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.
A key component of Verso Learning has been our commitment to student voice and agency. A belief in the importance of activating student voice as the driver for deeper learning and whole school change has been at the heart of our work, and this has never been more evident than now as we release Verso, Check-in; the result of a close collaboration with students from VicSRC.
Traditionally, Verso has been designed by teachers for teachers and students. What is super exciting about Verso Check-in is that during the Victorian lockdown and the advent of remote learning, we were able to connect with VicSRC, an organisation that exists to empower Victorian learners, and one which is led by students, for students and supports student voice at every level.
Co-Design Workshop 1
We kicked off the collaboration with a series of workshops, which focused on the characteristics of high and low agency classrooms. The students considered research on the relationship between student agency, engagement and wellbeing, they analysed data from John Antonetti’s study of 1700 lesson observations, and shared anecdotes from their own experience , identifying the professional practices that underpinned high and low agency lessons and the impact of these practices on their sense of self.
What quickly became apparent as the two lists developed, was the depth of feeling and the intensity of the language used by all of the students to describe their response to the two very different learning experiences. For each adjective, students could offer multiple examples and elaborations. All students experienced both types of lesson within their individual schools, and the language they used dramatically reinforced the relationship between voice and agency and student wellbeing and engagement. Interestingly, students also consistently made the observation that they were actually challenged to work harder in lessons where they experienced high agency and many commented that their teachers seemed to be happier.
What was challenging to hear was the wide variance in the students’ use of vocabulary. Hearing students talk about their learning in terms of feeling “lost”, “disheartened” and “hopeless” was confronting, and their sense of “desperation” in lessons where they felt a lack of ownership really shone a light on the problem. However, there was a dramatic shift in the atmosphere when asked to talk about lessons where teachers helped them to find and apply their voice, where they felt “respected,” where their voices were heard and where they had clarity and connection to their learning. Negative adjective choices were replaced by language that demonstrated a far more positive sense of self and wellbeing. Students felt that they were “challenged…..in a good way...like my teacher just knew what we all needed and what we were each capable of if we really tried”. They felt “focused”, “willing” and “proud.”
The students were challenged to turn this emotional map into a prioritised selection of just 16 adjectives that their peers in schools around the world could use to articulate how they were feeling about their learning.
Significantly, on seeing the new interface, students noted that if a student was feeling stressed, overwhelmed or just needed to talk to a trusted teacher about their well-being, they should have a discreet mechanism to ask for support. This led to the inclusion of an “Are you OK?” button that sends an email to a student’s teacher to say that they would appreciate an opportunity for a one-to one conversation about how they are feeling.
“Ambiguity in expectations of what success looks like in any process, task or product diminishes learning” (Fisher and Frey 2021)
When learners have clarity, they understand where they are going in their learning and are in a position to select the tools and strategies that will be most useful on their learning journey. They have the knowledge and skills required to think critically and make decisions about what is important, to take notes, engage with evidence, and seek specific feedback as they monitor and adjust their own learning.
In short students are empowered to answer these three critical questions:
Teachers have multiple strategies to engage students with learning objectives and success criteria, ranging from writing them on the whiteboard at the start of the lesson to co-constructing success criteria with students. However research indicates that the majority of students still struggle to answer these guiding questions for any given lesson as they are more focused on the task rather than the learning.
Which strategies are you or your colleagues using to connect students more closely with the what, why and how,; whether online, remote or in more traditional classroom settings?
Whichever strategies teachers use, it is important that they evaluate the extent to which they are making a difference. The way they are planned and executed is not always in alignment with how they are received by students.
Try running a Verso Check-in with your students and gain insight into the extent to which each of your students are equipped to monitor and advance their own learning.
When asking students to complete the sentence “we are learning to..”, many students struggle to select an appropriate verb to articulate their learning goals. The verb in the learning objective, describes the action associated with the desired learning outcome. The supporting verbs used in success criteria to deliver that action may vary in different contexts and as teachers, it is important that we make this visible to students.
For example, “we are learning to analyse…” will demand a different set of behavioural or task driven criteria when analysing text as a writer than analysing data in a science class.
"We are learning to analyse the events of the early C20th to determine the causes of WW1”
In this example, a significant focus of the lesson should be on analysis. Learning “about” the causes of WW1 could be delivered via a worksheet or video and would only require lower order thinking. Success would be determined by each student’s capacity to “know” or “remember” rather than their capacity to develop a claim supported by evidence and reasoning.
Why is it then that so many students are neglecting the verb? Why do such a large percentage of learners replace a powerful verb with the more ambiguous “We are learning about…..”?
Could it be that as teachers, we are placing more emphasis on knowing, at the expense of doing and understanding? Are we focusing too heavily on the “what” at the expense of the “how” and the “why?” Or are the strategies we use to discuss learning goals in terms of verb, noun and context failing to have the desired impact?
Find time to take a moment and test this for yourself
Ask your students to complete a Verso Check-in and put this to the test. Try a different strategy or two and check-in again to measure the impact on learning.
“Success in education is about identity, agency and purpose. It’s about building curiosity and compassion – about opening minds and hearts; and it’s about courage – about mobilising our cognitive, social and emotional resources to take action”.
Andreas Schleicher, Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
Traditionally, schools have relied on infrequent large-scale surveys and teacher observations to gain insight into student attitudes to school and wellbeing. However, these don’t take account of the fact that wellbeing can evolve rapidly from day to day, lesson to lesson and across a range of every changing contexts. When students come to the classroom, there are areas where we have more control than others in terms of their cognitive and emotional wellbeing.
These typically center around our management of the learning environment, management of the curriculum and how we position the learning; the pedagogy and practices we employ to connect our students to the learning in order to develop the desired knowledge, skills and attitudes in all of our learners.
But how often do we check to see the impact our practice is having on the cognitive and emotional wellbeing of our students? How do we gain insight into the emotional state of our students in the context of what and how they are learning? How successful are we in developing the “skill, will, and all important thrill” in every lesson for every learner?
This short video looks at how Verso Check-in offers valuable contextual insight into the relationship between our practice and student well-being.
Try a Verso's Instant Check-in with your students today and get the conversation started.