We can all agree that metacognitive thinking is obviously beneficial. The environment in which a student feels comfortable enough to be a self assessor can be tricky. What does that look like? What is the goal?
Getting away from the time-honored question, “Is this the right answer?!”
As former students, this is probably the question that motivated most adults as young learners. The response of, “Yes, you are correct!” or “No, you need to work harder.” always seemed to hold a finality of the lesson.
That is where we all decided that we were “great at math” or that we would be lifelong math strugglers. We all have those memories.
So how do we as teachers change that narrative? How do we facilitate students in becoming their own teachers? How do we give them a voice and the confidence to speak to their own capabilities and shortcomings and how is that beneficial?
Learning Goals and Scales
Reflecting back to John Hattie’s book, “Visual Learning”, there are questions that guide a student through the self-assessing process.
Relating to the content each student should ask themselves:
Where am I going?
How am I going to get there
Where to next?
Keeping those guiding questions in mind each student is given a Learning Goals and Scales chart for each chapter studied.
The goals and scales are based on a combination of Common Core Standards and State of Florida Item Descriptors.
Seen within the items are leveled abilities. This is important to guide the learners in their self-evaluation. It is also very helpful for the students to keep the chart throughout the chapter.
This is not a summative assessment or checklist to use at the end of the chapter. The students should have access to help guide their thinking and goals. The goals and scales are written in “kid-friendly” language as “I can” statements.
This is done to make ownership of the goals easily relatable to elementary-age students. In reading each statement the student is then able to designate the color that best fits their comfort level for that item.
As it relates to their feelings about a topic:
Red indicates that the student feels that they are not confident in this skill. They feel that they require more work in this area.
Yellow indicates that the student feels somewhat comfortable with the statement. They can be effective when leading in whole group scenarios, or with partner support, but may still have questions.
Green indicates that the student feels very comfortable with this skill. Not only could they complete the tasks at hand, they could also explain them to a classmate.
Support through Discussion
The students’ responses to their Scales and Goals can be seen below. Those are then used to guide the students through self-assessment by applying the goals to different examples that have been either created in their Math Journal or through concrete examples that the students can demonstrate and explain.
Examples below show the students reflecting on their goals for their first chapter in their mathematics classroom this year.
The students were allowed to use their goals and scales to keep track of their thoughts and their own accountability and then relate those directly to examples.
These discussions are truly the cornerstone of metacognition for the students. Being told that their thinking is more valued than a simple score is the first step in supporting a student in seeing themselves as not just as a spectator in their education but as their own teacher.
Initial Teacher Takeaways
Having a specific routine for this method of accountability and reflection is crucial. There must be a procedure put in place that helps the student guide themselves independently. If these steps are not taken students become distracted in the implementation of the task and the quality of the actual reflection is lost.
Providing the students with the Scales and Goals (I can statements) is the first step, but the teacher contribution in creating those goals must be instructionally sound and purposeful.
Something as simple as incorporating the math topic in the journal headings allows students to organize their thoughts for their accountability discussions with their teacher.
For example, if the first three “I Can” statements relate to place value and the student feels that they can prove that they are comfortable with that topic, looking back in their journal headings that address Place Value will give them a place to reflect and prove their thinking.
It should also be said that in some of the discussions and pictures seen below you can see that through the interactions the students actually change their ability levels from their initial thinking. That might be the most profound takeaway with these strategies early in the school year.
In these initial phases, we are teaching kids how to reflect. To look over their week and explain certain images where they learned, wondered, or were confused about. Many have never been asked to “reflect”, especially in math. As we begin this year, we are trying to introduce this and make it a habit. The hope is that the mathematical language becomes stronger and the thinking becomes deeper and meaningful to understanding concepts better.
Precision teaching is the idea that relates to the book, Visible Learning by John Hattie. The premise behind Hattie’s research is the correlation between surface, deep, and transfer learning.
The findings go on to address the influence that different aspects of the education system have on our students and the math classroom. Basically, the idea of getting the “most bang for your buck”.
Every school district, school, and classroom teacher wants a magic formula for success. With limited time and funding, how do we ensure our academic goals are being met in the math classroom?
As math teachers, how do we know if our students are learning?
Setting routines are one of the cornerstones of a
successful classroom. It is important for teachers to understand the difference
in a compliant classroom and an environment conducive to learning.
When beginning the school year it is crucial to
ask ourselves a few questions when considering routines and procedures.
Do your students know what they are supposed to be learning? And more importantly why?
Are your students benefitting from your expertise?
Are your students capable of connecting their learning to what they’ve already learned and are they able to see where this learning goal will lead?
Are your students able to manage their own learning?
At the end of the lesson, are your students able to hold themselves accountable for what they have learned? (leading into self-assessment)
Self-assessment has one of the largest effect sizes for student learning (Hattie, 2009). The process of self-assessment requires several different elements implemented in the classroom.
One example of self-assessments in the math classroom is the use of Math Journals. Beyond a journal prompt containing the “content goal” teachers have an amazing opportunity to go beyond a right/wrong answer by providing students with a voice for self-reflection.
Below is an example of a pre, mid, and post year self-assessment used in a fourth-grade classroom to gauge confidence and attitude toward mathematics.
This same questioning is also used in this classroom in the aforementioned Math Journal activity. The example seen below addressed the math topic of Place Value. The students were asked to describe the value of the 8 in the number 88,888.
They could use pictures and words. The prompt was actually shared at the beginning of class as an informal discussion. Students were asked to read the prompt and think about what they already knew about place value, what they remember from previous lessons that would help them with today’s goal, if they felt like the topic was going to be difficult and if so, why?
They were given time to think about their responses and write them in their journal, then after the lesson, they returned to their journal to work on the prompt and reflect on their thoughts from the beginning of class. Once journals were complete, they were allowed to share the journals with their group.
The outcome of this part of the activity is to foster a safe space for math discourse, more importantly, mathematical talk is proven to lead to the ultimate level of transfer of learning and metacognitive awareness.
If self-assessment is the goal and math journaling is one tool, what is the payoff? How do these techniques help spark success in our math students? Metacognition is the ability to think about our thinking (almost sounds too simple).
While it may sound simple it is the cornerstone of all actual and true learning. Metacognition happens when students practice self-reflection on their level of thinking. In addition, when students can relate this to a target it becomes powerful enough to increase understanding and motivation.
This knowledge promoted in the classroom is invaluable. As teachers, we all dream of that day when our students are intrinsically motivated. A moment in the classroom when the value of the content rises above a state standard or an arbitrary notion but becomes a self-fulfilling desire to learn and grow. But students need guidance and tools to develop their metacognitive awareness and become confident in the ability to self-question.
Formative evaluation is the process of gathering evidence to inform instruction. In simpler terms, it is the process for teachers and students to communicate about the learning that is taking place and the direction that instruction should go. Formative evaluation should drive instruction decisions, gathering real-time data is crucial in guiding how the teacher will proceed with the delivery of the lesson.
In the book, Visual Learning, Hattie speaks of several internal questions
that drive learners:
Where am I going? What are my goals?
How am I going there? What progress is being made towards my goal?
Where to next? What activities need to be undertaken next to make better progress?
Consequently, these are the same three questions that teachers must ask about instruction as they make adjustments based on the data they gather from students. Some examples shown below, include response cards (whiteboards), and exit tickets, journal entries may also serve as a way to inform instruction.