Like many educators, I want to create a learning environment around a mindset that teaches students to be patient, trust the learning process (and the teacher), and celebrate growth. But there is a powerful force that challenges such conditions. We live in a culture that continues to reward, rank, and emphasize grades over learning, points over progress, and recall over creation.
It’s time to reassess our culture of learning. By acknowledging and acting on the following truths, educators live up to their professional title and create learning permanence.
All students can learn.
Always return to this central truth as foremost in education.
Learning is a messy process; consequently, teaching all students to learn is challenging work. Some factors cannot be explained; others are beyond our control. What if performance on formative assessments does not match outcomes of the summative assessment? This calls to question the design of the assessment. Do the expectations match the preparation? In some cases, what educators perceive as understanding is far from mastery; the student has relied on help from a teacher, peers, or notes. Obviously, the learner is not ready for independent demonstrations of proficiency. Maybe, the summative assessment caught the student on a bad day—external factors such as lack of sleep, trouble at home, multiple tests on the same day, health issues, and relationship drama. All of these circumstances are life obstacles; they justify second chances. In such situations, we also have to be willing to adjust our reporting. If I remain true to my philosophy and our class motto to learn with a purpose, summative returns to formative until additional practice and instructional interventions take place.
We teach what we believe is important for students to learn.
That’s why we dedicate time to guarantee a viable curriculum, power and unwrap standards, and plan engaging lessons. We target content standards and skills essential for students to learn. Why would we accept anything short of proficiency?
Learning happens at different times. In fact, learning never ends.
While a school calendar may suggest times to report progress, the learning process is not a race, nor a winner-take-all competition. A student may demonstrate early proficiency on one assessment, but show inconsistencies with the standard on a future assessment. When we embed the skill or concept in future assessments, we allow multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of the standard. This also holds all students accountable for learning and retaining, not simply a one-and-done measure of success. Students who consistently show proficiency may elevate their performance to a level of mastery, while late learners earn the opportunity to show new evidence of growth. Making reassessment a natural part of our class time prevents the feeling of being singled out; no one feels exposed or labeled as behind.
Not all students will learn a concept or skill on the first attempt.
In a growth-minded environment, teachers and students are held accountable. If learning is the priority, standards deserve to be assessed multiple times. A teacher’s responsibility becomes supporting and rewarding growth. The student is accountable to practice, learn, and retain.
Students deserve a clear understanding of what is being assessed.
A criterion-referenced approach to learning validates the curriculum and makes sense of reassessment opportunities. Allow them time to create responsible plans toward success. This requires increased transparency in communicating expectations and consistency in rewarding growth. When targets are understood, goals may be set and progress monitored. If I have communicated clear criteria of what it means to be proficient, students should even be able to self-assess. When empowered to self-assess, learners verbalize their readiness in terms of Not yet—Almost there—Got it! From here, I invite students to co-plan the next steps of practice and instruction. When learners reach the “Got it” level of understanding, they recognize a low-risk opportunity to show what they know. Then I ask, “What can you create to show evidence of your learning?”
Evidence of learning appears in many forms.
If we remember to teach learners, not curriculum, we honor learning with respectful tasks. Reassessment practices give students a voice in seeking ongoing opportunities to demonstrate new evidence of learning. Allowing learners to reassess shifts the mindset and reinforces our message; it shows how learning is continuous while teaching students to be positive, patient, and resilient. Consequently, students pay closer attention to standards when they know there is still room (and opportunity) for growth.
Sharing proud moments when learning happens and celebrating student growth reward our efforts.
Throughout the learning process in my classes, we stop and check understanding with “celebrations of knowledge.” Typical celebrations answer the questions: “What am I learning today?” “Why am I learning this?” and “How will I know I have learned it?”
When students can accurately complete the sentences…
I’m learning (course content)… so I can (learning target)…
I will create (artifact) … that shows (criterion-referenced evidence)…
…they know learning has happened.
Ultimately, when we learn with a purpose, our goal is learning P.E.R.M.A.N.E.N.C.E.
By using the letters as an acronym, I communicate student and teacher responsibilities in the learning process.
P– Purpose, practice, preparation, and in time, patience, for learners and educators.
E– Experience. Learners experience how it feels to try. The process can be humbling. This is where educators need to act with empathy.
R– Reflection. The teacher and student have to look back at the results and ask, “Where are the gaps in learning?” Rather than growing frustrated because they are not there yet, learners must show resilience to keep trying. This requires quality feedback and instructional support.
M– Metacognition is thinking about learning while learning how to think—critical for academic maturity.
A– Adjustments. Learning is about making adjustments after asking, “How might I improve? I need another strategy (or maybe just more practice) to complete the challenge.”
N– New opportunities lead to hope for growth and reduced anxiety.
E– Evidence of learning leads to self-efficacy, a belief in achieving desired outcomes.
N– Now what? Now that I learned it, what are the next steps I can take toward mastery?
C– Create something with the learning. This is where learning counts. This is why it matters.
E– Enrichment. Extending thinking and learning is the only way to achieve depth of knowledge level four. At this level, students own the learning and may even teach the concept or skill to others.