Influenced by the work of John Hattie in his book Visible Learning, this year we moved our work on student goal setting forward. The Calgary Board of Education was piloting their new IRIS platform in which we participated. IRIS is a web-hosted platform where each student has their own page called “Understanding Myself as a Learner.” Teachers were expected to work with students to support them in developing Learning Goals, Learning Strategies and Artifacts of Learning. Through this work our goal was for students to understand themselves as a learner, own their learning, develop agency, and develop clarity about what they needed to learn, how they were going to learn it, and what it was going to look like when they learned it.
On April 8, 2013 a group of 9 students ranging from grade 3 to grade 6 gathered over lunch to share their experiences around work with Iris. Although we had a few questions in mind, the conversation was generative as students responded to each other.
Students articulated that the process of working in Iris helps them to see clearly what they could accomplish, and how they could accomplish their learning goals. Many students testified that Iris helps them to ‘remember (their) goals and keep working on them,’ and ‘set goals and then set next goals.’ Consistency of student voice around the way in which the organization of space not only supported initial goal writing, but also consistent re-thinking and adjusting of present goals to form ‘next’ goals was evident. While students were initially unsure as to whether they engaged in the goal setting/strategy thinking/understanding myself as a learner process prior to Iris, they realized they had been engaging in this work previously; however, Iris made it ‘easier’, ‘more simple’, ‘not too hard’ and ‘not messy.’ ‘It is easy to pull up and you don’t have to look through paper.’ The ‘layout is more organised’ and ‘helps us to progress’ and ‘see our timeline for achievement.’ Students were sure they were engaging in this work in the Iris space. Teacher support and presence in the work was consistently spoken of. When asked why they set goals, students responded with such comments as, ‘so you can accomplish them,’ ‘so you know what to do,’ so you don’t forget’ and ‘so things don’t get lost.’
When discussing artifacts, most students said they use them to show ‘how (they) are as learners’ and ‘what strengths and weaknesses’ they have. ‘Say, if I show a Math test, it shows I am interested in Math and proud of my high marks.’ Some students didn’t feel they would/should show work they were not proud of, and one student believed it was not an artifact if it didn’t show you were ‘good at something.’ Further, student voice suggested that the artifact should be something that was important to a particular student and something the student was ‘proud of.’ Some students responded by saying that they might show an artifact that is ‘not good, but doing well in’ so that a teacher could help them. Students felt it was important to comment on why they chose particular artifacts, and how these particular artifacts connected to their goals, strategies and understanding of themselves as learners. Since students normally connect goals to strategies, one student suggested that a tab might be helpful to link the strategies to goals and avoid closing goals each time you want to add a strategy. On whether it might be valuable to group artifacts, some students shook their heads while others said maybe this would be a good idea to show work you were good at and work that you were not so good at, or to show a series of artifacts about the same topic as this might be helpful for a teacher. An album with several photos was suggested. Students wondered about the possibility of sharing artifacts that showed their ‘own stuff’ – photographs and videos from out of school activities. These artifacts could be separate – on the right hand side of the page. A conversation ensued around why students might share certain artifacts to illustrate who they are as learners.
During our discussion on sharing, most students felt it was natural to share their learning plans with teachers since ‘they’ know how to ‘help you get better,’ and this sharing would only help them further. Teachers could see what you were struggling with and think of better ways to teach you. Students suggested that teachers should let students ‘think first,’ and one young man said that sharing the work with teachers could be difficult as teachers could move you away from a goal you were focusing on. This might ‘distract’ you – ‘flipping mind’ was a term used by one of the students. This space is ‘private’ to you. Most students thought it would be a good idea to share their work with their parents so that parents would know what they were doing in school. A number of students shook their heads quite profusely when the topic of sharing plans with friends came up, although one student thought it might be helpful as you would want to make it better if this was the case, and that friends could also help with strategies. Subsequently, a couple of students began to acknowledge this might be a good idea. However, parents would be more ‘trustable.’ Students said that they could just sit next to friends and parents if they chose to share work with them. A tab to enable the possibility of sharing particular items, or whole pages was discussed, and many students thought this would be a good idea to limit the sharing.
A couple of more technical questions/concerns were raised near the end of the conversation. There had been some audio file ‘troubles’ with Garage Band, and students thought better instructions were needed for audio uploading. Some artifacts had disappeared, and there was a problem with the page moving up when students clicked the space bar. Students felt that 150 characters were too few to write what they needed to say and 450 might be more reasonable, and the capability of sizing photographs would be helpful. A couple of students said that occasionally a window pops up to say that iris can’t open at this time.’
Students were positive and excited about their work, and eager to share their learning before we left.
Authored by: Mandy Hambidge, Calgary Board of Education