Learning Skills

Over the past two years I have really been wanting to work with a group of students that were eager to write their own Learning Skills comments (a portion of the Ontario Report card that assesses Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Regulation).  This post is dedicated to the two ladies, Patt Olivieri and Aviva Dunsiger, that planted this idea in my head and that have forever changed how I look at report cards.

Last week in a collaborative inquiry session, one of my SWS host teachers, Erin Wilson, confided in me that she was anxious about writing reports for her class.  Freshly back from a maternity leave, she had good documentation of learning and marks for academic subjects that her replacement had passed on to her, but she was still getting to know her students, which made commenting on their Learning Skills difficult.  

I asked her if she was willing to take a chance on students writing about their own Learning Skills.

She said yes.  And that’s how it all began…

Together, Erin and I decided that if the students were going to write about themselves as learners, then they would really have to understand the language of the Learning Skills.  They would have to get what it means to be responsible, organized, independent, collaborative students, that have initiative and self-regulation.

We began with a quick assessment to see what the students already knew about the six Learning Skills.  

We handed out pads of post-it notes to each of the students.  The colour of a student’s post-it notepad would determine the learning skill that s/he would spend the day trying to describe: Red = Organization; Green = Collaboration; Purple = Independent Work; Orange = Initiative; Pink = Responsibility; Yellow = Self-Regulation.  

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Each student had time to independently reflect, then write as many ideas as s/he could about his/her learning skill.  Each idea got its own post-it note.  Here are the transcribed notes:

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The students then gathered with others that had written about the same learning skill.  They were asked to first discuss their post-it notes and then to write down frequently occurring themes and words:

Responsibility:

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Organization:

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Collaboration:

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Independent Work:

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Initiative:

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Self-Regulation:

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Once the papers were handed in, we took a break for French class.  As soon as French class began, Erin and I left to look at the papers and discuss any groups that might need some support.  The “Independent Work” group grabbed our attention.  They had some great ideas, but they weren’t specific to their learning skill.  We needed to give them a nudge to get them on the right track.  We figured an unobtrusive way to give them support would be to give each group a description of their skill from Growing Success:  

Responsibility:

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Organization:

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Collaboration:

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Independent Work:

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Initiative:

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Self-Regulation:

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By giving written descriptions to all of the groups we hoped to simultaneously avoid singling out the "Independent Work” group and support all groups in their thinking.

When French ended, we regrouped and continued our work.  

The students got some quiet reflection time to write a sentence to describe their learning skill.  Armed with their chart papers from the morning and a Growing Success description, they quickly jotted down a sentence or two describing their assigned skill.

Once they had written their own sentences, they partnered up with someone else from their group (same learning skill) to write a short description of their skill that used both of their ideas:

Responsibility:

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Organization:

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Collaboration:

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Independent Work:

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Initiative:

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Self-Regulation:

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Then we took a break for lunch.

When we re-gathered for the last time, we started by giving each other feedback.  Erin and I were included in this part.  We gave the students feedback as well.

Students were instructed to give each other tips (“things to add” and “things to remove”).  

They then took a look at their feedback and sorted it into two piles: helpful feedback and unhelpful feedback.  

Next, they had to identify a piece of feedback that was “the most helpful”.  

Togther, we had a quick conversation about feedback.  I asked each group two questions: 1) Did you get a lot of helpful feedback?  2) What was your most helpful feedback?

The students echoed each other when they talked about what was helpful and what was unhelpful.  Essentially they talked about feedback that would help them improve their writing as being helpful.  Erin smiled a lot and later told me that this “will be a conversation that she can refer back to the next time that students have to give each other feedback.”

Here’s each group’s “most helpful feedback”.

Responsibility:

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Organization:

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Collaboration:

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Independent Work:

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Initiative:

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Self-Regulation:

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They used this feedback to help them craft a group description of their learning skill.

Responsibility:

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Organization:

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Collaboration:

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Independent Work:

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Initiative:

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Self-Regulation:

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Step one = done.  Now the students can focus on writing about themselves as learners using a common language.  I’m so excited to see where this learning takes us!

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