Three Steps to Activating Learners

Three Steps to Activating LearnersHave you seen Ramsey Musallam’s 3 rules to spark learning? In his TED Talk, Ramsey, a high school chemistry teacher, talks about moving from “pseudo-teaching” to the discovery that “student questions are seeds to student learning.” He also shares three rules, which while not intended to, definitely support the use of formative assessment:

  1. Curiosity comes first
  2. Embrace the mess
  3. Practice reflection

These three “rules” are really three steps or components to consider in using formative assessment instructional strategies to activate students as learners and as resources for one another. Let’s take a look.

Curiosity comes first

What kids don’t ask questions? And the question that comes early and lingers, although delivered with a variety of attitudes shall we say, is “Why?” How can we as teachers take this natural penchant for curiosity and teach students to ask even better questions? Deepen their personal use of inquiry? Let’s look at two parts of this idea.

Taking advantage of the “why” is a great starting point in activating learners in your classroom. Taking the time to explain the why (even before it is asked) of what’s happening regarding the systems, processes, tools and learning does wonders with willingness to try and acceptance of the new or changed. Teaching them to ask better questions takes inquiry to another level, and when done well affects them academically and personally. How can we change the “I don’t get it” to an “I understand the line and slope but am still struggling a little with the Pythagorean Theorem.”?

Embrace the mess

One of my favorite student quotes is from a 4th grader telling me that “mistakes are just another way to learn.” Trial and error is a big part of learning. What makes it a key component in classrooms when formative assessment is integrated is the feedback it engenders. This feedback comes in a variety of forms and from all three members of the classroom learning team. Establishing processes, providing structures and tools and allowing the time for students to give and receive feedback AND then the time to reflect upon and use that feedback is vital in keeping the learning moving forward.

Another potential piece of “the mess” is that collaborative learning isn’t always quiet or still. When students act as instructional resources for one another, they may be engaged at levels either themselves or teachers aren’t used to dealing with. The use of peer review, peer feedback, reciprocal teaching, just to name a few, to outsiders may make a classroom seem a bit “messy.” With the right processes and tools this messy learning can be both highly engaging and extremely beneficial to students.

Practice reflection

As teachers, we try to make time for this and are more successful at some times than others. If we’re lucky we have some kind of community of practice to which we belong which also facilitates our external reflection and provides feedback to help us revise. If we don’t have a local community, we might have a PLN (Personal Learning Network) we reach out to regularly. What do we provide for our students? Teaching students to self-assess, goal set and monitor their progress are some ways we can provide both tools and structures for students to practice reflection.

As you think about these three steps, what do they look like in your classroom? What processes and strategies do you use? What works for your students? We’d love to have you share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or send us a message via Twitter (@NWEA).


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