Fostering Metacognition Through Assessment
Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015
by Jill Grace
When I ponder that word, I am flooded with various – shall I say – feelings. And these feelings are deep-rooted feelings. On one hand, as a teacher, assessment is simply the cornerstone of understanding how my students are doing from beginning to end of instruction. Building a classroom culture where students are expected to have conversations about content provides me with a special window to listen in – are they getting it? I don’t need to give a quiz or a test, I just need to listen. I often look over their shoulders, peering into their personal thinking as they describe what they understood in their science notebook. I assess constantly, daily, by the minute just by being present walking around the classroom.
I have learned the hard way, however, that middle school students need a push. They are the amoeba in life, transitioning between the elementary student who would give everything to please the teacher, and the high school student who has some high stakes on the horizon. Their pseudopods reaching out, trying to engulf any ounce of praise, yet suddenly retract because, OMG – I am terrified at the realization the learning is on me.
One of my greatest challenges has been helping students with this transition. I will admit I give quizzes weekly. Although I don’t always need this in order to know if they “got it”, I feel I have to in order to force the development of personal study skills. By 7th grade especially, the content comes fast and is measurably more technical. Students have to put in the time if they’re going to grasp it. They have to give something, and this is the age they learn how (and I have to give them explicit strategies for this). A quiz helps raise the bar a little bit, and if the bar isn’t raised, why would a middle school kid even waste time on an endeavor such as studying? Quizzes also have the added benefit of helping the student personally gauge where their understanding is. Trust me, I would pay a pretty penny to not ever have to grade a quiz again. I think parents would too, as I reflect on typical conversations that go something like this, “how did Taylor do on the quiz because, you know, she could get her cell phone back if she got a good grade”.
It occurs to me that this is a system that has resorted to bribery.
How do we change direction? When do I stop having kids tell me, “thank you”, when they get a good grade on a project? (This one always throws me. “Thank you? Sweetie, YOU were the one that earned the grade.”)
How do we get kids to intrinsically embrace and be accountable their own learning?
The other issue in play is that middle school students struggle greatly to adequately evaluate their personal work. They have what I affectionately refer to as, I am awesome syndrome; they’ve worked hard, the grade should be an A, despite the fact that they failed to address several requirements of the assignment.
I have no magic answer, I think this is something that we all struggle with and no doubt the answers will differ depending on the group of students you teach. What I do know is that these problems stem from middle school students being at an age where they transition from just doing what a teacher told them to do, to developing a lens for their own work. They are learning to develop that “inner voice” that adequately and fairly thinks about work quality. They are developing metacognition. In order for positive shifts to happen, teachers have to foster the development of metacognition.
One of my biggest successes in developing metacognition has come from the use of the Interactive Science Notebook, which I previously wrote about in this article. There are three particular components that stand out: the use of the notebook on quizzes, a correlation between quiz scores and work quality in the notebook, and finally, involving students in the evaluation of the notebook itself.
To promote good work in the notebook, I allow the students to use it the last two minutes of a quiz. One of my intentions behind this is that I’m really not trying to stress students out all of the time by giving quizzes – if you forgot something or realize you didn’t study that part, your notebook can save the day. This technique fosters the behavior of students wanting to make sure their notebook is complete and of good quality because they will see an immediate benefit: their notebook will help them get a better grade on the quiz. This provides immediate reinforcement of a behavior we want to see. At this age, kids need to see fast reinforcement for their efforts
The use of the notebook to both prepare for the quiz and also use on the quiz has actually also prompted some valuable discussions with my students. I’ve recently had several students feel frustrated because they feel everything is in place for their notebook, but they aren’t getting the quiz grades they would like to see. I will often have a lunch meeting with these students and we take a look at their outputs. Probably 90% of the time the issue is that their outputs are surface level – they aren’t elaborating or connecting new ideas to old ideas. Once I’ve pointed this out, we look at a couple notebooks from last year’s students and compare the same page (I will usually have a notebook from a “high” and a “medium” student). I will ask them to consider what those students did that was different from their own work. This helps them better understand how they can make some slight adjustments to their work to get the outcome they desire.
The most effective technique I’ve found to foster metacognition is involving students in the process of evaluating the notebook. Although I grade a big chunk of work, for example, homework and some lab/classwork is graded separately, the students are asked to think about work quality at the end of the unit. This process is a mystery to students the first time, despite doing my best to explain it as they learn how to use the notebook and providing a rubric. However, the students finally understand the notebook as a tool once they’ve been involved in the process. The work is no longer about external reinforcement (“the teacher gave me a good grade”), it’s now their evaluation of the quality (“I feel that this page demonstrates higher level thinking because…”). The added benefit of having to go above and beyond reinforces this. Students only get a 90% on the page if they just do what the teacher asks, and to get 100% you have to go above and beyond. This process is so transformative I see a significant improvement in work quality with their second unit.
I’m often asked about the actual logistics of the notebook check. Here are a few:
- I move desks and sit students in groups of six. This provides several work samples to promote discussion among students.
- In working with my administrative team, we felt that it was more subjective for the students to do “page-by-page” grading rather than making an overall judgment about features of the unit. The students score each page and then the overall notebook score is an average. I have other colleagues that will randomly select a few pages in the notebook and just grade those if they need to save time.
- The students rotate the notebooks in the team so they are all mixed up and are asked to look at everyone’s pages and come to consensus on scoring. Although they are marking the sheet in front of them, they are all involved in the discussion and evaluation.
- I facilitate the first couple notebook checks by going page-by-page. We review the expectations of the page, what “going above and beyond” looks like, I even hold up some notebooks that demonstrate that. By the third notebook check, the students understand the process and choose a notebook that looks like the “100%” – the student who owns that notebook is now the group facilitator. The entire team is expected to work together (no one can “go ahead” of the team). If someone has a question about scoring, the group discusses it, “the student really elaborated on their output and didn’t just do the minimum so that page should be 100%”.
- Very important – I walk around the entire time listening to the discussions and redirecting if necessary. The students know I’m listening.
- At the end of the notebook check, if a student has a concern about scoring, the entire team is involved in re-evaluating pages of concern. If there is still a concern, the student can come to me and we go through it together. To be honest though, the kids do such a great job that it is highly unusual that a grade needs to be changed.
- One final comment here: by the time the team takes over facilitation, this is a very positive process. I make a point to foster a community of respect and collaboration in the room. Students are really evaluating the work, not the student, and that’s really important. Their discussions are collaborative and productive and they all share the responsibility.
This is where the shift happens for student in my classes – the work isn’t about doing what the teacher said, it’s about taking the personal responsibility to “step it up”. The shift happens within one unit of instruction. Eventually, by about mid-year another interesting shift takes place, I don’t have to grade everything anymore. The students do a good job on the work because they know it benefits them. I can instead target my grading on pieces where I’m trying to see a new skill emerge so I can give feedback.
Having a parent recently tell me, “I can’t tell you enough how your class has helped my son’s perception of himself as a student”, helps reassure me that this is a process that moves students in the right direction. It’s not easy and it takes time, but seeing my students grow in this area is encouraging. I’m helping students transition to become independent learners, providing quality opportunities for them to improve their understanding, giving them the chance to be self-reflective about the quality of their work, and making it less about pleasing the teacher and more about how students see themselves. Oh yes, and the added bonus of students gaining a deeper understanding of the content in the process. Thank you Interactive Science Notebook
How about you? What assessment techniques have worked for you? How have you helped students improve metacognition? Join our conversation on our California Middle School Teachers Facebook group. (Not a member of the group? Send us a join request then check your “other” message box for verification.)
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…