Self reporting is about how students feedback to you. It’s about how they tell you how well they understand something.
There are two ways that we gather information on how well our students have gathered mastery. The first is through questioning them. Asking them verbal questions. Asking them to take comprehension tasks or longer written tasks. The second is through observation. Observing students using the knowledge you have given them to complete a task or solve a problem.
The problem with asking questions
It is questioning that I want to examine in this article. In particular, how we use questioning to find out what our students have mastered. Questioning is fantastic but it so often falls into a pitfall of being closed. Closed questions that need only a yes or no answer. “Do you understand?”
Unconsciously, the answer to this question is always ‘yes’. It is ‘yes’ for a variety of different reasons. Few students will want to admit in front of a group of peers that they don’t understand. The social pressure to confirm and no show any weakness is strong. The second, and very common, reason, is that students might not know that they don’t understand. They have listened to you and understood everything you said. But, they don’t know that they didn’t listen to it all. Or in their mind they understand it. But once they start to apply that knowledge, it’ll become clear that they don’t.
Questions like this also occur at a natural transition point in a lesson. Often at the end of a phase of teaching and before the students begin a task involving what they’ve learnt. You want them to respect the question and give an appropriate answer. You want this so they don’t waste the time applying and creating something that is wrong. Once they start doing it wrong, it is already too late to correct them. They will for ever be referring to the first thing they learnt. And it will take a massive effort on your part to change that in the students brain. It’s not the student doing that, it is how the brain works.
So, cut the question: Do you understand? Or other questions like it. Questions that report how the student feels about the state of their understanding.
What is metacognition?
But, this metacognition is important so it needs replacing with something else. Metacognition is the process of analysing and evaluating ones own learning and practice. It is an important element of understanding how we learn and thus our own understanding of how we are doing. It is important to encourage students to think about how they are doing as well as what they are doing. It will help and motivate them to guide themselves towards improvement.
Instead of self report try self monitoring.
Self monitored learning
Ask the students to rate their understanding on a Scale of 1 to 4. Encourage them to be responsible for their own improvement and learning. Give them an overview so they can compare their knowledge against it.
I have a revision sheet available for students who rate their understanding as either a 1 or a 2. This then needs to be followed up later in the week or the next time you see the students. Ask them is the revision sheet has helped and if they have changed their place on the scale. Open up a dialogue about their present understanding. Challenge them to improve it.
Self monitoring revision
Turning metacognition into a wider issue with the structure of revision.
Ask them to set the theme of topic for their revision activities or starter activities. I run a starter activity every week for my GCSE classes called a Do It Now task. Each task takes 15 to 20 minutes. It requires students to recall knowledge, apply it and then either analyse or evaluate their work. The tasks mirror those of the assessment objectives for both practical and written work. At the end of each lesson, I give the students a selection of 3 activities that they can choose from which will be the focus of the next Do It Now task. I encourage the students to reflect on their current progress and choose an activity that they think will best suit their needs.
Instead of asking the simple closed question about their understanding, ask the students to review their understanding instead.