How Many Stars? Tools for self-assessment and goal-setting

When my daughters were first learning to dive, they spent a lot of time practicing, and they recruited me to be their judge. “On a scale of 1 to 10?” they’d say over and over again. If I doled out an 8, they’d want to know why. “Your knees were bent,” I might have said. Or maybe their toes weren’t pointing. (Maybe I wasn’t watching, and I made something up, but don’t tell them…) In any case, they knew what constituted a perfect dive, they had a source of feedback, and they had opportunity after opportunity to approximate it.

Maybe if I were trying to teach my girls diving now instead of a decade ago, I’d use the power of video, so they could see a 6, a 7, an 8, 9, or 10. I think the more we show learners what the work looks like at different levels and the reasons for that level, the better they are able to self-assess, set goals, and improve. Therefore, I’ve been making many learning progressions that I use in my work within elementary writing classrooms.

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts describe how to make a micro-progression in one of their videos that accompany DIY Literacy. As Kate states in the video, “Micro-progressions help students to zoom in on one skill and do it better.” While their example demonstrates how to analyze a piece of text , the strategy of making a progression can be done for any skill. For me, I’ve created templates of stars. Sometimes, I use three columns, sometimes four, and sometimes even five—it depends how specifically I feel like I can define the skill.

You name it, and I can create it using a one star to five star model.

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Some examples that have been popular with the teachers in my district are ones that have to do with conventions since those are always a struggle.

I have linked the document, but here’s also a screenshot of the capitalization rubric.  Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 8.46.59 PM

Students can look at their writing side by side this rubric, and they can make decisions as to what column describes their work. Most students who use a tool like this one are motivated to move across the lanes and are able to make immediate improvements.

I debated over whether to repeat the skills across the columns, and for now, I do think it helps students to see all of the skills when we are expecting them to hold onto the skills from previous columns. I have created other progressions that don’t feel as redundant for writing:

  • Introductions of opinion and introduction texts
  • Conclusions of opinion and introduction texts
  • Beginnings of narrative stories
  • Ends of narrative stories
  • Productive use of independent writing time
  • Variety and explanation of evidence within an opinion paragraph

While you can make a micro-progression using a digital template like the one I’ve shared, you can also make one by folding a piece of paper into fourths. Here’s one I made this morning with a kindergarten teacher:

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I need to work on my picture of a turtle–here’s a chuckle for you: when we first started this micro-progression, I was going to draw a rainbow, but then I realized the color wouldn’t show up when we made copies, so we made my rainbow into a turtle. We also talked about how many of the students will outgrow this progression quickly, and that’s fantastic for them. We can make another chart that starts with “trtl” in the 1-star column and progresses from there.  Remember that there’s something to be said for showing children a chart where they feel instantly successful.

A particularly high level progression I created for a fifth-grade classroom during an information writing unit showed students how to move their writing from just an enumeration of facts to a more reactive, analytical explanation of facts combined with thoughts. I am including a screenshot, and you can access the document here.  This document is different from the conventions in that it shows samples of writing as opposed to bulleted descriptors that function more like learning targets. When looking and analyzing the work, there’s the additional step for students of naming the skill.

This particular progression has worked really well as a small group inquiry where I challenge students to notice and note the differences between the three writing samples.

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As you can see, micro-progressions work for many developing skills. Kate and Maggie are amazing to watch, and I highly recommend watching a video of the two of them designing a micro-progression. There are also many examples of micro-progressions that are showing up on Pinterest. However, the strongest ones for you will be the ones you create yourself.  Here’s how I thought about the work as I designed the samples I’ve shared in this post:

  1. Envision and describe the way you want the skill to look at its best for students in your classroom. I try to picture one of the stronger writers and create my 5 star version of what that student isn’t doing yet.
  2. Break down the skill into developing steps, thinking about what it looks like just a little less, just a little less, just a little less…
  3. Write descriptions of those skills or write samples that reflect those skills. Keep in mind that if you write the skills as opposed to the samples, you make it a little simpler for students to use.  You can differentiate your progressions to reflect the abilities of your students.
  4. Do not worry about perfection! My turtle is FAR from perfect, but it would serve its purpose, and that’s what matters!

I would bet that if I could have shown my daughters videos of their dives that they could compare to a calibrated series of scored samples, they would have been motivated and quicker to improve, thus giving me more time to read on the side of the pool. For any developing skill, it helps to see it done well and understand what has to be done in order to emulate it.