A recent study attempted to determine how effectively students could evaluate thier own learning. Jane Hasen, University of New Hampshire, asked first- through fifth-grade students the following questions about their reading and writing:
What have you learned recently in writing/reading?
What would you like to learn next to become a better writer/reader?
How do you intend to go about learning how to do that?
The results of her survey led to a startling conclusion: Students felt in control of their development as writers, but not as readers. Although students in the survey were clear about what they wanted to learn next in both areas, they felt able to pursue only their writing goals within the existing classroom framework. Without exception, children thought that the reading program was so structured and controlled by their teachers that whatever they wanted to learn next in reading would have to be done outside of school.
After some discussion, the principal determined that the old reading program should change. As teachers observed reading programs in other schools and met weekly to discuss the future of their reading and writing programs, a new reading program, modeled after their successful writing program, evolved. Ability groups were abolished, and together teachers and students made plans for reading. The new reading program allowed plenty of time for students to read and discuss books of their own choice.
Very different environment created
A very different environment evolved in the school as the reading and writing programs blended together. Students set their own reading goals, read and wrote what they chose, and disucssed and evaluated their reading and writing with other students and teachers. Buddy systems developed between grade levels. Children became accustomed to being in other classrooms. Work was shared and evaluative comments were part of daily discussions: “That book sounds interesting. Could I read it next?” “Oh! I want to learn quotations marks! That’s the next thing I’m gonna learn.”
Teachers were surprised at first by the ability of students to accurately and fairly evaluate themselves. Gradually, they provided students with more and more opportunities to reflect on and plan their own work. The standard report card seemed obsolete in the face of this new reading/writing program. Teachers solicited ideas from students and then designed a new format.
Teachers involved students in evaluating their performance in different ways. One second-grade teacher discussed each item on the new report card with her students and asked them to fill out their own report cards and to write one goal for reading and one goal for writing for the next quarter. Another first-grade teacher devoted two weeks prior to parent/teacher conferences to interviews with each student to discuss their progress. Although she wondered in the interviews would be worth the time they took, she later concluded that the interviews enabled her to have the most productive conferences in 10 years of teaching. She said that parents were on the edge of their chairs listening to her record of what their children had said in those interviews.
Students not only appreciated their new role, but believed their grades better reflected their skills. Comparative relationshiips between children faded and this opened the way for students with learning difficulties to be fully accepted as equals in the regular classroom. Not knowing how to do something, and deciding to learn how to do it, became an expected behavior pattern. Since students were not grouped by ability, none were placed in inferior positions.
“Students’ Evaluations Bring Reading and Writing Together”, The Reading Teacher, Volume 46, Number 2, pp. 100-105.
Published in ERN January/February 1993, Volume 6, Number 1.