“The indispensable condition for improvement is that the student comes to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by the teacher, is able to monitor continuously the quality of what is being produced during the act of production itself, and has a repertoire of alternative moves or strategies from which to draw on at any given point.” (Sadler, 1989 p. 121)
Sometimes significant professional insights come from snippets of lived classroom moments. One moment can change you! It did for me. Back in the mid 1990s I was teaching Grade 7 and 8 Language and Visual Arts. We had been exploring the meaning of analogies. I had assigned – what I thought – was a really cool project. ‘If you were to visualize how your brain works, what would it look like? Create a three dimensional mindscape to depict your thinking.’ This was meant to be totally open ended. I didn’t say anything else – I wanted to see what students would create.
When the projects came in and students were explaining their amazing creations to the class, a young man, sitting next to me, said quietly, “If I had known what you wanted, I could have done that too!” It was a moment of clarity for me that changed my teaching practices. I thought about it and asked him, ‘Would you like to try it again?’ He seemed overjoyed and said he would do a great job now! And he did!
I can look back and name this pivotal moment as the beginning of my journey with sharing learning goals and collaboratively developing success criteria with students.
How did this moment impact my assessment and instructional strategies?
I learned to:
- Make my thinking transparent to students and ask for their input;
- Provoke students’ thinking by asking them to feedback to me about possible misconceptions;
- Work together to describe what success might look like, sound like and feel like;
- Gather samples so as a class we could discuss what makes a sample highly effective or less effective;
- Review, monitor and revise criteria, if needed, throughout the process;
- Build in time for growth by providing time for feedback based on the criteria, including time to respond and make adjustments before the final product was due;
- Focus less on the product and more on the process, including time for reflection on what was learned.
One last thought – and a call to action! I reflect back on this humbling moment recognizing how it moved my own professional learning forward. It changed my role from information-giver to feeling like a conductor of a complex symphony. Learning is redefined as a reciprocal sharing of thinking, within the third space, where students come to understand my notion of success and I respect the process of monitoring and calibrating evolving success criteria based on students’ input and wisdom.
We’ve all had moments when a student’s words or actions made a significant, positive impact on our thinking. Talk to a colleague about a pivotal moment in your career. Share a moment with our readers in the comment box.
Sadler, D. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119–144.