How to help Students Own How Well They Are Learning

How Well They are Learning Image


True student ownership begins when the teacher looks at assessment from the point of view of the student. That is assessment for learning.

Robert Crowe and Jane Kenney define the student’s ability to understand when they are learning and struggling, as assessment. It directly relates to the learning as determined in the curriculum, and to the strategies as determined in instruction.

Once students know what they are learning, they will also know

Students can then identify-every step of the way-if they are learning and struggling.

It shows students know the value of consistent checking for understanding and when they need help.

Putting Ownership of Assessment into Practice

What does student ownership look like, and sound like, when a student owns their part in assessment? What is the difference between a student who is simply doing or understanding assessment and one who owns how well they are learning?

Crowe and Kennedy describe the difference between a student who is simply doing or understanding assessment and one who owns how well they are learning as the following:

  • A student is doing when they can state how they will finish the task in front of them.
  • A student understands when they can explain how they are learning.
  • A student is owning how well they are learning, when they can articulate if they are learning or struggling, and why, what to do if they are learning or struggling, and how assessing their learning helps them learn more.

Crowe and Kennedy present an example of what this looks and sounds like on a continuum of doing-understanding-owning in 5th grade math:

How well are you Learning Image
5th Grade Math

A teacher can move a student toward ownership of their learning by strategically deciding when to offer the following three learning practices:

Strategic Learning PracticesEach student must respond to the following questionsReflection: How often and how well do you offer these supports?
Instruction 1: Each and every student is supported by data that is used to monitor current understanding and provide feedbackAre you learning, and how do you know? Are you struggling, and how do you know? How does checking for understanding and receiving feedback support your learning?Planned data checks are utilized to effectively monitor current student understanding of learning outcomes. Direct and specific feedback affirms current understanding of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes. Direct and specific feedback clarifies or redirects current understanding and builds toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes.
Instruction 2: Each and every student is supported by data that is used to monitor current understanding and adjust as neededAre you struggling, and how do you know? What supports might you need from the teacher? What strategies might you use to continue learning?Planned data checks are utilized to effectively monitor current student understanding of the learning outcomes. Information from data checks is used to consistently and effectively adjust instruction, building toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes. Data is used to determine next steps, including reteaching. Data is used to determine next steps, including acceleration.
Instruction 3: Each and every student is supported by data that is used to differentiate based on predetermined student needs.What specific areas of need do you have? What supports might you need from the teacher? What strategies might you use to continue learning?All differentiation is planned and meets the predetermined needs of the identified student or students. All differentiation aligns directly to and builds toward mastery of the relevant standards and measurable and achievable learning outcomes. Reflection on the purpose and value of specific differentiated supports is required of students.
SLP Assessment Reflection

Strategic Learning Practices

In Strategic Learning Practices, authors lay out the following:

  • Clearly define each learning practice
  • Describe what implementation looks and sounds like in the classroom
  • Share teacher planning questions and offer examples of how students have been supported with these learning practices in various content areas and grade level
  • Explain how these practices directly lead to increased student ownership

Strategic Learning Practice, Assessment 3 as Example:

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SLP Assessment 3

Each aspect of Assessment 3 practice defined:

  • Data is any information gathered to indicate if the student has any specific learning concerns.
  • Differentiate is the teacher’s action to adapt or modify instructional materials, instructional strategies, or instructional processes to meet the specific needs of specific students, so that students can be supported in attaining the learning outcome.
  • Predetermined includes all the data a teacher is privy to before planning the lesson. This could include a student’s IEP, English-learner status, previous assessment results, attendance, or anything pertinent in a student’s record.
  • Student needs are those specific learning issues identified on an IEP, the language level and abilities of an English Learner, misconceptions discovered from previous assessments, and gaps due to missed instructional time.

The Practice in Action

What it looks like in Mrs. Kumar’s third grade social studies class, and hearing the class discussing the learning outcome on the board:

“Students will describe examples of human modification of the environment by creating a community change poster.”

There are visuals next to the words human, modification, environment, and community. The resource teacher, Miss. Smith working with students.

How much did students understand in class discussion? What happens when you ask them questions about their learning?

You: “What are you learning?”

Ana: “I am learning about how people make changes.”

You: “What kind of changes do they make?”

Ana: “There was a farm here, but now it is a school. People did that.”

You: “I see you have a chart next to you with pictures and words. Does that help you?”

Ana: “I am from El Salvador and still need to learn some new English words. Mrs. Kumar gives me this. If I see a word I don’t know, the picture will help me. This is a hard word for me-construction. The picture helps me know it. Sometimes I know the word, but not in English. Mrs. Kumar uses pictures a lot to help us. You can see some on the board.”

Brian: “The pictures help me too. I have trouble remembering stuff. The pictures help me remember bigger words, or academic words, as Mrs. Kumar calls them.”

You: “What other ways does Mrs. Kumar help you?”

Ana: “We sometimes get to show what we are doing. And we draw. I also talk with my friends a lot. We have to do that a lot. We also get help with reading. I can work with a friend who will read it with me and ask me questions. I get to answer and practice what he read before I try to read it.”

Brian: “Mrs. Kumar gives me a sheet of paper that tells me the information I need to remember. Mrs. Kumar sits with me and goes over this information until I can remember it. I also get to take the paper home and have my mom work with me. Mrs. Kumar and Miss Smith are nice.”

You: “How will this help you with your community change poster?”

Ana: “I like art. Sometimes we get to pick what we do. I’m going to draw. I have learned lots of ways our community has changed. I am ready to show it on my post. I will use the new words I have learned. It is good to keep learning new words.”

Brian: “When I work with Miss Smith, she will help me find pictures for the information on my sheet. I can use these on my poster. The poster will help me remember things about communities.”

When you ask Mrs. Kuma, are you surprised that these students were so forthcoming about their specific needs? And how did they gain the confidence to talk about the support they need?

Mrs. Kumar said, “It is very important that each of my students understands their unique strengths and areas of need. We talk about the importance of understanding how we learn. They know that they can ask me, Miss. Smith, or one another for help. I remind them that asking for help when we struggle is something that we all do. In fact, I tell my students that if they aren’t struggling, then they aren’t learning something new. We all struggle. This helps when I differentiate for different students. Everyone gets the help they need.”

Implementing the Practice

Mrs. Kumar uses questions to help plan how she would offer support to her students. First, she had to determine the following:

  • What skill will my students learn, and how will they demonstrate they have learned it?

Mrs. Kumar explains, “We are in our social studies unit on geography and human systems. The expectations for this standard call for students to describe examples of human modifications to the environment in the local community. I have a diverse group of learners in my classroom. I have four English-learners students, three mainstreamed special needs students, and a variety of learners throughout the class. I know that I need to take into account all my students’ needs in order to meet the learning expectations. Not only do I need to provide the right supports, but I also need to make certain my students know what the supports are, why they are there, and how to access them as needed. For this lesson, there are many ways my students could demonstrate their understanding. I chose a poster because it will allow them to demonstrate learning at a variety of levels. Some will cut out pictures to show human modifications, some will draw and label, some will include a longer explanation. All students will share their poster and be required to use as much academic language as possible in explaining their learning.”

Mrs. Kumar also had to determine the following questions:

  • What current students data do I have to help plan the instruction?
  • What specific student needs must be addressed?

Mrs. Kumar continues, “At the beginning of the year, I spent time reading each students’ cumulative folder. I met with the special education teacher and reviewed my students’ IEPs. I also reviewed my students’ English-language-level data. This provided me with a baseline on each student. From there, I have carefully assessed them along the way to ensure I understand how they learn best, their areas of strength, and their areas of need. I have really amazing supports in my school, and I have relied on them to continually grow my repertoire of differentiated instructional strategies specific to different students’ needs.”

Mrs. Kumar had to ask herself the following questions:

  • How will I differentiate instruction based on specific student needs?
  • How will I ensure that the differentiated instruction directly aligns with the learning outcome?

Mrs. Kumar answers are as follows:

“I have some students who are at the intermediate level in English and need more academic-language-support. I have students with IEPs who have a variety of identified needs-including reading comprehension deficits, short-term memory issues, and auditory-processing concerns. I know I have to find alternative ways for all of these students to access key content. I know I need to chunk the content and provide multiple, varied opportunities for learning.”

“At the beginning of this lesson, I introduced the objective. You will see that I included visual supports for any words that may be new to my students. After I read the objective, we discussed the words. From there, I had the students choral read the objective a few times, and then discuss it with their peers. I had my students seated in groups, so there were always students of varying levels who could support one another.”

“The next portion of the lesson was vocabulary. Vocabulary acquisition is a key skill that supports the English Learners. It is also a key skill that supports struggling readers. I know that I need to plan various ways for them to understand these words. Some of the words we acted out, for others we use illustrations. We also made connections to words and concepts we already knew. This was just the beginning. We will use these words throughout the lesson in a variety of ways. For those students who need it. I have created a picture definition chart that they will keep on their desk throughout the unit.”

“We also needed to read some text from a social studies book. I needed to plan how I would differentiate this to support all of my learners. We started with a whole-class discussion on what we thought the text would inform us about and why. I then had my students determine how they would access the text. Some read the text independently and completed a graphic organizer on the main idea and key details from the text. Some students listened to an audio recording of the text before reading. Some students worked with partners. And some students worked in a group with me. For today’s lesson, I predetermined who would work with me. My students understand their strengths and needs, and can often make the choice themselves. They are quite good at making the right choices.”

Mrs. Kumar wanted her students to use the skills in a variety of situations and help her students own this information, so that she could increase their probability of learning. To do this, she had to determine the following:

  • How will I share this information with my students?
  • How will I check that my students understand their progress toward the goals of the unit or lesson?

Mrs. Kumar says, “Every class has students with unique strengths and areas of needs. I think it is important that students understand what their strengths and needs are, as well as which ways they learn best. We constantly reflect on our learning. We discuss what we learned and how we learned it. We discuss ways we supported one another and learned from one another. I have a real community in this classroom. We continually discuss how we all learn differently and how when we all work together, we all get smarter.”

Mrs. Kumar wants to make sure her third graders understood the value of owning their own learning. Thus, she had to answer the following question:

  • How will my students understand that reflecting on the assessment of their learning supports ownership of their learning?

Mrs. Kumar explains, “When we discuss as a class how we learn each day, we spend time talking about how that approach supports us. The strategies I employ most often with this class-audio and visual cues, total physical responses, chunking, modeling, collaboration, leveled materials, varied demonstrations of learning-are supported for all learners. But this can’t be information I keep to myself. I need my students to understand what approach is being utilized and why. They need to understand how they learn best. My students are getting stronger with this each day. They can tell you, more often than not, what their strengths are, where they need support, and what helps them learn best and why.”

Final Thoughts

Crowe and Kennedy suggest think of your students. Where do they fall on the doing-understanding-owning continuum? Think about the support they need from you to develop student ownership. How often and to what degree do you offer these supports? What impact do you have on student ownership?

Crowe and Kennedy cited John Hattie (2011): “Such passion for evaluating impact is most critical lever for instructional excellence—accompanied by understanding this impact, and doing something in light of the evidence and understanding.” (pg. 116)