Cash in on Learning: Engaging in Tasks: Part Two

Click here to read Part 1 of this post.

Last month, I shared the idea of how students get engaged in learning through a process that was theorized by Dr. Barry Zimmerman and his colleagues. In that post I gave ideas for how to begin the process by building the learner’s confidence through improving their emotional state; building their self-beliefs; offering environments that are supportive and nurturing; developing thinking skills; and improving academic strategies. This blog post will share the remaining three phases and steps to keep students engaged in the learning.

Once students feel confident that they can forecast their level of success in a learning task, we then need to help them set and manage goals toward that success. Phase two involves the student deciding what he or she will do in order to do well in the learning task. One of the best ways to assist students in this process is through having them set SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Smart Goals Blackboard SignSpecific: focusing the target on something you want to improve upon
  • Measurable: being able to measure your success
  • Assignable: listing the steps, materials, and resources you will need to reach your goal
  • Relevant: making sure that the goal is within your reach with the resources you have
  • Time-bound: setting a timeline for reaching your goal

(For more details about SMART goal setting, see pages (97–98) in my book Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century)

Once the goal has been SMARTed, teachers should teach students how to manage and achieve the goal. I suggest that at this point you teach students how to avoid distraction. Twenty-first-century kids have more than their share of distractors, from cell phones to websites to Tweets to Instagram (and the list goes on). So we need to teach them specific tips for how to do homework by avoiding the perils of distractors.

Here are seven tips for avoiding distraction that I give to students:

  1. Set time limits for work. Don’t work for longer than 15–20 minutes continuously without a break.
  2. (c) by -gbh007-_dreamstime_comTake breaks that are physical in nature. Make sure they are no more than two minutes long and that you are doing something physical—jumping jacks, push-ups, dancing. NO texting, Tweeting, Instagramming . . . or anything to do with a computer or electronics.
  3. If you play music, make sure that it is peaceful and without words. Our brains have a difficult time processing multiple bits of information. Music with words forces our brain to multitask, which is very inefficient for learning.
  4. Ensure that you have appropriate lighting for the work you are doing. If you are asked to read for homework, the more direct the lighting the better. Sunlight is the best!
  5. Study in a cleared space. Get rid of clutter and disorganization—move it off to the side so that your brain can focus on the task at hand rather than the mess around your feet.
  6. Plan to reward yourself for the work you do. Whether it is spending an additional five minutes on the computer or eating your favorite snack, we need to praise ourselves for putting effort forward. Even if you didn’t complete the work, you stuck to the study period.
  7. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work while you were working. Write down what you will do again or not do again next time. Post those ideas in your work space as reminders.

Phase 3 of engaging in tasks requires students to monitor their progress toward achievement. The use of formative assessments is an excellent way to move students from the desire for extrinsic rewards (like grades, certificates, trophies, pizza parties, etc.) toward an intrinsic desire to achieve. As you are aware, formative feedback is the feedback provided to the learner throughout the learning process. The most beneficial type of formative feedback is descriptive feedback. This type of feedback goes beyond saying “good job” or ”work harder!”

Descriptive feedback is:

  • Ongoing throughout the learning process
  • Provided to the learner in a timely manner
  • Explicitly focused on skill development and understanding
  • Articulated to the progress toward the goal
  • Specific to the task or performance
  • Incremental (never giving too much at once or too little to make sense)
  • Praising the effort over the achievement to develop a growth mindset

The final phase of this model is the reflective stage (“How well did I do at doing well?”). This is when the summative assessment (the final product or end point in the learning) is used to help students contemplate the effectiveness of their learning strategies and behaviors as well as define their feelings of success.

Reflection can also be accomplished through questions that stimulate meta-cognition, such as:

  • Tapping_pencil while thinking wikimedia commons bot ManskeWhat was I thinking throughout the learning process?
  • How clearly did I understand what was expected of me during the lessons?
  • In what ways did I use self-talk positively or negatively?
  • Why would my teacher ask me to consider different points of view?

Other methods for reflection can be through:

  • Logs or journals
  • Portfolios of work (both good and poor quality)
  • Group conversations (from large to small groups)
  • Coaching sessions with the teacher (the teacher sits with two to three students and allows the students to talk about their learning process, and the teacher offers advice toward improvement)

Finally, consider using prompts to get students to reflect more in the growth mindset, such as:

  • Write about one thing you learned today.
  • Tell a partner about a mistake you made today that taught you something about yourself or made you laugh.
  • Sketch something you worked hard at today.
  • Share with your tablemates one thing that you were proud of in your learning today.
  • Blog about something you would change about your learning today.
  • Tweet me one specific goal you will set for yourself tomorrow.

When students are able to focus themselves on believing in themselves to do well; can identify what strategies, skills, and resources they will need to be successful; are able to monitor their progress toward the goal; and can reflect on what they did cognitively, behaviorally, and affectively post-production, they are more likely to be successful in future learning endeavors.

I would love to hear your success stories (or challenges!) with teaching self-regulation in the classroom. Please post a comment below.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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2 Responses to Cash in on Learning: Engaging in Tasks: Part Two

  1. Martha Palm says:

    Hi Richard — Martha here. The first part of this year I had the kids write in their planner one thing they learned that day. What I found to be even a better tool is I had them write a question they had because of what they learned that day. That question made their connection to the learning a bit more solid. It was a good one! Thanks Richard.

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