It’s the time of year for Progress Reports and I spent a lot of time considering how I wanted to create them for my students. It’s not a full report card with grades and comments, but rather a “check in” on how the student is doing in class. Most of us here at Cameron focus on giving feedback on learning skills and work habits as opposed to grades and these ideas are then carried into Parent-Teacher Night tonight.
I’ve really been fascinated by the idea of students owning their learning and with this in mind, I asked my students to fill out a Google Form to write their own Progress Report then conference with me about what they had written. I wasn’t sure how this would play out, but I was confident that my students would rise to the challenge.
In truth, they far surpassed my expectations about what they would say. What struck me as exciting is that they all commented on skill development as opposed to content acquisition. They reflected on their performance thus far in the course, and really scrutinized their behaviour, but also their learning. I had many students comment on the fact that they need to use their class time more effectively as they are not used to so much freedom to work on a variety of tasks as opposed to the one assigned by the teacher at the start of a class. I thought this was so interesting as the freedom to choose what to do is an issue that comes up with first year university students. So many have problems with time management and focus as they don’t know what to do when they aren’t being told exactly what to do at all times. By allowing them to discover this in my class, it opens the door for a conversation about responsibility and focus. We have a safe environment here where now they realize that they need to employ further strategies to keep themselves from getting distracted. To me, this is awesome learning. It’s self-awareness, self control, and reflection. These are all skills we need to be fostering in our students for the future.
I also had many conversations about strengths and how to take the skills they have in one area and transfer them to another. For example, one of my students was discussing how oral communication just comes easily, but writing and specifically be clear and concise while still creating meaning, was more challenging. In discussing this, we talked about what are the skills involved in having a strong conversation. How do you then take those skills and use them in your writing. We also talked about using voice-to-text to allow you to get thinking down in text format with the opportunity to edit further. Conversely, I had a conversation where the student is an exceptional writer, but wants to focus on oral communication. We talked about some strategies that this student employs in their writing, and then brainstormed how they could take those skills and apply them to a verbal setting. I suggested that the student keep a note pad or have a Google Doc open to jot down ideas that will help formulate their contributions to discussion.
Finally, one of the other conversations that had me thinking was with a student with really strong skills. In that conversation, we talked about the idea of class work and motivation. My advice was to change the mindset around the idea of class “work.” I often worry that our lexicon is turning our students off learning. We refer to class activities and assignments as “work.” We are doing learning a disservice by using this language. Learning is not work. Learning is fun, exciting, and causes “flow” according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which is an amazing feeling. So I asked this student to change the mindset in how they approach class. We are here to learn. I challenged the student to look for meaning as that is one of the aspects of deep learning.
Overall, it was such a worthwhile, energizing, and rewarding experience for our class. I don’t think I will ever go back to me writing Progress Reports in isolation.