One of the instructional practices that I am the most passionate about is using Unit Overview Sheets to give students opportunities to assess their OWN progress towards mastering required outcomes during the course of a cycle of instruction.
The way that I see it, we do our students a disservice when all of the goal setting and assessment done in a classroom is done by teachers simply because the most successful learners are also almost always the most reflective. If our kids don’t get comfortable with identifying their strengths and weaknesses — or believe that assessment is the job of every learner — they will struggle in a constantly shifting knowledge-based economy.
Don’t take my word for it, though.
Instead, Check out John Hattie’s research on the instructional practices that have the biggest impact on student achievement. Four of the top fifteen highest leverage practices identified by Hattie — self-reporting grades, teacher clarity, feedback and metacognition — can be easily integrated into classrooms using Unit Overview Sheets with students.
What makes Unit Overview Sheets even more powerful is that their development can focus a collaborative team of teachers.
Deciding on a small handful of essential outcomes for each cycle of instruction is an approachable practice that also helps to ensure that every student at a grade level or in a school has access to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. What’s more, unit overview sheets can be used to write assessments and to determine remediation and enrichment needs on a learning team. One document, then, serves as a starting point for every conversation, simplifying what can oftentimes feel like overwhelming work.
But here’s the hitch: The unit overview sheets that I typically use with students are almost always text heavy.
Check this one out, for example. While it’s incredibly useful for my sixth graders, the fact that there are SO many words and SO little white space makes the document age inappropriate for students in grades K-3.
So I’ve been tinkering around with a new idea for primary teachers that I am calling Learning Cards.
My thinking is that a Learning Card will include ONE essential outcome at a time — so the samples linked above would be printed on card stock and then cut in half. Instead of passing out a Unit Overview Sheet at the start of a cycle of instruction and asking students to refer back to it time and again, teachers might share one Learning Card per week with students — a simple step towards keeping students from being overwhelmed by expectations.
Like Unit Overview Sheets, Learning Cards will share expected outcomes in age appropriate language — and I still prefer the I Can Statements suggested by Rick Stiggins and his colleagues at the Assessment Training Institute. Learning Cards, however, will also include pictures and/or other visual cues that can make the learning target approachable to non/early readers. I’ve been getting those pictures/visual cues from The Noun Project website — but any source of interesting clip art would work.
And like Unit Overview Sheets, Learning Cards include a system for students to track their own progress towards mastery, but they are limited to two choices: NOT YET and YOU BET — terms originally brainstormed by a group of brilliant teachers at Flynn Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont. My thinking is that students would color the NOT YET box — maybe in red — for any Learning Card that they thought they were still struggling with. When they were confident that they had mastered the outcome, they would color the YOU BET box in green.
If it were my classroom, each student would hang their Learning Cards on a book ring. That would make them readily accessible for review. Students could pull out their book rings once or twice a month, sorting their Learning Cards into NOT YET and YOU BET piles. Better yet, students could use their cards during student-led conferences, walking their parents through the outcomes that they had mastered and the outcomes that they were still struggling with.
Finally, teachers could use the Learning Cards to quickly sort students into remediation and enrichment groups — and could bring learning cards to PLC meetings as a reminder of the skills that kids were struggling with across entire hallways.
Does any of this make any sense? What are your first reactions to the notion of developing Learning Cards to use in primary classrooms? What changes would you make — either to the structure of my Learning Cards or to my suggested strategies for using them in the classroom?
Looking forward to hearing what you think!
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