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Helping children to guide their own learning

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By Paul Masonteacher

Discover ways to involve children in guiding their own learning


Involvement is the key to helping children to guide their own learning. Including children in the decisions that shape their learning promotes a greater sense of ownership and responsibility and creates higher levels of engagement and self-motivation. A powerful tool towards that goal is allowing children the opportunity to create their own success criteria, to allow them greater scope for self- and peer-assessment.

In her recent article, ‘Putting children in control’, Christine Jenkins quite rightly warned of the trap that teachers sometimes fall into, of thinking that copying down a learning objective or list of success criteria gives children a greater understanding of the task they’re working on. This is often not the case. For children to better grasp what is being asked of them, they need to create those criteria themselves.

Show the class examples of what they are being asked to produce

To help the class produce successful work, they first ought to see several examples of a quality learning outcome. If they are making a poster that uses persuasive language, then they should have access to several examples of effective posters and talk about what makes them work. If they are being asked to write a narrative, then they need to read strong short stories and be exposed to the language features, and so on.

Once the children have encountered several models and have gained an idea of the expectations through guided activities, they can then come up with their own criteria with which to guide their work.

Avoid jargon when writing success criteria

Talking about success criteria or intentions or objectives can sometimes mystify children. Instead, when it comes to writing up a list, head up the whiteboard with something simple like ‘Checklist for success’ or ‘In order for our posters to be successful they should…’ or ‘My short story needs to have…’.

Hand the task over to the class: If you were the teacher, and you wanted to see a really strong poster that uses persuasive language, what would you expect? Ask the class to work in pairs or groups to come up with a list. Prompt them to remember some of their earlier discussions. Then, allow them access to the examples again and ask them to report back to the rest of the class.

Record the list of criteria on the board and share with the children. At this point you may want to organise the criteria into related groups to make them easier to follow. Use check-box lists and later encourage children to go over their work and tick off the criteria like a shopping list.

Using PMI diagrams

PMI diagrams are charts that always include three columns – ‘plus’, ‘minus’ and ‘interesting’. Provide the class with an example of what they are being asked to create. Give the children their own copies of the PMI chart. Have them evaluate the example and record the ‘pluses’ or ‘positives’ (or, in student friendly language, what they think is good about the example); the ‘minuses’ or ‘negatives’, and any interesting ideas they come up with from studying the example.

Focus on the ‘plus’ column as these are the features the children have identified that make the example successful. Both the ‘minus’ and ‘interesting’ columns can come into play as well: minus (if using a poor example) helps the class to decide what to avoid, and the ‘interesting’ column might give them ideas to incorporate in their own work.

Using Venn diagrams

You could also choose to provide the class with two further examples and a copy of a Venn diagram. Have them identify and list the differences and similarities between the two examples. Here the focus is on the features that both examples share, the middle part of the Venn. For example: Both posters use a bold font, slogans, eye-catching images and include contact information.

If you then put together the points from the ‘plus’ column from the PMI diagram and the middle part of the Venn diagram, you should be well on your way to creating a list of success criteria.

Moving onto Rubrics

Once the children have become familiar with the process of creating checklists, you could choose to move them onto creating their own rubric charts, where success criteria are incremental and ranked.

A simple three-column rubric can be quite effective. Title the columns ‘basic’, ‘proficient’, and ‘advanced’ (as long as you make sure that the class understand those terms first.) Alternatively, you could avoid teacher-speak altogether and use terms that the children themselves come up with.

Again, ask children to imagine that they are the teacher: What would a basic short story have in it? What would be the minimum you would expect to see? List those points in the first column, and then turn to the next. The ‘proficient’ includes all the points from ‘basic’ as well as more sophisticated criteria. The ‘advanced’ column includes everything from the previous two columns as well as additional features that would make the work outstanding.

Allow time for children to self- and peer-assess using their own criteria

Once the class have established the criteria needed for success, and have used them to guide their own work, you should allow them time to mark their finished outcome against those criteria, or to have their work assessed by their peers. Allow them to talk about how they did. Ask the children to use highlighters to identify the criteria they met. The gaps can then become future learning goals.

The creation of success criteria and a process of honest self-assessment requires modelling and practice – but it can also create powerful opportunities for children to own more of their learning process.

Image © 2011 Images



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