Home Educational Research The Self-Directed Learner: Embracing Self-Judgment and Reflection

The Self-Directed Learner: Embracing Self-Judgment and Reflection

by Miguel Guhlin

Want to encourage attributes of independent, self-directed learning? Then you will want to cultivate in your students an attitude and practice of reflection. Their ability to reflect on their work and measure progress towards standards is critical. In this blog entry, you will learn about some research on the power of reflection.

Pull the Curtain of Mystery Back for Reflection

“What worked? What didn’t? How could I do it better next time?” Those three questions were the sum of my early attempts at reflection. But I didn’t get to deeper questions until later in my career.

Reflection is something I didn’t know much about as an educator. It was not a practice I encouraged students to engage in. As a writing teacher, my goal was to get students into peer conferencing to ask tough questions that would result in revisions and re-organization of pieces.

Now, research shows that when students do a few specific things, they have the potential to speed their own growth. John Hattie refers to Self-judgment and Reflection as having an effect size of 0.75. This is a bit better than Reciprocal Teaching (d=0.74). The Visible Learning MetaX database describes this introspective strategy in this way:

Self-judgement is a critical component of independent, self- directed learning. Students can often over- or underestimate their own capabilities. Teachers should cultivate in students the ability to apply standards to their own work.

Researchers have pressed the importance of a student’s ability to do the following:

1) reflect on her work; 2) discern its relationship to established standards, and 3) make self-judgements.

But how can students engage in self-judgment and reflection? What strategies might they use and how can teachers support them?

Clarifying Strategies

Meta-analyses suggest two strategies to model for students. Those strategies include:

  • Cultivate metacognitive knowledge instruction in students
  • Use self-developed tests

As you may know, metacognition is “the process of thinking about thinking.” It involves “reflecting on personal habits, knowledge, and approaches to learning” (source). Self-developed tests involve students crafting their own low-stakes quizzes or assessments.

Let’s take a look at some specific approaches you can use.

Approach #1: Confusion Spotlight

Strategy: Metacognition

Ask students to reflect on what they were learning that day. For any area that seems unclear or confusing, ask them to shine a spotlight on it. They can jot these ideas down in a notebook, put them on a post it or index card, or type them into a digital document, and then turn them in.

Marine, Tales from a Very Busy Teacher, suggests using self-assessment bins:

Students turn in their work into one of these bins depending on their level of understanding. It does take a lot of positive culture building, as well as trust, to help students feel comfortable when turning in their work to these bins.

After the first few weeks of school, students know the system and feel confident when turning in their work. It also makes grading a lot easier, as well as pulling students back for small group reteach or extension.

As you can see, Marine relies on the cards to structure reteach groups or get ideas for lesson extensions.

Approach #2: Chalk Talk Activity

Strategy: Metacognition

A silent activity, the Chalk Talk fosters thoughtful contemplation among students. Goals include reflecting on a question or ideas, commenting, and solving problems. Use this approach with a traditional chalkboard, whiteboard, or digital equivalent.

Chalk Talk includes a four step process:

1. Explain that Chalk Talk is a silent activity (no speaking at all). Students learn they can:

  • Write comments on others’ ideas
  • Draw connecting lines from comment to another’s idea, or
  • Respond to questions.

2. Facilitator writes a question on board, then circles it. (See some sample questions below.)

3. All students have a way of writing on the “Chalk Board.”

4. The facilitator can interact by circling other interesting ideas. You can also invite comments and questions or reflections by drawing additional circles around student ideas.

This is a great activity for students to do alone. You can also adapt it for small groups. One student may serve as the “recorder” sharing insights from their team. You can do it in isolation or with a collaborative tool. Collective, class-wide experiences are also engaging.

Finally, there are many electronic or online whiteboard solutions you can use. Three to consider include:

You can also rely on a graphic organizer/semantic mapping tool. Those might include solutions such as Google Drawings, yED Live, or Bubbl.us. Each allows for student collaboration.

Approach #3: Capacity Matrix

Strategy: Metacognition

Use a capacity matrix that outlines key learning targets from the lesson. Right after the lesson begins, ask students to gauge their current knowledge. You can do this with a fist to five Jamboard or use a paper document.

Get fist to five Jamboard template

Marine, Tales from a Very Busy Teacher, shares her insights. She recommends creating learning target cards. Her goal is to make learning targets as visible as possible. As you might suppose, this combines with the powerful Teacher Clarity strategy that focuses students on understanding the learning goal(s).

“…self-assessment tickets help students self reflect and self regulate while they’re learning. I call them “Learning Target Tickets” with my students. They’re pretty simple to use and be used for any lesson, in any content area” (source).

Marine offers these tips for using the learning target tickets:

  • After the engagement activity or attention grabber, state the learning goal.
  • Ask students to write it down on their tickets. Then they can self-assess their level of learning in the “before lesson” column. This is a capacity matrix. I like Marine’s innovation of before lesson/after lesson/teacher analysis. Those rows are something worth incorporating in classroom practice.
  • When the lesson ends, ask students to rate their grasp of the new content in the after lesson column.
  • Ask students to write a short reflection on the lesson.

Afterwards, ask students to share their biggest growth area or reflection. These could be text-based like what Marine makes available to buy. Or you could mix it up a bit with audio (e.g. Vocaroo, Mote), or video (e.g. Flipgrid) options.

Approach #4: Interrogate Your Process

Strategy: Metacognition

Interrogating your process results in valuable information. It can also be painful to try to work through it without external questions. That’s important, though, because you need to be self-judgmental. That is, you need to measure your process against an external standard. Rubrics are helpful for this. So are questions that students can ask themselves.

Here are a few metacognitive questions with that aim in mind. Consider these below, an excerpt of the complete list:

  • What process did you go through to produce this piece?
  • What problems did you encounter while you were working on this piece? How did you solve them?
  • What resources did you use while working on this piece? Which ones were especially helpful? Which ones would you use again?
  • Did you meet your standards? Did your goals for this product change?
  • In what ways did your work meet (and not meet) the standards for this assignment?

You can find more in this  longer question set.

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Approach #5: Pupil, Test Thyself

Strategy: Self-Developed Tests

This final approach to fostering self-judgment and reflection includes student-created assessments. There are a multitude of digital tools you can make available to your students.

Since I have addressed this in other blog entries, I won’t do more than point you to some of them below:

Give these approaches a try when fostering reflection and self-judgment in your classroom. The gains are worth the effort for students.

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