My Middle Schoolers Actually LOVE Our Unit Overview Sheets!

How’s that for an unlikely title to a blog post, huh?

I mean, when was the last time you stumbled across a middle schooler who LOVED — all caps on purpose — ANY handout that had to do with school?

But it’s true: My students — who I surveyed last week in an attempt to gather some feedback about the unit overview sheets that my learning team developed together — really dig the tool that we’re using to give them opportunities to reflect on what they’re learning.

For those of you who haven’t seen my previous posts about unit overview sheets and student friendly learning goals (see here and here), the premise is pretty simple.

At the beginning of every unit, I pass out a one-page handout that includes a list of every objective that students need to master written in student-friendly language.  The handout also includes unit vocabulary and a few essential questions designed to spark thinking and start conversations.

You can see a sample of a unit overview sheet here:

Download Energy_ICan_Statements

We refer to this handout at the beginning of MOST class periods, reviewing the objective that we’re about to study.  Then, I’ll have students rate their current understanding on the rating bar that appears below the objective.

When class is over, we return to the unit overview sheet and rate ourselves again — and many times, I’ll have them explain their individual ratings to partners, detailing the content in the objective that they think they know really well and the content that they are still struggling with.

Now, I LOVE this entire process simply because I know that having a clear sense of the objectives to be mastered is essential for any learner.

The recursive-ness of having my students review and rate and review again does just that.

But until last week, I’d never bothered to ask my students what they thought of the entire process.  I had a few minutes after a test, though, so I thought I’d ask.

My question was simple:  “How helpful are our unit overview sheets — and the process that we use when looking at them — you as a learner?”

Here are a few student responses:

Gabriella said: I think the I Can Statements and unit overview sheets are usefull because they help us see how we are doing in a particular lesson or unit.

I like how we can record our grades and see what we can improve on for better test grades.  I like the vocabulary section so we know what words we need to know by the end of the unit.

I also like how we can rate ourselves on what we know to see our improvement and how much we understand something.


Carter said: I find the I Can Statement sheets very helpful when we’re able to actually see what we’re supposed to be learning and the progress of our knowledge on the topic.

It shows me as a learner how much harder I need to work at something and what I seem like an expert at.

I also like the simple questions at the top and vocab because it shows me what expectations the unit has so I can try my best to reach them.


Josh said: I really like the I Can statements handout.  I
like it because rating yourself on content helps to show yourself what you need to study, and what you are doing good on.

Also, I like the vocabulary bar at the bottom the most because when you check off a word you learned, you feel a sense of accomplishment.

I would like to change how the statements are written because when you look at the statement for the first time, you don’t get it 100%.

Ried said: I love the I Can Statements!  They are super helpful because it helps me know what I need to know, what I know, and what I don’t know.  But instead of a rating bar, I would put a 1-5 rating section.


You can read more of their responses here:

Download Handout_StudentThoughtsonSelfAssessment

Moral of the story:  Kids really DO appreciate opportunities to reflect on — and keep track of — what they are learning. 

So what steps will YOU take that happen for the students in your building?



9 thoughts on “My Middle Schoolers Actually LOVE Our Unit Overview Sheets!

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Cool stuff, Laurie!
    I really do hope to hear more about the work youre doing to help adult learners track their progress. Honestly, I think any learner does better when theyre aware of the targets that they are supposed to be meeting.
    I know that applies for me!
    Be well,

  2. Laurie Flood

    Thank you for the information! I am a 17 year veteran English Language Arts teacher that was a lead teacher, NCLB, and teacher trainer. I do believe that this can be done with ELA as well. Right now, I am teaching Japanese adults English online as I work on my masters program. I am going to see how this looks for ELD goals. I will use the new California state ELD standards. I want to get my adult paying customers more comfortable with the idea of tracking their learning goals. This is very different from the public school system and work with children, but you have motivated me to do the work to ensure that my adult learners keep on track with not only individual lesson goals, but the big picture. For my Japanese learners, this involves growing in their vocabulary, sentence construction skills, as well as consistently using the proper verb tenses. I am anxious to begin work on this, and would be happy to work with anyone else who is teaching ELD. You can contact me on my blog:
    Laurie Flood

  3. Ariel Sacks

    Bill, this is super interesting, and the feedback from students is powerful! I’m wondering if you think this would be as effective in an ELA classroom. Do you think the learning targets can be as specific? I think some can, but others are things that might take a whole year–or several years to master. Or mastery just looks different at different grade levels. I’m interested in your thoughts, as this is an area I struggle with. Thanks!

  4. Janice Robertson

    I saw this sheet about a year ago (not the exact one, but something similar) and I modified it for my math classes… I tried in vain to find out who it originated from but couldn’t. It’s awesome and you’re right…. VERY USEFUL for students!!!!
    I like the vocabulary to maseter at the bottom… great idea.

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Kristen,
    First, thanks for stopping by. Good to see you in this space!
    Second, youre right: The bolded statements arent all that sophisticated at all — but they are rewritten versions of the content in our required curriculum! They are definitely a reflection of what is expected by our state.
    I figure its important to include that content largely because it is a reminder to me of just what is expected — even if those expectations arent as sophisticated as wed like them to be.
    Hope youre well,

  6. BGruetzmacher

    Great post. This is an excellent way to engage your students and to give them ownership in the whole process. As educators we demand a voice and we want to know exactly how we are “judged” and we should afford those same rights to the students. Thanks and take care.

  7. Kristenswanson

    Bill: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and your students’ experiences. It certainly resonates with me as I am a huge believer in the power of student self reflection! The one thing that I’m left wondering is this: Why are the numerical learning targets (in bold on the sheet) written at such a low level? Your kid-friendly descriptions demand performance, but the targets themselves are highly based on memorization and identification. I know that you demand high quality performances from your kids for audiences that matter, and I think the targets themselves set the bar way too low. (I realize that you did not create these targets- which speaks to the fact that educational policy often holds us back as practitioners.) Personally, I vote for getting rid of the targets in favor of your performance descriptions! Thanks for letting me think out loud in this space!

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