Enabling Children/Students to Develop the Skills needed to Learn Effectively

Dear Nick Gibb
There are times when non-professionals begin to believe that they are professionals with many years of experience of evaluating the quality of teaching and learning in depth. In the best schools, there has always been an appropriate balance between knowledge, skills and understanding.  All of us who are trained as teachers will remember the wealth of academic research and evidence that pointed out the importance of this balance. To suggest that schools in their curriculum design and teachers in delivering the school’s curriculum have forgotten the importance of knowledge within this balance is just nonsense.
But, I would just like to thank you for bringing your view from the thousands of lessons you have evaluated (??) to the forefront because it has reminded me of the vast amount of educational research that supports effective learning – how pupils of any age learn best. The article below is just one that Jan Lomas, one of our directors, brought to my notice. It is certainly worth a read if only to enlighten us all in the belief that young people will always surprise us if we give them the credit and respect as intelligent human-beings that they deserve.  After all, they do learn an incredible amount without any professional teacher support in the first few years of their life – the danger for us as teachers is that we forget this and box up their lives thereafter wondering why, by the time the leave school, academically, they have forgotten how to think for themselves, be creative and take risks.

Enabling Children/Students to Develop the Skills needed to Learn Effectively

In this Kappan article, Georgia State/Atlanta professors Gary Bingham, Teri Holbrook, and Laura Meyers argue that students should be much more involved in assessing their own learning and using the insights they gain to improve performance – even at the elementary level. “When modeled by the teacher in thoughtful ways,” say the authors, “self-assessment returns voice and ownership to students. In turn, the teacher is able to better support the changing needs of each student.”
So why isn’t there more student self-assessment in classrooms, given its powerful potential to improve achievement? First, because many teachers underestimate students’ ability to self-assess. Second, because most teachers believe it’s too time-consuming and not worth the trouble. Third, because some teachers misunderstand self-assessment and use ineffective methods like “thumbs up/thumbs down” to get students to signal their understanding or lack of understanding. This approach doesn’t work, say the authors, because it doesn’t tell much about students’ understanding, dispositions, or abilities.
The key to getting students to do high-quality self-assessment is to move them up the “ladder of metacognition” (Swartz and Perkins, 1989: 53):

  • Tacit use – Students make decisions without much prior thought, for example, editing a piece of writing by drawing on a bank of knowledge about mechanics and usage.
  • Aware use – Students’ decision-making process is conscious, for example, when they realize that good social scientists take observational notes and they emulate that practice.
  • Strategic use – Students organize thoughts and actively employ strategies to reach decisions, for example, actively using rubrics, webs, maps, and outlines to improve the quality of their work.
  • Reflective use – Students monitor their thinking throughout the decision-making process, can judge how they are doing, and make ongoing improvements in the quality of their work.

The authors caution against using rubrics as mere checklists, suggesting that the highest level of self-assessment involves an ongoing dialogue with teachers, selecting assignments and projects, and justifying those selections. “All of these activities can be crafted as forms of self-assessment that go beyond checking a list or raising a thumb up in the air,” conclude Bingham, Holbrook, and Meyers. “Embedded in social relationships within a classroom, they address issues of positive self-perception, motivation, and achievement that make reflective self-assessment such a powerful practice in a young child’s education.”
“Using Self-Assessment in Elementary Classrooms” by Gary Bingham, Teri Holbrook, and Laura Meyers in Phi Delta Kappan, February 2010 (Vol. 91, #5, p. 59-61); this article can be purchased at www.pdkintl.org

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