I had a rewarding moment on Tuesday, y’all.
I opened my Twitterstream and found this message from a participant in a one-day workshop that I offered on meaningful feedback practices in Kansas in early January:
This here is a serious game changer! I had been using Learning Targets, but not effectively. I put the work in with this version/approach and WOW! 20% increase on the first target assessment. You should see my students’ pride right now. @plugusin @SHMS_growdaily pic.twitter.com/KJVw1U02oe
— Jessica Dome (@MrsDomeScience) January 15, 2019
Then, a WHOLE BUNCH of other folks in Twitter expressed interest in the tool that Jessica was talking about in her Tweet — which I call a Unit Overview Sheet.
Now, I’ve written about Unit Overview Sheets here on the Radical before (see here, here and here), but I promised to summarize my thinking about Unit Overviews and to share a few resources in a new post.
So here we go:
I make a Unit Overview sheet for every unit in my required curriculum: It details the essential learnings for the unit in student friendly language AND it includes “doing tasks” that students can complete to prove that they have mastered an individual concept.
The most important section of a Unit Overview sheet are the rating bars: Two or three times per week, we pull our Unit Overview sheets out during class for short (no longer than five minute) conversations about the outcomes we are working on.
During those conversations, I’ll say things like, “We’ve been working on the first objective today in class. Do you know more about it now than you did at the beginning of class? If so, change the rating on your rating bar.”
That gives my students LOTS of chances to see that they are making progress as learners. They may only move from a one to a three on their rating bar — but that’s still a win. Every kid gets to say, “I know more now than I did when we started class AND I’ve got a way to prove it.
Struggling students dig the vocabulary section on each Unit Overview sheet: Sometimes when we are looking at Unit Overview sheets, I’ll say, “We were talking about __________ today during class. That’s in your vocabulary list. If you think you could define that term for your parents, check it off of your list.”
For struggling learners, that’s a TON of chances to feel like a learner. Every single check mark that they get to make indicating that they know a word from our unit is REALLY validation — “I AM a learner because I learned a TON of vocabulary words during this unit. Look at all my check marks!.”
I never collect Unit Overview Sheets: My goal with Unit Overview Sheets isn’t to generate a grade. I’ve got plenty of formative and summative assessments that I can use to rate my students mastery of concepts already. My goal is just to make my learning intentions clear to my students and to remind them that they can track their own progress towards mastering those intentions.
Now, my kids don’t always buy that at the beginning of the year. That’s because EVERYTHING in schools are graded in their minds.
But constant reinforcement during those two or three check-ins per week eventually leave them convinced. “Guys, this is for you — not for me! I want you to see what you know and can do already. So be honest — what are you doing really well? Where have you grown? Where do you still have some growing to do?”
While my Unit Overview sheets are a sound, research based practice (making learning intentions clear to students and proving to students that they are capable learners are consistently ranked as high leverage instructional practices by researchers like John Hattie and Bob Marzano), my REAL purpose is to give every kid chances to see themselves as learners.
That doesn’t always happen when grades of any kind are used as the primary tool for communicating progress to learners.
Is this making any sense to you?
And here’s a blank copy of a Unit Overview sheet that you can use to get started.
Lemme know if you have any questions.
This is probably the most important change that I’ve ever made in my classroom practice. I’m passionate about it — and more than willing to help you get started too.
Oh — and you can learn a TON more about effective feedback in Creating a Culture of Feedback — the short book full of feedback strategies that Paul Cancellieri and I wrote a few years back.
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