The following tips are designed for teachers and students to get the most from the Check-in experience.
Before checking in with students for the first time, it is important to remember that reflection is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. We can not make assumptions that students’ capacity to critically engage with their learning improves with age. Nor can we assume that when presented with a series of prompts on a check-in form, students will know how to apply their thinking to the task in a manner that supports them in sharing what they have learned, what they need to improve, or selecting strategies that they believe would move their learning forward.
As teachers, we can help our students learn to reflect by providing them with frequent and purposeful opportunities to do so. Reflection should not be something that students only do once in a while. It should be seen as a valuable and regular part of the learning process.
The following video was filmed in a series of classrooms where students were using Verso Check-in for the first time. The students were given an introduction to the process and how each question required them to think and respond. The teacher introduction was designed to help students who were new to the process to avoid some common pitfalls. Specifically, students were asked to be precise and thoughtful. They were given possible sentence starters such as “I learned that…”, and reminded of the difference between sharing what they did as opposed to sharing what they had learned in the lesson. Finally, you will see that students were asked to use evidence to support their self-assessment and to be specific when seeking support from the teacher.
Nora Abushakra is a highly regarded middle school educator and Social Studies teacher in South Carolina. She has been a leading exponent of the use of the Verso Check-in tool for the past 18 months and has been hugely influential in aligning the use of the tool with her district’s cycle of professional inquiry and her individual school’s continuously evolving pedagogical framework. As a highly reflective practitioner with a keen interest in student voice and agency, Nora has recently started to experiment with the use of single point rubrics as a tool to support the student reflection process, and as a means to give students more ownership of their learning. In doing so she aims to support students in finding and applying their voice to the learning process with greater precision, ensuring that the feedback students provide is specific, accurate and actionable. In this article, Nora shares her exploratory work and her ongoing professional quest to translate educational research into effective classroom practice.
As educators, we all know that it is our duty to facilitate learning for all of our students. We do our best to plan activities that ensure that we are doing just that but, in the end, are we asking students to just “do” tasks or are we asking them to “learn”? Professor, John Hattie, wrote that a student’s “role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains” (2012). Hattie goes on to say that this is a challenging task for educators. It requires the educator to introspect their own practice and empower students to do the same work on their own. However, if students are unclear about the purpose of their learning, the activities that are planned to help them get there are all for naught. That is why I appreciate Phil’s analogy of learning as a journey. It truly is and I will soon point out how it applies to Professor Hattie’s discussion above.
For a moment, imagine you have been told you must travel to a new city and that you must reach it by the next day. You have never traveled there and you do not know how far it is nor the directions you should take. What obstacles will you face along the way? Do you need a car or is public transportation available? The stakes are high, though, so you have no other option but to attempt to make it there. Feels hopeless, right? If you were just handed the keys to help you reach your destination, would you instantly become more likely to arrive on time? Likewise, we cannot expect our students to be successful on their learning journey if we do not tell them where they are going and equip them with the tools and resources to help them get there.
Returning to Professor Hattie’s quote, he reminded us that the goal is for students to be able to manage and understand their learning gains. Rubrics and reflection are the means to that end. Rubrics help students to navigate their own path, while reflection aids them in understanding where they are at any given point and what they need to move forward. Together, they provide a roadmap to success.
Recently, I was teaching a unit on urbanization. The learning objective, or final destination, for the unit was to understand the impact of urbanization on a global level. Planning backward, my content area team and I decided on the following success criteria, or rest stops, along the way. We wanted students to be able to:
I created the rubric below for the students to track, or manage, their progress toward owning their learning. I gave each student this rubric at the beginning of class and went over it in detail.
The left hand column presents students with a series of success criteria in order of increasing complexity. The right side of the rubric gives students a space to reflect. Take note that it asks students to write what they need to be able to advance to the next level. You may be thinking that you have been asking students to assess their own level of learning all along. However, I invite you to think about the difference between the data you have collected as a result of your practice and the data you could potentially receive from these rubrics.
Why is this better? Most students, when asked to assess their learning, are going to only think about whether or not they have completed the task at hand, rather than where they are on their learning journey . Their reflections are too frequently focused on completion and compliance. With this approach I provided students with a roadmap that would allow them to take control of their own learning. As this is not a task list, students are focused on whether they have mastered the learning, making their reflection feedback more valuable.
With this approach I am beginning to shift balance in my classroom. Students are now able to describe their current level of knowledge, skills and understanding. They can use the rubric throughout the lesson to monitor their progress and self and peer-assess against clearly defined and understood learning goals.
Having the data in one place and students being able to clearly and accurately articulate their learning has been a game-changer for me.
The student feedback data allows me to see if the strategies I am employing are working. I can use student feedback to adapt next learning steps or make micro adjustments to my practice and plan interventions to meet the needs of every student more effectively.
I leave you with a snapshot of additional reflection data taken using Verso check-ins. The first is prior to my use of rubrics to inform reflection and learning, and the second was taken at the end of this unit. As you can see, the impact has been phenomenal. Not only has the process managed to connect students more closely with their learning, it has also given students the means to employ a shared language to seek feedback and discuss their learning with their peers and myself .
Check-in data also has revealed that students are now far more able to evidence their self-assessment using details of what they had learnt, and students who were confused could precisely pinpoint the stage of the learning journey where they needed support.
A large part of our work is focused on using research-based protocols to equip school leaders, coaches and teachers with the confidence and skills required to use student reflection data to inform high quality teaching and learning.
We have found that by organizing this work around the Data Wise Collaborative Improvement Process (developed by Harvard Graduate School of Education), schools become increasingly confident in making decisions about continuous professional inquiry focused
on the use of data and evidence of student learning.
The process is underpinned by 3 essential elements:
Prepare, Inquire, Act
An example of the impact this approach can have is seen in one of our partner middle schools in South Carolina. The school used Verso check-in data that showed 44% of students could clearly articulate the learning objective in lessons, whilst 32% could only do this in broad terms (E.g. “We are learning about the water cycle”) and 18% of students resorted to sharing agendas or activities they had been required to complete rather than what they were supposed to be learning. (Fig 1)
This data reflected similar findings obtained through lesson observations and student interviews. Teachers began working in their PLCs to consider aspects of their practice that may have been contributing to this student-centered problem, before considering possible solutions capable of connecting students more closely with their learning.
Each PLC decided to test one of 5 Verso strategies designed to engage students more deeply with all aspects of the learning objective. The school’s learning specialist modeled some of these strategies in classrooms and each PLC developed an action plan which clearly identified their chosen strategy, how they would build it into the lesson and the data they would use to evaluate impact.
The PLC teams agreed to try the strategies a few times in a variety of classes, coming together to share insights and make any amendments before running the final version with their classes for a clearly defined two week period, using their personal Verso check-in data to track impact.
Adopt, adapt or abandon?
At the end of the two weeks, the percentage of students who could clearly explain what they were learning had increased by 50% across the school. (Fig 2). In some learning areas this was much higher. The Verso data also showed that students reported a far more positive sense of self during class and a slightly higher level of challenge.
This measurable growth in impact has provided teachers with the confidence to implement other strategies from the Verso toolkit, building up a bank of different tools they can use to connect students more closely to the learning objective, cultivate curiosity, connect to prior learning or initiate student questioning.
The Verso Check-in data around the clarity of learning objective has continued to rise and currently sits at 70% with just 7% of students now task-focused.
Buoyed by their success, PLCs have now turned their attention to student self-assessment data from the Verso check-in (Fig 3). Teachers have identified a new student-centered problem as a focus for their next collaborative inquiry.
Fig 3. Just 25% of students who self-assessed as “Got it” could support their assessment with evidence of what they had learnt. Only 10% of students who were “Confused” or “Almost there” could use appropriate language to seek specific support from their teacher.
Although students now have a clearer understanding of what they are supposed to be learning, they appear to be struggling to provide evidence to support their self-assessment or explain where they are in order to seek specific support from their teacher.
Once again, PLCs are researching strategies and possible adjustments to practice that may be used to inform their next action plan. In this particular middle school, teachers are working with Verso to explore the use of single point rubrics, planning intentional opportunities for reflection and developing a narrative to connect planned activities to the learning objective.
This middle school case-study serves as a reminder that when teacher teams use feedback from students to collaboratively identify a common learning challenge that is specific and within their control, significant change can occur in a short space of time.
What’s more, the collaborative nature of the process and collective ownership of both the problem and potential solution, results in the impact of the work being sustained.
Click here to find out more about the Data Wise Process
As the end of the year approaches and we start to feel tired and weary, it is all too easy to become overwhelmed as schoolwork is suddenly matched with the stresses, strains, planning and preparation for the Christmas holiday season.
It’s the time of year when networks start to show re-runs of “Love Actually”, “Die Hard”, “Miracle on 34th Street” and of course the holiday season perennial, “The Sound of Music”; and it’s with this feel-good movie in mind that I am now embracing the Christmas spirit to share a “few of my favorite things.”
These links have all been shared with me by some of the amazing teachers in our Verso community, many of whom I have had the privilege of working with in 2015. You will find that some are clever and some are quirky but all of the resources are perfect for developing amazing provocations in Verso, especially at the end of the year! Consider these stocking fillers as a few “brown paper packages tied up with string.” to help you through the next couple of weeks and beyond.
1. Dan Meyer Blog: Understanding exponential growth- how many dominoes does it take to knock over a skyscraper?
2. What Would You Do? Total Strangers Help Buy Christmas Tree for Family in Need
I have been a fan of the TV show What Would You Do? for many years. Their WWYD YouTube Channel is a superb source of intriguing provocations which lend themselves to the consideration of contemporary moral dilemmas. This heart warming example presents an opportunity for students to consider the real meaning of Christmas alongside the concept of gift giving and what it means to “pay it forward”.
3. Estimation 180: Building number sense one day at a time
I was really fortunate to work with Tustin USD math guru, Andrew Stadel this year. He briefly showed me his site Estimation 180 and I have been sharing it with schools around the world ever since.
How much area does my son’s hand cover?
Each day of the school year, Andrew presents his students with an estimation challenge designed to support students in improving their number sense and problem solving skills. Students are required to make an estimation and share their reasoning by first considering what might be too high and too low.
Andrew shares his challenges on his website and he has created his Estimation 180 twitter community where over 1100 teachers are currently sharing challenges of their own.
4. Curiosity.com: Never stop learning
I have downloaded the curiosity.com app on my phone and each morning it pushes 5 new amazing topics, guaranteed to cultivate curiosity and rich discussion. I can’t recommend this site enough. It is searchable by subject and links to YouTube, Vimeo and image banks suitable for use in Verso to generate rich discussion and thinking.
To get you started, I have selected an recent festive article on Krampus.
Krampus is the centuries-old Christmas devil creature that comes out every December 5th, known as Krampusnacht. On this night, the German legend has it that Krampus visits the children who have been naughty over the last year. He would then take these wicked children back to his lair!
Did you know?
Curiosity.com links ideas together by creating new pathways. These are fantastic as they allow students and teachers to take their inquiry in a range of different directions. The Krampus path has links to really useful clips on the root of Christmas traditions old and new.
Mythbusters fire a soccer ball 50mph out of a cannon on a truck driving at exactly 50mph in the opposite direction pic.twitter.com/LFvciOWRsl
— Science GIFs (@Learn_Things) December 7, 2015
Mythbusters fire a soccer ball 50mph out of a cannon on a truck driving at exactly 50mph in the opposite direction, see the full video below
This Twitter community has an amazing 993000 followers. The amazing clips, gifs and images shared are powerful scientific conversation starters.
Furthermore, they sit comfortably with the sparking curiosity approach of renowned science teacher Ramsey Musallam who I have mentioned in previous posts.
I believe that when curiosity is sparked deep cycles of learning can occur
Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning
Finally, I hope you enjoyed browsing through these resources. I will be adding more in the new year but in the meantime, I hope you and your students have a happy and peaceful holiday season and a peaceful and productive new year filled with awe, wonder and curiosity!
Looking for something specific? Search the site below.