HEIDI GOODRICH ANDRADE: I’m Heidi Goodrich Andrade. I’m at Ohio University.
I think that the development of higher order thinking skills is easily one of the most important things that we need to think about as educators. This is not a new idea. People like me have been hollering about this for years. Um, the basic argument is that if you don’t develop higher order thinking skills, students, children of all ages—children of all ages—students of all ages don’t understand the material as well, they don’t remember the material as well and they can’t apply it as well. So we think rather than simply ask students to memorize information, it’s really important to have them analyze, critique, create, wonder, solve problems, apply information. Um, if you simply have students study for a test, 80 percent of it is gone three years later. Eighty percent of it is gone, research shows. So we have to ask ourselves what is the point of that? Um, alternatively, if you have them really think with the information and about the information in deep ways, that includes higher order thinking skills, um they are not only able to remember the information better, but they are also can apply it when they need it. If the goal of education is to—this is an easy logic—if the goal of education is to help students acquire information and knowledge and understandings that they can then use later in their lives, then incorporating higher order thinking and disposition in education becomes sort of a no brainer. We have to do this for our students.
Um, I think that’s a key question. I’m glad you asked it because I think that’s one way—uh, that’s one thing that’s neglected often in the teaching of high level thinking skills. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of really excellent, effective programs out there for teaching students how to think. But one of the things that gets neglected a lot in the classroom is making thinking count and Lauren Resonick is now famous for saying, “You get what you assess.” And if what you want is high level thinking skills and dispositions, you have to make them count in the classroom. You have to include them in your formal and your informal assessments. And uh, would you like an example from my own teaching? One of the things I do in my own teaching is teach my students how to ask questions. And I introduce this topic to them and they think, “We know how to ask question.” Um, but there are questions and then there are questions. There are questions that open up a subject matter, open up the mind even, and um it takes a little bit of convincing but um after a while they get into the habit of asking questions. But they get into the habit much more quickly if asking—how do I put it—I put raising puzzles an interest—raising interesting puzzles and questions. It turns up on my assessments. It’s on checklists for written journal type—type things. It’s on rubrics that I use for their papers. It’s on everything. It really counts in my classroom. You can’t do well in my class and not raise interesting puzzles and questions. And so no surprise, my kids become question machines. They’re amazing. And their questions don’t always get answered but the process of asking them opens up the topic in a way that I can’t make happen in any other way. It’s just phenomenal what they do, where they go. Because they’re so use to just having information that gets poured into them and they accept it and then they leave and forget 80 percent of it, but once they start asking questions, boy, their—the horizon just explodes like this. But it only happens if it counts because you know why, because students are trained to do what they have to do. And so when it counts, we can develop high level thinking skills in a way that I think—I think making thinking count gives us leverage that we can’t get any other way.
Um, an example of what kind of high level thinking skills can be incorporated into the regular classroom is um asking higher order questions. My students are pre-service teachers and they ask a lot of “How to” questions. How do you take advantage of cooperative learning in the classroom? How do you—how do you do MI? How do you—how do you—how do you? Those are important questions for students to ask. Um, but I want them to get beyond the “How to” questions and so I give them a game to play um which encourages them to ask different kinds of questions, not just “How To” questions but um “What if” questions, “If then” questions, “Why” questions. I really want them to ask, “Why” questions, “How do you know” questions. There’s—they tend to just accept whatever information we give them and as teachers I want them to be able to question everything that they’re um told to do as teachers and so I really encourage “How do you know” questions, “What’s your evidence” questions. I encourage them to ask it and I ask it of them almost constantly. I probably drive them crazy with it. Um, so I teach them how. I have them play a game, which is kind of fun. Um, I use the categories of questions from the game, it’s called “The Starting Block,” it’s from a book. Um, I use the categories of questions to constantly remind them on their papers and their journals and things like that, these are the kinds of questions I’m looking for. One of my most popular comments is “Great how to questions, do you have any different kinds of question?” Uh, I hand out things like uh—the one card from “The Creative Wack Pack” about questions and I encourage them to play—to use that. And I—again, I make a count. It turns up on all of my assessments. And so they overtime—it takes time. I don’t have a lot of time though so usually by now we’re in the 5th week of a quarter system—I only have them for 10 weeks, and they’re already thinking. They’re asking questions they know.
Um, one of the things I’ve done in 7th and 8th grade to promote high level thinking through assessment is to have uh students write a persuasive essay and they—one of the—I gave them a rubric and the criteria on the rubric included things like, “Make a claim”—that’s standard if you write a persuasive essay you have to make a claim, “Consider arguments in support of your claim”—standard stuff. But the interesting one, the very high level thinking skill one was “Consider arguments against your claim and explain why they don’t undermine your own stance.” This is a hard thing for people to do. It’s hard for adults to do; it’s very hard for students to do because typically they haven’t been taught how to consider—how to see things from another perspective. It’s a very sophisticated thinking skill. It’s something we all want our students to be able to do. So I put it on this rubric and very predictably, the students who got the rubric, tended to consider other sides of the argument in their essay, students who didn’t get the rubric with that criteria in it didn’t—not looking at things from the other side is the default kind of thinking. But all I had to do was cue the students and let them know that it counted and they could do it. So it’s not a matter of ability, they can think this way. This is the dispositional—uh Dave Perkins and Shari Titchman and people like that um define intelligence in terms of ability, inclination or motivation, and sensitivity. My students, my 7th and 8th graders, had the ability, they maybe even had the motivation, but they didn’t have the sensitivity to when it was time to consider another side of an argument. So putting that on the rubric cued them and said, “Oh, this is something I need to do” and they did it, 7th and 8th graders. They gave—gave me some very sophisticated arguments. And there was a statistically significant difference just for the record.
I worked and res—I taught and conducted research in an after school program for 3rd, 4th, and 5th at-risk students in Dorchester, Mass., which is Boston’s intercity. Um, these were considered disadvantaged students. And uh one of the things we did was—it was a project based curriculum and we discovered that they needed help um finding their way through a project so that they wouldn’t get lost. This is true for anybody. Uh, so what we did is we taught them a problem-solving strategy and the problem solving strategy involved things like um coming up with an idea for your project, brainstorming possible ideas instead of just going with your first one—this is also a high level thinking skill, um pro-ing and conning the ideas that you come up with so that you can pick the best idea that’s best connected to—you know, we define what’s best. So it’s best connected to goals of the project and the learning objectives and things like that. Um, then you do a draft, then you get feedback, then, you know, the whole thing. That was the problem solving strategy that we used to um frame our own projects for ourselves as we thought about planning them, and we taught it explicitly to the students and then we would informally assess their work as we went along. “Well, what’s your idea?” “Um, we want to do whatever—we want to write a newspaper.” “OK. What other ideas did you consider? You’re not done until you consider other ideas.” “Oh, OK.” There’s a strong informal assessment component that was—it just became part of the instruction and we were teaching a thinking skill but we were also using it to structure their work and using it to give them feedback about their work. So the difference between assessment and instruction became very blurred. There was no clear distinction there anymore. Does that help?
Uh, the assessment you choose to use depends on what your goals are. So this is where the planning backwards notion comes from. If you want students to um be able to remember and recall a bunch of information, multiple-choice tests are fine. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need. They’re simple to do, they’re straightforward, they’re easy to score, they tell you if students have discrete knowledge and skills. That’s completely fine. If that’s what you need, and sometimes that’s what you need as a teacher or that’s what you think your students need, then use a multiple choice test. However, of course, the current argument is that we over rely on those kinds of things. That we need—that our students need, by the time we’re done with them, a lot more than the ability to recall information, especially since a lot of times they can’t recall 80 percent of that information. So think about what you want them to be able to do by the time you’re done and plan backwards from there. Um, if you want students to be able to again, analyze, critique, create, wonder, solve problems, apply, make decisions, any of those kinds of things, interpret, uh the list is endless, then your assessments have to involve those kinds of skills. So, for instance, I wanted my 7th and 8th graders to be able to think in terms of—as persuasive argument and the persuasive argument again involves making a claim, providing evidence or support for your claim but also considering the other side of the claim and if that’s what I want them to be able to do—oh, and write. I also wanted them to be able to write well. So my rubric had several cri—several criteria. Make a claim, support your claim, consider the other side of the claim. Um, what—what else was on there? Uh, use appropriate paragraph format. Use appropriate conventions, um, all those kinds of things. So my assessment was contained in that task, the writing of the essay and my rubric reflected all those criteria. So the—the take away idea, I think, is think about what you really want them to be able to do and to know and to understand and work backwards from there.
There are two reasons why simply retelling isn’t enough or retelling as a goal for education isn’t enough. One is because by the time you graduate from 12th grade, retelling isn’t a really valuable skill anymore. How many of us have jobs in which the things that we do every day, day in and day out is retell information. It’s not a valued skill in society. So—and neither is test taking. How many of us have to take a test to find out whether or not we’re good at our job? I ask this of teachers and professionals all the time and I occasionally get one hand. And now with teacher testing maybe I get a few more. Um, but it’s quite rare. Test taking and retelling is not a skill that you really need in life. So we have to ask ourselves why are we stressing it so much? The other reason is is because retelling doesn’t involve the depth of processing that required in order to really understand something and really be able to apply it, critique it, create it, wonder, solve problems, push it further, turn it inside out. Um retelling is a relatively low level thinking skill and it’s—if it’s not particularly valuable outside of school and if it doesn’t help us apply knowledge, then it’s not enough to ask our students to simply retell.
Um, the—the accountability and testing issue is one reason, I think, that rubrics have become so wildly popular because they can do both. They can give students informative feedback about their work, which makes—makes—it makes them instructive—it makes them instructional. Um, but they can also be easily translated, almost disappointingly easily translated, into grades. It’s not hard at all. I use it—I do it all the time, turn my rubric into a grade. But the key is by the time my students are assigned a grade they know what it means. It has some meaning to them because they know what the criteria are, they know what the gradations of quality are, they have had several opportunities to reflect themselves on how their work reflects the criteria on the rubric. They’ve gotten tons of feedback from their peers and from me. So by the time they get that grade, which I have to assign just like many teachers do, it has some meaning to them and they’ve had a chance to learn from the assessment. You can’t—students don’t learn much from a test. Really what they learn is whether they learned the information or not. But then they go off to something else so often, there’s nothing—it’s a missed opportunity to use assessment as a teachable moment and rubrics can do that and they can give a grade. So they sort of span that accountability-learning spectrum in a way that not a lot of assessments can. I think that’s one reason why a lot of people have chosen to start using them.
The distinction between assessment and instruction’s blurred when assessment serves as feedback for students. So, for instance, instead of just giving a test at the end of the unit and going on—that’s no instruction—um, students get feedback on a draft of their work. They can self assess, they can get assessment from their peers, they can get feedback from me—in my class they do all of these things, um and so that assessment is on going. It’s a whole—it’s a part of the learning process. It doesn’t just happen once and then you go on. That’s evaluation. Assessment or feedback becomes a part of instruction.
I think the most important thing to understand about using rubrics is that they’re at least as much about learning as they are about evaluation. If a teacher—if a teacher uses—designs rubrics—this is the ideal scenario. If a teacher designs rubrics with their students, of course I always know what I want on the rubric because I know what quality work looks like, but I involve my students in thinking about what quality work looks like and out of that comes a rubric. So I involve my students in thinking about what—what quality is and we design a rubric together. Then I have them use the rubric to assess their own work, to give feedback to each other about their work, I use the rubric to give them feedback about their work, and then finally only after all that I use the rubric to give them a grade, in that way, rubrics serve as a—an ongoing assessment. If a teacher simply uses a rubric to give a grade, which is entirely possible, you can do that, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a missed opportunity to take advantage of the instructive—instructional—instructional power of rubrics.
The way I involve students in rubric development is to show students models of the kind of work I’m about to ask them to do. So let’s say I’m going to have them write an essay or um come up with some sort of performance of their understanding, or do an exhibition, or whatever they’re going to do, I present a model. Often I present two really good models and I say, “These are good models. What’s good about them?” And my students say, “Well, they’re very clear, they’re very concise, they’re well presented.” Uh, you know, they—they analyze it in terms of the qualities that the models contain. Those are the criteria that tend to end up on my rubrics. So I write all those criteria down and if there’s anything missing I say, “Well, for instance, it’s a persuasive essay, did anybody notice that they attended to the other side of the argument?” “Oh, yeah. That’s right. They did. That’s important.” “Do you think that should be on our list?” “Oh, yeah, absolutely, absolutely.” So they’re thinking about what quality is. I’m the teacher. I can put whatever criteria out there that I want, especially if they didn’t miss it. But you’d be amazed; they don’t miss it very often. If you show them quality work, they can tell you what makes it good. And just that—just the process, the depth of processing, again thinking about what makes that work good, orients them towards quality and teaches them how to do what I’m asking them to do. So I take this list of criteria and it’s usually 20, maybe even 30 items long—that’s too long for a rubric, but there are overlaps. And so I chunk them. I take them away. I know teachers; I have so much respect for them. I know teachers who do this whole process with their class. I think they’re completely amazing. They’re my heroes. I don’t have the patience for it but I don’t think that my students suffer too much by me taking this list of 20 criteria away and putting it into chunks. So, making a claim becomes a chunk, supporting your claim becomes a chunk, uh conventions/mechanics becomes a chunk for the paper because they—my students talked about the spelling and the neatness and the grammar and all that thing—all those kinds of things. I just put them into a chunk on my rubric. That’s one criteria. Then I describe gradations of quality from good to poor. This is keyed based on the kinds of mistakes that I’ve seen students make. My rubrics reflect the kinds of mistakes that I have seen in student work so that they can recognize. They say, “Oh, I just did that and this is how I avoid that” by looking at the description of better work. Um, and then I bring it back to them and I say, “Is this what we agree on?” And they generally say, “Yes.” Some of them tweak a couple of words here and there. Some of them have great ideas I never thought of before and I will always revise my rubric uh if they come up with something. But that often takes only one class period or less to involve them in that kind of analysis. And again, the leverage that I get, it’s not just about designing a rubric. It’s about teaching them what good work looks like. So it’s well worth the time.
Rubrics don’t take a lot more time but they do take a little bit more time, especially if you involve your students in defining quality, designing the rubric, um self assessment, peer assessment, teacher feedback. Much of that can be done outside of the classroom but some of it needs classroom time. So again, it’s not a lot of time but it is some time. I have found it to be more than worth it because my students learn so much more. But I have a dept over breadth conception of teaching them learning and um teachers who have to get from Plato to Nato in six weeks or less really struggle with that and they find that sometimes something has to go. But the argument—and this is not just my argument, this is a current and popular argument—the argument is that again, if—if you go for breadth, 80 percent of that is going to be gone in three years or less. So go for depth. It’s worth it. It’s worth it.
Fortunately, there is some research out there that shows that students who are engaged in this kind of instruction and assessment do as well or better then students on standardized tests then students who are not. Um, the most straightforward explanation for that is the depth of processing explanation again. They’re really thinking about this subject matter. They’re processing it in deep ways because they’re using their high level thinking skills to think. Um, they may not have covered as much of the curriculum, but of course coverage as we know, the bain of education um doesn’t teach students as much—that breadth doesn’t teach students as much as depth. And we need to continue looking at our tests, what we test, and um whether or not students who are engaged in the kind of curricula that I’m talking about do as well as students who get pushed through like that. I mean we need to be concerned about that these are high stakes. Decisions are made not only about students lives, but teachers lives and—and real estate property on these tests. They’re high stakes tests. So we need to attend to them. We can’t say that they’re not important. Um, but we need also to continue pressuring the—our states and our districts and our test makers to make tests that reflect what we value. If our tests are still asking about retelling and regurgitation of information, that’s not OK anymore.
This is a slight—this is a slightly unpopular opinion. I think that high stakes testing and ongoing assessment at the classroom could live a little more harmoniously together. I think we do need to know how our students are doing on a state ad national level in terms of some basic skills and some discrete skills and some discrete knowledge. We do need to know that. However, we place way too much emphasis on them. And if we started placing as much emphasis and that might be translated in terms of as—spend as much money on classroom assessment as we do on high stakes assessment, and if we publish and let people know how students are doing in terms of both, I think that they can co-exist a little bit better.
I—I teach my own students to ask, “How do we know? What’s the evidence? Why is this worth it?” And I think people should be asking the same question about rubrics. Teachers are asked to use all kinds of new things all the time and they know that some of them work and some of them don’t. Some of them test—are tested and some of them are not. Um, there’s not been enough research about rubrics so far. I’ve done a little bit that shows that um if you simply hand out a rubric to your students, just give it out before the assignment, then use it to grade them, it can help students learn more and write better, um and even think better, but there’s no guarantee that the effects are relatively weak. However, if you encourage students to use the rubric to assess themselves, if you involve them in designing the rubric, if you make it part of the instruction, it becomes much more powerful. Um, self-assessment there may be a gender affect there I’m investigating. Teachers should be aware that it’s not clear yet that boys and girls respond to self-assessment using rubric in the same way. So it’s—rubrics, I believe based on my own research have a lot of potential, but it’s not perfectly clear that we understand exactly how to use them in the classroom. So teachers—I encourage teachers to use them and to stay open minded about it and to experience with them, but to take careful note of what happens when they use them. Not just to assume that everybody’s going to learn.
Self-assessment is even more about learning and less about evaluation um, then any other kind of assessment I can think of because it’s—again, the role of self—assessment is as feedback for students. They are the source of the feedback. As long as you give them some sort of guidelines, like a rubric or a checklist or something, anything, um students can compare it to their own work and see how they’re doing. Students can in theory compare it to their own work and see how they’re doing. I find that students have a much harder time assessing their own work then they have assessing someone else’s work. Peer assessment they are often right on. They can tell you exactly what’s strong and what’s weak about another student’s piece of work. But their own, they’re terrible. It’s almost comical. I found it’s necessary to actually sit students down with the rubric in front of them and their work in front of them and a variety of different colored markers and I would say to them, “OK, uh we have a first draft of your descriptive essay, let’s have a look at it and see how you’re doing. Under—everybody take your blue marker. OK, they’ve got it. Underline in your essay—your draft, where you use—where you describe the scene.” Now, they know the scene because it’s in their mind. And they’re completely confident that it’s on the piece of paper. So here they go with their blue markers and they’re shocked to discover it’s not there. Their jaws drop, their pens hover over their papers, they look at me like this. And I just laugh because I—it’s—they were so confident that it was in there, but they were completely unable until I forced them to take a look at that level of grain. They were completely unable to recognize the flaws in their own work. I would argue—I would venture a guess that that’s true at almost any age. So what I had to do is the marker thing. A teacher in San Diego helped me figure out this whole process where they go through with different colored markers, they compare their work with the rubric one criterion at a time. Again, this can take as much as a whole class period but then you send them home to ask them to revise it and wow, the difference in their papers, as long as they understand the revision process. The difference is phenomenal. The great thing about self-assessment with or without a rubric, they have to have something to use to guide their self-assessment. Um, but the great thing about self-assessment is that it helps students produce high quality work. That’s the point of all of this for me. It’s about helping students learn and helping everybody produce high quality work.
Um, the power of modeling both physical, concrete models and symbolic models is well supported with research. Students learn from models. Students of all ages learn from models. And so the think that I use models for is as models of quality so that students can analyze and dissect quality and then they have their own mental model based on those models. That’s why a variety of models is good because they come up with a more abstracted mental model of what quality looks like. Um, I’m not sure that I can say anything specific about the connection to students at-risk (interruption) how they may need it more or less.
I can say that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade at—at-risk students that we worked with found the models extremely valuable. Um, we found like—we found that they—they got it easier and we could show them past students work. Um, I also find this with my per-service teachers that it’s really effective. I’m not sure that there’s a difference.
I—my basic philosophy, I think, of education is that intelligence is learnable and there is a lot of research to support it. You can even—if you try, you can even boost your IQ scores. Not that I’m saying that IQ is a good measure of intelligence, um but intelligence is certainly learnable. You can teach even students with severe um developmental handicaps to think more intelligently. Ann Brown proved this years ago when she taught students to um think and reason better and to comprehend written text better. Intelligence is—is imminently learnable. Not infinitely learnable, unfortunately, but it’s definitely learnable. And I think that um thinking about intelligence that way is incredibly empowering for teachers. If you don’t believe intelligence is learnable, it’s almost pointless to be a teacher really. Um, but if you know that every student in your classroom is different and every student has a different intellectual profile, but that you as a teacher can help each and every student increase that level of intelligence, um your teaching is transformed. What you need, of course, is the tools, how to teach thinking. Um, there—you can teach students to think. You can make it count. Um, you can model it yourself. You can bring in other models of good thinkers. You can do all those things and it just becomes part of your instruction, your assessment, and your evaluation and key also, of course, are your expectations. So you expect students to behave and think intelligently. You teach them to behave and think intelligently. You assess and give them feedback about it. You model it and your whole—your whole classroom becomes about learnable intelligence and no surprise, students begin to think and behave and be motivated to think and behave in more intelligent ways.
I think that the best ways for teachers to start using projects is to try one. They find—in my experience, teachers and students find projects really natural because we do projects all the time out of school. We plant gardens, we plan family feasts and celebrations, uh kids build forts. There are projects galore outside of school and so when you bring it inside school, although it seems a little overwhelming to teachers and sometimes even students at first because it’s so different, um you set a groove and everybody falls into it. It’s pretty remarkable. Um, the students are motivated by pro—by projects. Projects allow us to attend to things like high level thinking skills, deep processing, teaching for understanding, um the direct instruction doesn’t allow us to do. And so when teachers decide that those sorts of things are worth it and they want to try it, um the place to start probably is to create a list of projects for students to choose from because you boost the motivation factor that way. Students have a choice. They love that. We all love that. Um, and then they’re more motivated to continue through the whole project process. Also make the goals and steps of the project clear so students don’t get lost. In the after school program where I worked and researched, we had that problem solving strategy that students could follow along. First, they had to come up with an idea, brainstorm the idea, critique the idea, implement it, get feedback. So they had uh—we had huge posters on the wall, we used um, verbal direction to use the same steps that were on the posters so students know how they were going to work their way through the project. Of course, we had to be very flexible the whole way, but there was at least a skeleton of the process there. So they had a choice so they were motivated, they had some sort of framework or process to move through and then the teachers, including me, acted as uh—sort of a cognitive mentor, monitor, resource, feedback, and just watched the students do amazing work. Amazing work. I’m always amazed at what my students do in projects.
Cognitive apprenticeship is about making thinking visible. The term was coined I think by Ellen Collins and John Brown. It reflects the fact that uh children use to be taught by apprenticeship in ancient times almost exclusively. They would be apprenticed to a more experienced person who would show them—who would model how to do whatever they were doing, cooking, building, whatever, um and then the students would gradually take on responsibilities for those tasks. Cognitive apprenticeship has pretty much been replaced by formal schooling but there is still a place for it, or rather a formal apprenticeship has been replaced by formal schooling, but there’s still a place for cognitive apprenticeship. A lot of what we want students to do happens in the mind. It’s cognitive and they don’t see it. They don’t have models of it. So it’s a relatively simple notion. What if teachers start thinking out loud in the discipline? What if they think as Alan Shonefield has done in his research? What if they think out a math problem out loud for their students? Imagine how much students learn from listening to somebody stumble through a math problem and figure out how—the thought processes that go along with it. If st—if teachers think out loud for their students, they—students learn how to think in the disciplines and even across the disciplines. And so once you start thinking out loud for your students and modeling that, you have the beginning, at least, of a cognitive apprenticeship. Students develop a mental model of their own for how to pro—how to process information within that discipline because you’ve made thinking visible for them.
I think good ongoing classroom assessment um requires on the part of teachers a—a cluster of skills but also a different philosophy or attitude about what assessment is. Teachers have been taught how to evaluate. They’ve been taught how to teach. Um, but they haven’t been taught how to incorporate this kind of ongoing assessment into their instruction and the—so the key is to start thinking about assessment as instructional, assessment as a moment of learning. That’s the key. So there’s a mental switch there about how can I use assessment to actually teach my students something, not just to report out about whether or not they’ve learned. So the first thing is to start thinking about assessment a little bit differently. The second thing is that constellation of skills which involves things like um being able to use rubrics, being able to at least experiment with round tables and exhibitions and portfolios and um teacher conferences one-on-one or with small groups. Um, how to use peer feedback, which can be very powerful but can also go really wrong uh, if not done well. The unfortunate thing is that these things are all easy to get wrong and so without the kinds of support that they need, teachers can’t experiment and decide that portfolios, rubrics, exhibitions, peer evaluation are just about the dumbest thing they’d ever heard of um and they will never try them again. So what I would encourage teachers to do is to experiment—get as much support as they can get, of course. Um, but also experiment and stay open-minded. If something doesn’t work, instead of saying this doesn’t work and tossing ask why it didn’t work? Can it be tweaked? Everybody’s talking about rubric’s portfolios, exhibitions, and round tables; there must be something to it. So if it doesn’t work in your own classroom, ask why. What can I tweak? What can I do differently? Was it a particular student who sunk it or was it um the approach? Were the directions not clear? Are st—is it so new to students that they actually balk? And I think teachers often find that if they tweak and—and continue to experiment, um that things start to work for them and their students start to learn from it. But it requires a lot of patience and a pretty adventuresome spirit. (interruption) If students need models because the human mind learns from models, teachers need models. Teachers are people too. I don’t know why that comes to such a big surprise to everybody. Teacher’s minds are like everybody else’s minds. They need models. And so if we can provide sample rubrics, sample portfolios, uh videos, for instance, that show how this stuff is actually done in the classroom, I think it can be very powerful because again, teachers develop mental models just like all of us about how this plays out in the classroom.
There’s been a steady stream of research on assessment um for the past 10 years. Um, I can probably speak most in depth about my own, as usual. Um, what mine has shown is that rubrics can quite easily support learning of content. Um, they can with—when they’re incorporated into instruction a little bit better, they can support the development of skills and the development of high-level skills. This is very encouraging. Again, we need to know more um but we do know that there is a lot of promise there. Um, similar things have been shown about portfolios. Again, implementation is everything. If they’re taken seriously in the classroom they (cough) Research has shown that portfolios can support student learning and student reflection, and student—even metacognition, one of my favorite topics. But, of course implementation is everything. If they’re implemented in a surface cursory kind of way, of course, they’re not going to have the affect that we want them to have. If they’re incorporated in long term into the regular school day, if teachers take them seriously and experiment and tweak when things don’t seem to be working, that’s when their effective.
My favorite issue of all is student self-regulation and metacognition. I think that probably one of the most important gifts that we can give to students is an understanding of their own minds and ability to think and learn really well. It’s not that much different from um anything athletic really, if you think about it. Um, running. Almost everybody can run. I only do it if uh chased. But I can run. Physically I can do it. Pretty much most people can run. Um, but runners really know how to run. They know how to use their feet, their legs, their torsos, their lungs, their arms, their—even their minds in order to run really well. Much, much better than I can. They no that because they were taught how to do that and we don’t teach our students how to use their minds well. We don’t teach them even how to be aware of their own thinking. That’s metacognition. Part of metacognition is being aware of your own thought processes and whether you’re thinking well or not at any given point in time. We don’t teach them how to think through problems. We don’t teach them how to use all those high level thinking skills. I actually have to teach my students to ask questions by the time I get them. But, it’s teachable. I can teach them how to think and how to learn and how to judge at any given point in time whether they’re doing their best thinking and learning as they go. It’s sort of like teaching somebody to fish instead of giving them a fish. If we just hand over information all the time, we’re giving them the fish. If we teach them how to think and learn and collect information and critique information, and analyze information, and apply information and knowledge and understanding, I think that’s the finest thing that we can do for our students and that we don’t do enough of it yet.