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Saturday / March 24

3 Indicators of Assessment-Capable Visible Learners

We have spent much of the last year reading everything we can find related to students’ ability to predict their performance (and grades), take ownership of their learning, and become their own (and others’) teachers. We have also talked with numerous teachers about what we have been reading to identify ways to ensure that students become increasingly responsible for their own learning. Our synthesis of this significant review, of both literature and experience, resulted in six aspects that combine to create what we (along with John Hattie) call Assessment-Capable Visible Learners.

These students:

  • Know their current level of understanding
  • Know where they’re going and are confident to take on the challenge
  • Select tools to guide their learning
  • Seek feedback and recognize that errors are opportunities to learn
  • Monitor their progress and adjust their learning
  • Recognize their learning and teach others

Since then, we have been thinking about the changes that teachers have to make in their classrooms to provide students an opportunity to become assessment-capable. Three of the significant changes we’re looking for (and there are more that we will write about later such as the need to celebrate errors or teach students to seek feedback rather than wait for it passively) include:

1. Commit to learning intentions and success criteria.

If students are to understand their current performance and where they are going along the learning journey, their teachers have to provide clarity. Every day, in every lesson, students should know what they are supposed to be learning and what learning would look like. Students should not have to infer what they are learning; they should be told. And they should be invited to identify their own learning targets, in collaboration with their teachers. Unfortunately, in some classrooms, well-meaning teachers avoid informing students about their current level of understanding because they think students will be embarrassed. We’re not saying that teachers should broadcast students’ performance levels on the PA system, but rather that they should confer with students and ensure that students understand the difference between their current level of mastery and the goal.

2. Provide students with lots and lots of tools for learning.

There is no, one right way for students to learn things. In some classrooms, teachers require that students engage in learning in ways that are most effective and efficient for the teacher. In other classrooms, teachers show students many ways to learn and allow students to identify tools that work for them. What to guess which group learns more? Given our heading for this section, it should be obvious that assessment-capable visible learners need to be exposed to a wide range of learning and study tools, and then be encouraged to use them.

3. Build peer tutoring efforts. 

Cross-age and within-class peer tutoring has a significant impact on student learning, provided that students have moved beyond the surface level of learning in the content their tutoring. And peer tutoring is an effective way to facilitate transfer of learning for students. That’s why it is the last part of our assessment-capable visible learner model.  We want to be part of schools and classrooms in which students are provided opportunities to show what they have learned by teaching people who still need to learn it. Over time, and with practice, we have seen students who have had peer tutoring opportunities become their own teachers, which is one of the big messages from the Visible Learning database.

Imagine classrooms in which these three things are fully realized. The impact could be amazing, and students might just like school a little bit better. Of course, there are other implications from our learning about assessment-capable visible learners, but these three are a great starting point!

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California.


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