This post is part of a 6-part series highlighting how we, as IB teachers, can bring Approaches to Teaching to our classroom and challenge students to engage in Approaches to Learning. In the previous installments of our series, we introduced several ideas for the implementation of Approaches to Teaching in the contexts of inquiry, conceptual understanding, local-global perspectives, teamwork, and differentiation. At the same time, we suggested ways to fit Approaches to Learning in these instructional strategies by promoting students’ research, thinking, communication and social skills. We conclude this series with the last but not least IB requirements for teaching and learning in the Diploma Programme (DP): assessment and self-management skills.
This final installment covers how to cultivate students’ self-management skills through teaching informed by assessment. Assessment is a very hot issue for both teachers and students and the disputes over this educational component are more than common. In fact, sometimes teachers are so overwhelmed by this that they feel like there is no other purpose in their teaching than to assess the students. How can your students benefit from assessment in a more learning-oriented way with the enhancement of their self-management skills? Here are 4 steps you can take:
Model positive self-management skills
We devote a lot of our time, during and beyond classroom hours, working on students’ summative assessment: putting together quizzes and tests with diverse content and proper grading, creating rubrics for the granulation of internal assessment criteria and responding marks, organizing group activities for bonus marks and the list goes on. Going through all these arrangements makes us forget that our goal is not assessment for the sake of assessment, but for reinforcing students’ learning and self-management skills.
A kind of summative assessment is required in all IB educational programs. “The aim of summative assessment is generally to report on students’ level of learning at a particular time” (Dolin, Black, Harlen, & Tiberghien, 2018). All teachers are familiar with this educational component, and most of them have actually mastered it.
I would love to say that all this effort is about enhancing students’ performance, but it mostly addresses one thing: grading – semesters, examinations and, most important of all, predictions. Hundreds of hours, inside and outside the classroom, are spent in order to ensure that the grades will be accurate and fair: we don’t want to be unjust to our students, nor to expose ourselves and, by extension, our school.
But, this surely isn’t our main role as a Diploma Programme (DP) teachers – the people that just distribute (fair) grades. In the IB mission, it is stated that the IB is “more than its educational programmes and certificates. At our heart we are motivated by a mission to create a better world through education” (IBO, 2005a). This mission molds the IB learner profile, which “describes a broad range of human capacities and responsibilities that go beyond academic success” (IBO, 2005b). Teaching in the IB, and in any curriculum, involves many more responsibilities towards our students beyond fair grading.
However, we can’t escape the fact that students are fixed on final examinations – and for good reason. We have to turn this everlasting concern to genuine learning opportunities and advancement of their self-management skills that will be priceless during their tertiary education… and for a lifetime. Time-management, mindfulness, and self-motivation are prerequisites for successful studying, yet our students could use our support to mastering them.
Students usually complain about a lack of time, but it is actually control over their time that they are lacking. In fact, educational research suggests that the more the workload (but reasonable nonetheless), the better they cope with it (Kausar, 2010). When students have a considerable amount of duties, with specific guidelines and deadlines, they usually rise up to the challenge. On the other end, when they are confident that their work requires just a little of their time, they become overly comfortable. What makes the difference for them?
When they have many things to handle, they are forced to employ some serious organizational skills: planning in advance, breaking down assignments, and forming study timetables. And then, they stick to their own arrangements, using affective skills: focusing, overcoming distractions, and aspiring to meet their goals.
💡 If your students continue complaining about being short on time, together, work out which skill they need help with to manage their workload better.
The effort they make is weighted more heavily when it connects directly to a summative assessment task, like an official test. Although such tasks can be motivating for some of them, it can also work as a source of great anxiety. For them, assessment is a judgment rather than an opportunity for further learning or change of strategy. How can you turn this around?
Create an atmosphere where students don’t think they have to get everything right the first time
There is another, more student-friendly, type of assessment that we can use: formative assessment. This is another card we hold, that we may neglect to address, given that it is more “optional.” This form of assessment can be used as a tool, but it serves our instructional goals better when it is also perceived as a process. “This ‘constructive’ use of formative assessment hinges on the ability of the teacher (or another provider of feedback) to actually give recommendations that are relevant and effective for improvement” (Dolin et al., 2018).
There are many different ways to integrate formative assessment in your classroom, but let’s be realistic: at the end of the day, we will end up with the grading deriving from the summative assessment. But, there’s a way to seamlessly combine these two forms of assessment.
💡Add a formative assessed “mock test” halfway to expand students’ preparation period for an upcoming official test.
For specific content, book dates not for one, but for two tests within a period no longer than a week. Ask your students to put all their efforts into the preparation for the first test. It is up to you if you want to let them know from the beginning that this test will be assessed in a formative way, and that there will be a follow-up test for their summative assessment. I suggest not sharing your intentions the first time you apply this method, because it may seem overwhelming; next time, the request will come directly from your students.
Give students feedback on their approach to a task
The purpose of this strategy is to use the mock test as a tool to promote learning by giving feedback. The formative test identifies the distance between reality and goals, regarding students’ knowledge and performance. Feedback is the means for reducing this distance so students can attain their standards (Grosas, Raju, Schuett, Chuck, & Millar, 2016).
If you have the time, make comments on the mock papers and spend one or two contact hours to discuss students’ questions. This is a good investment of your in-class time, since it works as a differentiated session, meeting all students’ needs for revision.
💡Receiving feedback from you gives students a head start in their reading at home, and draws their attention to their particular learning needs.
If you have scheduled the mock test and the official test very close together, your students can gain from self-assessment. It is most effective to provide scripts with the correct answers, so they can give themselves some feedback through comparison. Self-assessment improves self-regulated learning, namely the students’ skills to generate “thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals” (Panadero, Jonsson, & Strijbos, 2016). So, even if you don’t provide feedback yourself, they still can reap benefits from their mock test.
One way or another, feedback leads to self-reflection. It allows students to realize the missing knowledge components and calls for the application of new or advanced self-management skills to reach their performance goals. Your students improve their learning and skills with an immediate impact on their grades: two birds, one stone.
Help students to learn from failures
We take measures to enhance our students’ learning progress and self-management skills, but we have to make peace with the fact that we are merely their facilitators. Whether they take the opportunities we provide and how they make use of them is up to them. Thus, giving them their grades is not about punishment or celebration; it is just a metric of their efforts for a task or a period of time. The best we can do is encourage them to celebrate their successes and learn from their failures.
Firstly, let’s deal with those students that didn’t meet their expectations. I’ve seen a range of low grade-related emotional displays: from rage to tears and from accusations towards everyone to self-pity. Initiate a calm conversation with each of them. Your goal is to walk in their shoes, help them realize what went wrong, and suggest a solution for achieving better results in the future. The problem may lie in poor self-management skills or a lack of thinking and communication skills.
💡 Under-performing students may seek amends from us, but what we should offer is a discussion on the advantages of self-awareness, responsibility toward their own learning and, most of all, resilience.
Resilience refers to “any behavioral, attributional, or emotional response to an academic or social challenge that is positive and beneficial for development (such as seeking new strategies, putting forth greater effort, or solving conflicts peacefully)” (Yeager & Dweck, 2012). A personality trait that gives a boost to resilience is the appreciation to change. Our students must embrace the thought that their intelligence and personality are not fixed for life. It is always up to them to turn things around – for better or worse.
Keeping this in mind, we don’t neglect to praise each of those students that worked well and performed accordingly. We can pay tribute to them without putting the rest of the class down or making comparisons. Acknowledgment of their achievement empowers them to go on with their efforts and sets a good example for those who have room for development.
With this simple strategy of consequent formative-summative assessment, your students can grasp the opportunity for a spiral learning progression that leads to their best performance. After discussing grades, as a different follow-up activity, you can use edtech to connect your students with role models all over the world for valuable insights on dealing with success and failure. Through this special explorative topic, students can also discover how self-management skills relate to accomplishments in studies and career. Here’s how to organize this unique reflection activity with 100mentors:
Teaching informed by assessment with a focus on the advancement of students’ self-management skills is an optimal way to apply Approaches to Teaching and Learning during revision sessions and examination periods. Create a base of meaningful learning experiences and self-regulation practices for your students to reach their goals in the DP examinations and the rest of the challenging endeavors to come.
Dolin, J., Black, P., Harlen, W., & Tiberghien, A. (2018). Exploring Relations Between Formative and Summative Assessment. In J. Dolin & R. Evans (Eds.), Transforming Assessment, Contributions from Science Education Research 4 (pp. 53–80).
Grosas, A. B., Raju, S. R., Schuett, B. S., Chuck, J. A., & Millar, T. J. (2016). Determining if active learning through a formative assessment process translates to better performance in summative assessment. Studies in Higher Education, 41(9), 1595–1611.
IBO. (2005a). Mission. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/
IBO. (2005b). The IB learner profile. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.ibo.org/benefits/learner-profile/
Kausar, R. (2010). Perceived Stress, Academic Workloads and Use of Coping Strategies by University Students. In Journal of Behavioural Sciences (Vol. 20).
Panadero, E., Jonsson, A., & Strijbos, J.-W. (2016). Scaffolding Self-Regulated Learning Through Self-Assessment and Peer Assessment: Guidelines for Classroom Implementation. In D. Laveault & L. Allal (Eds.), Assessment for Learning: Meeting the Challenge of Implementation, The Enabling Power of Assessment 4 (pp. 311–326).
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314.