Helping Students Make Sense of their Learning

Just before I had the in-school workshop about assessment, I came across this post about ‘Assessment done with students, not to students‘.  This post dragged me back to my post about understanding my understanding of the assessment.  How often have I involved my students in assessment process?

One takeaway from the article was as to develop the performance levels which are going to be used in the rubric in the class. Many of us are using the terms of beginning, developing, competent and extending.  However, I was thinking if the students created their own terms, it would make more sense for them.

I printed out pictures of kids riding a bicycle. I do like this analogy as it is easy for kids to make connection to themselves.  I showed the pictures randomly and asked them what they see and think about the pictures.


I see a child learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle.

I think he is afraid of falling off the bike.

I think his mum is helping him so that he feels good.

I asked them how they would feel if they were in the situation.  

Nervous, excited, a bit scared, unsure

The child may think that he could ride but this is new cause he doesn’t have the helping wheels.

I continued asking the students to make connection to their learning.  How could this picture connect to your learning?

A girl said, ‘It’s like when we learn 1 plus 1 make two. But here, I know that 1 plus 1 make 2 and now I should be able to explain why 1 plus 1 make 2.

Yeah, like we can draw pictures or use objects to show what 1 plus 1 mean,’ another boy added.

I had them shared what they think about the other pictures and how they could relate to their learning.  During the discussion and sharing, I tried not to interfere but I continue questioning their explanation.  I wrote what they said on the board to help them make conclusion later on.


After sharing their thoughts about how the pictures relate to their learning, the students were asked to put the pictures in order. They came up with the terms : learn to know, know, learn to use what I know, I use what I know.

It’s interesting to see why they use the phrase ‘learn to…..’ before the stages ‘know’ and ‘use’.

You should learn to know how to add before you know how to add,’ one said.

At this point, I understand that they include the ‘process’ of knowing before they actually know.  I asked them to define what it means ‘learn to know’ and ‘know’.

In a group of three, they discussed what could differentiate the two terms. A few of them were able to explain.

Learn to know what multiplication is and now I know what they are so I could explain that 2 times 4 is 2 groups of 4. But at the beginning you need to learn what multiplication means and how it works.

Learn to write and now I know to write.

I asked the students to apply this bicycle stage to their learning.  As we just wrapped-up our first unit, I asked them to explain where they are in term of understanding the simple machines.

One child explained his understanding using the terms which they just created.

At the beginning of the unit, I did not know different types of simple machines.  So, the first stage I learn to know what types simple machines are.  Then, I know what they are and how they work. Next, I can find simple machines which are used in the class or home. This means I am using what I know. Right?

He continued, ‘I think I am not exactly in this stage yet.’  His finger pointing the two last steps ‘Learn to use’ and ‘use what I know’.

Why not?’  I wonder.

Well, when I created the game using different types of simple machine, I had three types of simple machines. But they do not really work together. So I am in between these two steps,’ he explained.

I invited other students to share where they are in terms of their learning in maths, language and other subjects.  Listening to their explanation about where they are, it gives me more ideas about what they think.  This is a part of their self-assessment.  As a teacher, I could record their thinking and match it with my own observation.

Perhaps, the bicycle stage would look different in another school.  I think it’s all about how the students make sense of what they see/hear.  As long as they are able to explain the reason, make connection to themselves and applicable in different contexts, I think the terms could be interpret freely.

Maybe at some points, as a class, we would revisit the terms and make some changes.  It depends on how they think about their learning and whether the terms are still relevant and making sense for them.



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