Over the course of the last few years, I’ve been working hard at developing a system for keeping kids posted on the essential outcomes for the units that I’m required to teach at school. While I know that’s a pretty basic practice, it is also an essential one. Most experts — think Hattie, Reeves and Marzano — will tell you that kids are more likely to meet your expectations when they know just what those expectations are.
The tool that stands at the center of my efforts is a unit overview sheet that my kids keep in their notebooks. Here’s a sample. I ask the students to pull their unit overview sheets out several times during the course of each unit to reflect on the progress that they are making towards mastering the skills, content and vocabulary that we are wrestling with in class.
Overall, students really dig having the chance to reflect around the progress that they are making. Need proof? Then check out this summary of a classroom survey on unit overview sheets that I conducted in 2013.
After a powerful conversation with my principal this week, I decided to check in with my students again to see if they had any thoughts on ways to improve our unit overview sheets.
So I started Thursday’s lesson by asking my students to answer three simple questions: 1). What do you like about our current unit overview sheets? 2). What would you change about our unit overview sheets? and 3). What do you think of the way that we use unit overview sheets in class to reflect on the progress that you are making?
(slide by Greg Pearson, @gpearsonEDU)
The feedback that I got from my students was AMAZING.
My students reminded me that our unit overview sheets were valuable and pushed me to use them more often in class. They offered suggestions on how moments of reflection should be structured and caught me by surprise when they argued — almost unanimously — for fewer opportunities to reflect with peers and more opportunities to reflect as individuals.
They also gave me really practical suggestions for improving the structure of our overview sheets. Specifically, they wanted more room to record learnings over time so that they could turn their unit overview sheets into study guides, some kind of answer key so that they could check to see that their written reflections were accurate, and a simpler self-rating system that was easier to visualize over time.
I immediately revised our unit overview sheet, working to incorporate their suggestions.
Here’s what I came up with:
It’s a THOUSAND times better, isn’t it? I love that there is more open space on the paper, which will make it less intimidating to struggling students. I also love the new rating system, the fact that there are more places for students to record more grades from classroom assignments, and that there is now room to break learning objectives into several smaller sentences instead of one large paragraph.
But here’s what I REALLY learned this week: The kids in my classroom are MORE than capable of giving me feedback if I am willing to listen.
They were thoughtful and reflective and thorough in their comments to me. They were kind and supportive, but also pointed about what they thought needed to change about the way that we were using our unit overview sheets. What’s more, they were incredibly proud of the fact that I made changes to both the structure of our documents and to the process for using those documents based on their ideas. In a way, I think they felt a sense of ownership and agency over our classroom. They also had the chance to see me reflect and revise and accept feedback and criticism — life skills that we give a lot of lip service to in schools without ever modeling in action.
That stuff matters, y’all — and I guarantee you that it will happen more frequently in MY classroom. How about yours?
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