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Cultivating Student Learning Accountability

1/13/2016

 

Bruce Vaughn

Too often teachers confuse compliance with accountability. Simply following directions and formulaically obeying the plan of the lesson is not accountability. In fact punishing students with zeros, sending the student to the dean and other such tactics when they fall short of following the procedure of learning only results in reduced motivation and performance.

Accountability is not about following rules and procedures rather it is staying committed to learning and growing. It is being responsible in developing one's own self-efficacy and taking the initiative to follow through with the application of learned content and skills.

This takes a lot of effort to cultivate or even manage but as teachers can not throw in the towel and resort to the detrimental practices of point deduction or other passive aggressive moves such as using a passing grade to create accountability.

None of that works.

To cultivate this accountability, to help students feel accountable and connected to their learning, teacher should try and do the following:

1. Set clear expectations: Teachers need to be clear about what we expect from students. We must articulate the proficiency aspects of what exactly we are looking for from our students. We must involve the student in conversations and feedback about what we expect from them and how they will know whether they are successful or not. Proficiency-based learning targets help outline to students what we expect from them, how they are going to achieve it, and the criteria to self-assess whether they are hitting our expectation

2. Deploy formative assessments:  Students need to practice skills needed to meet the expectation furthermore be fully aware whether they actual possess those skills. Formative assessment allows for this to happen. Formative assessment helps students see the skills and supporting content they will need to develop in order to be proficient in a particular expectation. It also helps them decide how to acquire the skills or knowledge that may be lacking and more importantly it helps students begin to trust their own reflective thinking. Ultimately formative assessment builds learning accountability by allow students to gain a perspective about their own learning that is authentic, digestible and applicable. 

3. Use Common Assessments: By combining common assessments with formative assessment we allow students to fail cheaply, in other words so failure of any kind is not a surprise and even avoided. If a teacher and team of teachers is using commonly developed formative assessments they can give a student an extended stretch of time to engage in reflective dialogue or independent thinking about their learning as well as give them time for the application and reapplication of feedback, All of this allows for more accurate measurement of student performance which as we all know the more accurate something is the more we trust it.

4. Co-construct feedback: The most direct way to hold a student accountable is through the feedback we provide them. We must make sure that the feedback is open, honest, ongoing, and leads to action. Students need to know where they stand at all times to be held accountable. Even the slightest distortion in perspective by a student, overconfident or unsure where they stand, can lead to a distrust of the learning process. If a student thinks they are doing well and feedback speaks otherwise, students will be quick to rationalize away the feedback in order to protect their self-perpsective. In other words in feedback isn't clear and accurate students will always side with what they believe to be true about their learning, even if it is based on nothing except a general gut feeling.

Furthermore students must be involved in feedback as well. By allowing students to first self-evaluate and then cross check it with the teacher we involve them more in their own learning and ensure that feedback is more accurate.

5. Use Evidence only to grade performance: Students need to be aware of what success criteria they are or were lacking during a performance. If a student student received a low mark on their performance they must know exactly what supporting skill or content led to that low proficiency score. Conversely if they did extremely well on a performance they must know what supporting skill or content got them there. If we simply leverage the evidence a student provided us during the performance to create the grade we invite a more formative dialogue which leads to not only a clear indication of what the student is lacking but also why developing that supporting skill or content is important. The student will see that that particular supporting piece is essential to the mastering  expectation (target) thus making the learning and application of it more valuable. Thus the student is now more accountable to learning and applying it.

These five practices are the building blocks to creating a culture of learning accountability in your classroom. All five of these take time to implement but are essential to holding students accountable to learning. If all five are being implemented with fidelity accountability will be the norm so my question is "If you are struggling with student accountability, which of these practices are you leaving out?"

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