If I could do only one thing to improve student learning, it would be…

I often ask colleagues this question: If you could undertake just one improvement or innovation (and ONLY ONE), what would you do? The responses are as varied as the schools in which these colleagues work. More often than not, the latest and greatest innovative idea or practice is brought forward in those responses.

Those who know me know that I am a big, big fan of innovative ideas and practice, and I strongly support approaching teaching and learning from an angle of innovation. I am loving the emerging research and resources around PBL, design-thinking, tech integration, and STEM or STEAM approaches to teaching and learning. It’s exciting stuff and in many situations the application of these ideas/approaches undoubtedly leads to improved results for kids. And so it does not surprise me one bit when I hear these innovative practices or approaches suggested as a means by which we would improve learning for our students.

Ironically, however, while I am intrigued by and involved with innovative approaches and practices, my response to the question at hand would not involve any one of the innovative practices above. Yup, I’m 100% serious, it wouldn’t! So, then, you ask… what IS my response to this? ¬†Well….

If I could do just one thing to improve student learning, it would be to systematically embed reflective assessment into the daily classroom practice of students and adults.

So. Before I dive into talking about this, I should probably share upfront that reflective assessment was the topic of my dissertation study. Which means I am rather interested and passionate about the topic of reflective assessment, and it also means that I could probably write a long, long time about it. Instead of bowling you over with a huge post now, I’ll introduce the idea and give you a solid home-run strategy to make use of the technique in classrooms today. Later on down the road I’ll return to this topic and I’ll return to it with more details, more strategies, and more information from time to time.

What is reflective assessment? In short, reflective assessment is the practice of having students reflect on their learning on a regular basis. It is considered to be an informal formative assessment practice. There is a pile of literature that supports the use of reflective practice in student learning, and that literature goes clear back to Socrates up through Renaissance philosophers, and into the 20th century educational thought leaders including Dewey, Habermas, Vygotsky, Piaget, Stiggins and Wiggins, among many others. Reflective assessment may be a rose that is called by many other names, but at the end of the day I am talking about a regular, ongoing practice of having students intentionally reflect on their learning (both product and process) and share those thoughts with their teacher. It can be large-scale in nature, being a lesson in and of itself. It can be as simple as an exit task wherein you ask students to share their take-aways from the day’s learning.

Why do I feel reflective assessment would powerfully improve learning? Research and theory both point to the fact that reflective people are both more self-regulatory (they organize tasks and plan) and they have greater self-efficacy (they have an internal belief that they can do the task at hand)… and that those students who cultivate strong self-regulatory behavior and who hold high self-efficacy do much better than their non-regulatory, non-self-efficacious peers. If someone told you that one simple action each day could give your student a statistically significant jump on their future success, wouldn’t you do it?

Other reasons I feel that reflective assessment is a powerful tool include: the body of quantitative research continues to point to a correlation between the practice of reflective assessment strategies and improved student learning. In my study, kids who were exposed to reflective assessment for four weeks not only outperformed peers on post-tests, they retained the information better for longer. Even more powerful, students who were involved in reflective assessment activities for periods of time reported out that they enjoyed the action of reflecting on their learning. Teachers report that they gain enormous insights about the learning style of their students, as well as attaining valuable information about whether or not students “got” the lesson or learning for the day. And finally, in exit interviews for both my personal research and from research done by others, students and teachers both report a stronger sense of team spirit and stronger emotional and personal investment in themselves and their peers in their classes after experiencing reflective assessment activities over the span of several class periods.¬†These things, among many other reasons, are why I believe reflective assessment would lead to powerful results for our kids.

What’s a simple strategy to get started? Hopefully I’ve caught your attention and have your interest on the topic of reflective assessment. So how do you get started using it in your classroom? It’s easy. A great strategy is called the “I Learned Statement” and here’s how you do it:

1. With five minutes remaining in your time with students, ask them to complete the following prompt: “Today, I learned…..” This can be done in writing on a slip of paper or it can be digitally recorded and submitted. There is no right or wrong way to complete the prompt. The only rule is that the student must keep writing for the entire time. When class is over, the teacher should collect the responses.

2. The teacher needs to review the student responses and provide feedback prior to the next class session. This can be very quick and easy by writing a plus (+) saying “super, thanks” or a question mark (?) saying “I don’t understand your reflection” or if time permits, put a supporting comment or ask a question in return to the student.

3. At the start of the next class session, spend 3 minutes sharing one or two examples that hit the mark in terms of what the teacher hopes to see.

4. Repeat as often as possible. Be patient. Initial reflections might be pedantic or off-base. With feedback and sharing, you will quickly see the quality of responses and depth of insight will get deeper and deeper.

This strategy is effective in elementary grades all the way through college. Really!

Reflective assessment rocks and it leads to improved learning outcomes for kids. Give it a try.

Closing note: In addition to having my dissertation research focus on the topic of reflective assessment, I have written several published articles on the topic over the past several years. An undoubted master of the impact and strategies for using reflective assessment is Art Ellis, professor at Seattle Pacific University. If you’d like more information about reflective assessment and/or how to make it a living practice in your classroom or school, contact me! laurynnevans@yahoo.com