“Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning” in Action – Part 9


By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Today brings us to the end of Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning by Jan Chappuis. The final strategy–provide students opportunities to track, reflect on, and share their learning progress–serves as capstone to all of the other strategies, empowering students with the ability to think metacognitively and slowly take control of their own learning. This strategy is about students looking back on their accomplishments, realizing how they got to where they are, and understanding where they need to go next.

Citing researcher Paul Black, Chappuis writes that in addition to teaching students the usual content-based learning targets, we also “help students create the inner dialogue of self-regulation by giving them opportunities to pay attention to their learning and to talk about it”. Engaging in self-reflection, she says, helps students to realize how they learn. Hopefully, then, when students leave our classroom, they aren’t just better mathematicians, writers, or scientists–they are also better learners. That is the aim of strategy 7.

Teach students to track their own learning

According to Chappuis, this strategy starts with providing students with a means to track their learning. She offers three methods of doing this:

  • Tracking the results of assessments
  • Writing learning journals
  • Creating portfolios

For tracking the results of assessments, Chappuis provides several examples of charts that give students a place to mark their effort, successes, and next steps. Instructors can create these charts for each class, assessment, unit, or other interval–but a common element to all of them is that they direct students to track progress in specific learning targets. Based on Chappuis’s examples, I created my own tracking sheet for the reflective essay unit of my writing class, which you can access by clicking here.

I would give this to students at the start of the unit to give them an idea of what they should expect to learn over the next few weeks. It could even be used as a pre-assessment if I had students mark where they think they fall before any instruction. Then, as the unit moves on and they receive feedback from their formative assessments, they can check off the targets that they have mastered.

The next method for tracking learning that Chappuis explains involves students writing learning journals in order to give them a place to reflect on various aspects of their learning. She details two types of journals: dialogue journals and learning logs. Dialogue journals allow students to voice their thoughts about their learning and thereby give instructors a starting place for formative conversations.  Learning logs are more about documenting progress in order to keep students on track and help them focus.  In a dialogue journal, a student might write about her muddiest points with the latest assignment, giving the instructor an idea of the specific type of help that the student needs. In a learning log, on the other hand, the student would keep a record of every step completed throughout the assignment, which would allow the instructor to see if any important processes were not completed and possibly gather an understanding of why.

The final method of tracking learning that Chappuis offers is having students create a portfolio of their work. As Chappuis explains them, portfolios are meant to tell a story, but students should know from the beginning what type of story they are trying to tell. To this end, she goes into detail about three different classifications of portfolios and the sorts of evidence to be included in each.

In a growth portfolio, students demonstrate how they have progressed in their learning by collecting examples of their work at varying levels of proficiency. For example, to show growth in skill at writing essay introductions, a student might include the introductions for his first three essays of the semester to show how each one was better than the previous ones.

A project portfolio documents the learning process of students as they complete various steps towards a summative project, allowing them to look back and reflect on how the actions that they took along the way affected the final product.

In an achievement portfolio, students attempt to prove their mastery of one or more learning targets by presenting samples of their best work. For example, if a student were developing a portfolio to prove mastery of the target “Add, subtract, divide, and multiply fractions”, she might include a quiz, specific items from a summative test, and a poster project–all of which she performed well on in relation to the learning target.

Self-reflection leads to self-regulation

After finishing her description of portfolios, Chappuis asserts that collecting evidence is one thing, but that what really matters is having students reflect on their collections. Without reflection, the portfolio just becomes a stack of papers stuck in a folder, or a webpage hidden away on the internet (in the case of e-portfolios). She breaks the reflection process down according to the same three classifications of portfolios.

To reflect on growth, students compare their learning now to their previous learning and use evidence to justify their assessment. This means that the student must explain why the introductory paragraph that he wrote at the start of the year was not as good as the one he wrote six weeks in–even better if he can explain how he crossed the distance from inexperienced to experienced.

To reflect on a project, students can look back at what they did and analyze what worked and what didn’t. They can answer questions like “What would you differently if you could have?” or “What would you do if you had an extra week to work on this project?”

To reflect on achievement, students take time to notice what they have learned and what they still need to learn. Examining their collection of artifacts, students might notice that they have mastered certain targets better than others. For example, perhaps they can write paragraphs that are organized very well, with clear topic sentences and purposeful transitions, but they also notice that many of their paragraphs do not contain sufficient detail to support their point.

Putting it all together

I’ve always liked the idea of portfolios and self-reflection, but I’ve also always had a hard time justifying the effort they take to implement. One method for my writing classes that I could see proving relatively easy and useful, would involve using common criteria on my rubrics for every assignment. For example, a well-organized piece of writing typically contains the same elements regardless of the genre. If I were to use the same criteria for “organization” on every rubric throughout the semester, I could easily have students keep a portfolio to track their growth from one assignment to the next. The more criteria I could standardize, the more encompassing the portfolio. Reflection, then, could take place at the end of each unit, focusing perhaps on a few select criteria.

Is it worth the effort though? Well, according to some research that Chappuis shares, the answer is yes. In a study of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, students were provided regular feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in reading. One group was asked frequently to reflect on this feedback and a control group was not.  The students who completed reflections “attained greater learning gains”.

That’s all folks. It’s hard to believe that I started this series more than two months ago. It’s been a great read, a wild ride, and an incredibly fulfilling drain on my free time.

I might be done with this blog series, but I don’t think I’ll be done with Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning any time soon. It’s changed the way I think about so many things: grading, lesson planning, communicating with students, quizzes, peer review, homework–the list goes on. I’m sure that as I start planning out my next semester, I’ll go back to the book and come up with even more templates, handouts, and charts to make formative assessment a practical part of my everyday routine.

When I do, I’ll be sure to share with everyone here on Ask CCIT.

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