Developing Learning Cards for Primary Students

One of the instructional practices that I am the most passionate about is using Unit Overview Sheets to give students opportunities to assess their OWN progress towards mastering required outcomes during the course of a cycle of instruction.

(See herehere and here).

The way that I see it, we do our students a disservice when all of the goal setting and assessment done in a classroom is done by teachers simply because the most successful learners are also almost always the most reflective.  If our kids don’t get comfortable with identifying their strengths and weaknesses — or believe that assessment is the job of  every learner — they will struggle in a constantly shifting knowledge-based economy.

Don’t take my word for it, though. 

Instead, Check out John Hattie’s research on the instructional practices that have the biggest impact on student achievement.  Four of the top fifteen highest leverage practices identified by Hattie — self-reporting grades, teacher clarity, feedback and metacognition — can be easily integrated into classrooms using Unit Overview Sheets with students.

What makes Unit Overview Sheets even more powerful is that their development can focus a collaborative team of teachers.  

Deciding on a small handful of essential outcomes for each cycle of instruction is an approachable practice that also helps to ensure that every student at a grade level or in a school has access to a guaranteed and viable curriculum.  What’s more, unit overview sheets can be used to write assessments and to determine remediation and enrichment needs on a learning team.  One document, then, serves as a starting point for every conversation, simplifying what can oftentimes feel like overwhelming work.

But here’s the hitch:  The unit overview sheets that I typically use with students are almost always text heavy.

Check this one out, for example.  While it’s incredibly useful for my sixth graders, the fact that there are SO many words and SO little white space makes the document age inappropriate for students in grades K-3.

So I’ve been tinkering around with a new idea for primary teachers that I am calling Learning Cards.

Here are a few samples.

My thinking is that a Learning Card will include ONE essential outcome at a time — so the samples linked above would be printed on card stock and then cut in half.  Instead of passing out a Unit Overview Sheet at the start of a cycle of instruction and asking students to refer back to it time and again, teachers might share one Learning Card per week with students — a simple step towards keeping students from being overwhelmed by expectations.

Like Unit Overview Sheets, Learning Cards will share expected outcomes in age appropriate language — and I still prefer the I Can Statements suggested by Rick Stiggins and his colleagues at the Assessment Training Institute.  Learning Cards, however, will also include pictures and/or other visual cues that can make the learning target approachable to non/early readers.  I’ve been getting those pictures/visual cues from The Noun Project website — but any source of interesting clip art would work.

And like Unit Overview Sheets, Learning Cards include a system for students to track their own progress towards mastery, but they are limited to two choices:  NOT YET and YOU BET — terms originally brainstormed by a group of brilliant teachers at Flynn Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont.  My thinking is that students would color the NOT YET box — maybe in red — for any Learning Card that they thought they were still struggling with.  When they were confident that they had mastered the outcome, they would color the YOU BET box in green.

If it were my classroom, each student would hang their Learning Cards on a book ring.  That would make them readily accessible for review.  Students could pull out their book rings once or twice a month, sorting their Learning Cards into NOT YET and YOU BET piles.  Better yet, students could use their cards during student-led conferences, walking their parents through the outcomes that they had mastered and the outcomes that they were still struggling with.

Finally, teachers could use the Learning Cards to quickly sort students into remediation and enrichment groups — and could bring learning cards to PLC meetings as a reminder of the skills that kids were struggling with across entire hallways.

Does any of this make any sense?  What are your first reactions to the notion of developing Learning Cards to use in primary classrooms?  What changes would you make — either to the structure of my Learning Cards or to my suggested strategies for using them in the classroom?  

Looking forward to hearing what you think!

Related Radical Reads:

Is YOUR PLC Identifying Essential Targets Together?

Asking Students for Feedback on Unit Overview Sheets

My Middle Schoolers LOVE Unit Overview Sheets!

  • John

    You bet

    i really dug this piece as it transforms the girth of unit reviews into bite sized chunk that students could sort into what they have mastered and they still have to learn. Great stuff, Bill


  • Ali Collins

    This is AMAZING

    I love this idea. After hearing multiple questions from families, I recently wrote a piece about how students (and parents) don't often understand how they are being assessed.

    Grades tend to be the proxy for learning feedback and because many teachers I know are not really clear and intentional about sharing how they grade, it is often a wasted opportunity to for students to get actionable information on how they can improve. The even BIGGER piece though which you are addressing is students ability to assess their own work based on specific learning goals. 

    Thanks again for this, I'll share at my daughters' school!

  • Laurene Johnson

    Tying to evidence

    I love this idea, particularly in terms of how it could enhance kids' self-direction. From a management perspective, I'm wondering how a teacher in a typical classroom with 30 students, or one in secondary with 120+, could reasonably monitor this. I think there needs to be some clear connection between the rating on the card and evidence of learning. Obviously, it's harder to put evidence on a book ring, but I think there needs to be some place for a student to justify and provide a reference for his/her rating. This both enhances the monitoring and reinforces the skill of supporting your point of view with evidence. Any ideas for including this without turning it into a portfolio?

  • Anne

    second grade

    I think this is a great idea.  

  • marsharatzel

    Super cool

    Just when I thought I’d seen it all, you go and figure out how to do formatives by students for their own learning better than I’ve seen done.

    So are you thinking the rating continuum was too much?  Is that why this version doesn’t include that?

    I have been using interactive notebooks and at the end of the unit, I make them put a post-it on their “proof”.  Then I look through their learning targets and their post-its.  I think they could probably use this system and summarize what their proof was…it would be another chance to summarize and add some writing into science.  Hummmmmmm.  Got to think about this one.

  • JocelynMolaro

    You Bet!

    This is a fantastic idea that I am going to put into practice tomorrow! I love the Not Yet/ You Bet. It’s clear and visual. I might add in another piece for grade 3s – something about going above and beyond… Any ideas? We use a 4 point grading system with 4 being “exceeding expectations”. 

    Thanks for sharing!

    – Jocelyn