Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Student Self-Assessment

I want to send a huge shout out to Bill Ferriter, here in Burlington from Raleigh, North Carolina. Bill is a sixth grade science teacher with a year-round school schedule that allows him to visit us during our academic year. He is helping Burlington educators improve our collaborative process and our work with students.

One of my big takeaways from spending time with Bill is the importance of student self-assessment. Teaching teams in Burlington have begun creating unit overviews which are given to students so they can chart their learning. Unit overviews vary depending on the teachers and grade level, but most have a way for students to indicate what they know and can do relative to important learning targets. Older students might make a mark on a line somewhere between “Not Yet” and “Got It”, while younger students color in a box or a smiley face next to a skill they have mastered. More important than the format is the fact that students work on their awareness of their own learning. They begin to take responsibility for assessing themselves, rather than leaving that up to parents and teachers.

Researchers and thought leaders in education from Marzano to Wiggins to Hattie agree -- students who are aware of their learning objectives and who are responsible for assessing, charting and sharing their own progress are more likely to be successful. Yet, according to Bill and others, students are rarely asked to assess themselves.

I have been studying the Common Core Standards for years, especially in math at the elementary level, and I think they are mostly wonderful. The content standards emphasize conceptual understanding and depth over breadth. The practice standards focus on critical skills like problem-solving, constructing viable arguments, and critiquing the reasoning of others. An activity like problem-solving requires a good deal of self-awareness and the ability to “...monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary” (a direct quote from the CCSSM). So, in order to master the standards, students would need to have a measure of meta-cognition. However, student self-assessment is not an explicit part of the standards, nor is it an obvious feature in a Common Core program like Eureka Math (EngageNY).

So, how do we ensure students are responsible for self-assessment if it doesn't appear in the standards and programs? Using unit overviews is one way. When a PLC  team creates a unit overview, they have the opportunity to collaboratively determine the most important learning targets for their students. In doing so, they have also created a product that students can use to know their goals and take charge of their learning.