning,” says Ganske, “they may lose a great deal of it.”
Next, students signed up as “reporters” to write brief articles, working in groups of two or three or occasionally solo. “The talk and recording of information jump-started and deepened students’ recollections of our week,” says Ganske, “and the web provided support for their beginning writing skills, as did the discussion and feedback that took place in the small groups.” Students brought their reports to Ganske, who typed them on a blank newsletter template. After a group edit and the addition of a few teacher comments for parents and guardians, the Koko Report was photocopied and sent home. The whole workshop took 45-60 minutes.
Convinced of the value of daily or weekly closure/remembering/consolidating, Ganske researched the topic and was surprised to find that very few studies had been done to document its impact. “We need to be sure we plan time to cycle back to the what, why, and how of students’ learning to help them actively synthesize the parts into a whole,” she concludes. “Lesson closure provides space for students to digest and assimilate their learning and to realize why it all matters.”
“Lesson Closure: An Important Piece of the Student Learning Puzzle” by Kathy Ganske in The Reading Teacher, July/August 2017 (Vol. 71, #1, p. 95-100), http://bit.ly/2tWPl06; Ganske can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.