After completing self-assessments in Tom Romano‘s classes in college, and finding them invaluable, I’ve always made them a large part of my teaching arsenal. At the end of every year, we spend a few days on SAs, or they’re part of the final exam, or they’re what we share as a last-day-of-class celebration.
This semester, my students wrote three self-assessments, with the last one counting as the final exam. In this particular SA, I asked students to do five things:
- Evaluate our course materials and routines
- Discuss your growth as a teacher, thinker, writer, reader
- Write your teaching credo
- Give me some advice about what to keep/change next year
- Make a list of strategies, frames of mind, and ideas you’ll use in teaching
As finals week drew to a close and I was crushed by grading, I looked forward to reading these self-assessments. Students didn’t hold back on the advice or evaluation portions, used their signature writing voices with abandon as they discussed their growth and beliefs, and made me fill my notebook with pages of ideas and strategies as I read their lists.
In addition to just being fun to read, I also learned a great deal from their honest words. While I took a whole book full of ideas away from these amazing and inspiring future teachers, I’ll spare you and just share six lessons I learned from reading their self-assessments for this semester.
What we read matters.
Without exception, every student extolled the virtues of our central text, Paul Gorski’s Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap. I highly recommend this excellent text as reading for any teacher, especially Gorski’s vehement statement that all students, no matter their background, need appropriate challenges when learning.
By studying a text I was so passionate about, my students could feel my enthusiasm, and I believe it was contagious. A strong central text anchored our lively class discussions and students’ weekly one-pagers.
Trust your pedagogical instincts.
Our students are champions when it comes to complaining–their stamina is literally unending. “But I don’t want to write this.” “ANOTHER paper?!” “MORE writing?” “Why are we doing this again?”
All of these gripes can really wear a teacher down. But, teachers usually know what is best for our students–we know that a high volume of writing will help our students become better writers. We know that writing about our reading will help our students become better readers. We know that constant practice with critical thinking will help our students become more literate and conscientious citizens (and teachers, in my case).
So, despite the eye-rolls or sighs, I kept at it with what my gut was telling me. I knew that, no matter how much of all of our time it took, students needed to do a lot of reading, writing, and talking about their thinking, with a lot of feedback from their peers and from me, all while remaining appropriately challenged and engaged in learning. I kept at it and resisted the frequent temptation to revise my syllabus, and students appreciated it–and grew.
Frequent, low-stakes writing often provides the most space for growth.
While the big assignments of the semester may be what most teachers consider the bread and butter of teaching writing, I believe the opposite. Those long essays or projects, in my experience, are more likely to stress out all parties involved. For me, the short stuff is where the growth happens, and exponential growth is what leads to student success in writing long and complex pieces.
My students wrote six major papers this semester–none of which were shorter than six pages, and some that were up to twenty–but where they really displayed the biggest leaps in learning were in their one-pagers, submitted weekly. Every single student except for one told me that I should keep one-pagers and that, despite how much they sucked/were annoying/ruined their Sunday nights, they were the most valuable part of the class for their growth.
All students crave challenge.
As Gorski reinforced for my students this semester, all learners crave a challenge. Nobody wants to be bored, and by engaging students in complex tasks of reading and writing, nobody in my classes will be. With small- and large-scale assignments scattered throughout the course, frequent opportunities for revision, and detailed feedback, all students felt that they could succeed, and had ample opportunities to practice and prove that they could.
Feedback is invaluable.
It is a lot of work. A LOT. I know. But every student valued, appreciated, and grew because of thorough feedback protocols on any formal paper.
Students did a lot of writing I never graded–in notebooks, in drafts, in groups. But what they turned in, I spent a great deal of time commenting on, and while it was definitely arduous, I know I’ll keep it a condition of my classes in the future…fueled by lots of coffee.
Creating conditions for safe student growth is paramount.
Kevin became something of a celebrity in our class with his frequent questions, hilarious asides, and opinionated comments. He never held back, and because he was welcomed into dialogue with open arms by myself and other students, he really flourished as a learner for one of the first times in his academic career.
By creating a community of trust and engagement and low-stakes learning, Kevin felt safe to take risks and grow. It’s what I want all students to be able to achieve, and is one of the most powerful reminders about teaching and learning I can think of.
What have your students taught you about your teaching? Will you utilize self-assessments this year? Please share in the comments!
Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.