Blogstitute: Nurturing Responsible Learners

June 22nd, 2015

Today’s Blogstitute post comes from Mary Anne Buckley, author of Sharing the Blue Crayon: How to Integrate Social, Emotional, and Literacy Learning. Mary Anne wanted her students to take charge of their learning and not just accumulate knowledge that they then didn’t integrate into their lives. So instead of “I Can” charts, she came up with a different method for making sure that her students took responsibility for their progress and were able to see and show the results.

DSCN0008This year I had a fabulous group of second graders. They were kind and helpful, hard workers and eager to learn. They were also a tad . . . irresponsible in their learning. They were engaged and active participants during discussions and workshops, but they stumbled with using the daily lessons across the curriculum.

For example, math strategies for addition were not used when we started a unit on measuring. Our reading unit on character traits had the students using meaty adjectives, but when they wrote their persuasive essays the words great, cool, and awesome littered their papers. When I asked them why, they usually answered, “Oh yeah. I forgot about that.”

I don’t want school to be a place where kids think learning is segmented into blocks of time and informational bits, that all they need to do is fill in the blanks until June rolls around. Learning comes alive when students take ideas and expand them into their schema and when they use new information beyond a set of benchmarks or a standard assessment. I needed something to help my students see that they were accumulating knowledge and how to integrate that knowledge into all areas of their lives.

Holding my students accountable for their learning was not a new idea, but writing “I can” statements or the “Standard for the Day” on the board felt forced and unnatural. I wanted it to be more about the awareness of learning and being responsible for using that learning. I decided to create a more interactive and fluid form of accountability. I call it Learning Reflections and Frames.

I made a small poster with the phrase “By Friday I will . . .” at the top and seven blank boxes below. In each box was a label for our workshops: Writing Workshop, Math Workshop, Reading Workshop, Friendship Workshop, Science/Social Studies, Specials (art, music, PE), and one for home learning. I laminated the poster and every Monday, as a part of our Morning Meeting, we filled in the blanks with an erasable marker. An example might look like this:

DSCN0016By Friday I will . . .

Math Workshop—understand that fractions are equal parts

Writing Workshop—type up and illustrate at least four of my poems

Science Workshop—understand the life cycle of a caterpillar

I found that writing this poster together created a mutual understanding of what was coming up in the week; it also established that the students needed to be responsible for their learning. Throughout the week I would refer to the chart and confirm what we had written or revise it if circumstances called for a change in our schedule.

The writing activity that we did every Friday afternoon also helped to deepen the connection between what was being taught and what the students absorbed. It is called Learning Reflections and takes about fifteen minutes to complete. To prepare, we made reflection frames. I had the students write these phrases on two thin pieces of paper:

This week I was . . .

and I learned . . .

The students chose a colored 8 ½-by-11-inch piece of construction paper and glued these strips on the long sides, with “This week I was . . .” going up the left-hand side and “and I learned . . .” going down the right-hand side. The short sides were left blank. At the top of the frame we attached a clear pocket (made from leftover laminate) that would hold a 3-by-5-inch index card. At the bottom of the frame we pasted a photo of each student (see photo).

As a group, the students reviewed our weekly board and shared ideas about some specifics we had learned in each subject area. Then, on a 4-by-6-inch piece of paper, each student completed his or her frame’s sentence using words and illustrations. The final piece was to create a title for their learning and write that label on an index card to be placed at the top of the frame. The final frame might say, “This week I was a poet and I learned how to use line breaks to make my poems more interesting.”

These frames now hang outside our classroom, and each week the students simply slide a new index card in front of the previous one and tape their new learning on top. After each marking period, the students take the whole packet off of the frame and look back on all the things they have accomplished and discovered over the past months.

Occasionally I still get blank looks when I tell my students to check their spelling for unit words or to think back to an earlier unit before starting a project, but overall this has been a fun and engaging way to help my students take a more active role in their learning.


Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kerry  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Great post! I started using weekly objectives this past year instead of daily I Can statements that students never glanced at. I love the idea of Friday learning reflections to really push students to take responsibility of their learning.

  • 2. Nancy Betler  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Great post! It is so important that students see the big picture. They also need to be responsible for their learning!!!

  • 3. Jenn Chafin  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 10:37 am

    What a great post! I can definitely see how this would help students transfer their learning across content areas and take more ownership in it. I can’t wait to try out Learning Reflections in this format! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • 4. Maribeth Batcho  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I love this idea and all of the possibilities that go with it. I might add another box for This week I will remember to…
    use capital letters…spell words I know correctly…endless possibilities. I especially love that you have turned this into a visual for all to enjoy and comment on as well as being reflective no matter the age group. Thanks!

  • 5. Rachelle  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing this great idea! I love how you discuss the goals for this week together and keep students accountable by having them write their achievements at the end of the week. I also like how the “This week I was…” section is framed in positive language, so students realize they are scientists/writers/artists/etc.

  • 6. Mary Anne Buckley  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    The Reflection Frames are great for Parent/Teacher conferences too! I did student led conferences this year and the students flipped through the sheets and explained each piece of their learning with such pride.

  • 7. Julie Clay  |  June 22nd, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    This is a terrific idea that makes so much sense. In my district the emphasis has been on daily objectives and how to write them as opposed to just giving a run down of steps or activities. I really like that you stress the students being aware of their learning.

  • 8. Sarah  |  June 23rd, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    ThIs is wonderful! It seems like such a simple solution to a common problem (student accountability), but practically creative! My thinking now is how do I adapt this to the high school level. I think the Monday morning meeting is easy enough to adapt. The reflection would need to be adapted. I have too many students in a day to hand them all on the wall. So, then, how do I maintain and store these records? Maybe a weekly log? Make it a part of a Writer’s Notebok? Keep it in a student folder with accumulated work? All of these bear thinking about. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • 9. Michelle  |  June 24th, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    I recently picked up “Sharing the Blue Crayon” and if the book is filled with ideas like this, I will be thrilled! Love the idea of involving students in the learning reflections & frames. Being more explicit about learning targets and the being able to refer back to them throughout the weeks allows the students the opportunity to make those connections with learning (and that everything is not done in isolation!).

    Thanks for sharing and I’m moving your book up in my to be read pile! Can’t wait!

  • 10. Teresa  |  June 24th, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Students taking responsibility for their own learning was one or the goals at my school last year. The idea of students reflecting on what they learned and writing it down could help them understand that the learning process involves them as much as it does the teacher. I plan to share this idea with my fellow teachers.

  • 11. Kelly Mogk  |  June 25th, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Oh my goodness, this is brilliant! By August, I will implement these techniques. 😉

    I am always searching for ways to help students be more responsible for their learning. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • 12. Johnett Scogin  |  June 25th, 2015 at 11:36 am

    This is a fantastic idea, and one that I’m going to share with all of my teachers. Thanks for the detailed post! — js

  • 13. Mary Anne Buckley  |  June 27th, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Sarah — I love the idea of taking this to high schoolers! Have you ever seen manila folders with large index cards taped in a waterfall fashion on the insides? Each card is layered on top of the other with just an in or so showing of each one. Maybe the bottom of the card could be the “This week I was…” sentence so it always shows (and the kids would see the accumulated skills). Then they could write how they demonstrated their learning on the rest of the card. You could file them in a hanging file box….? Let me know if this (or anything else) works!

  • 14. Lisa C  |  June 28th, 2015 at 5:51 am

    I love this idea too! I think that the overall goals are sometimes invisible to children. This is a great way to make it explicit. I’m wishing I could “pin” it to remind myself in September.

  • 15. Tracy Mailloux  |  June 30th, 2015 at 6:26 am

    I especially like that you’ve built in this reflection as a weekly routine. What a great habit to instill in the early years. I, like many others, will be taking this idea into September with me.

    Sarah, I love that this idea can be used in high school, too. Since you have many different classes with many students, maybe GoogleDocs would be helpful for your student’s reflections. It will track changes over the course of the year and save all their learning in one spot.

  • 16. Cheryl  |  July 1st, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I taught high school for years and am now going into elementary. For me, reflection has always been one of the most significant pieces of learning both for my students and for me as a teacher. I love this idea as a way to teach young students to embrace reflecting early on. I think I could create my own frame and display it in the classroom to model for my students by sharing my own reflections each week as well. I think it is helpful for students to see that I too am always learning. It makes learning an on-going process not something that you aim for and then stop doing once you become an adult. Thanks for the great ideas!!!

  • 17. Mary Anne Buckley  |  July 1st, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    That’s exactly what my co teacher and I did! We each made a frame and modeled each week how math, science, writing, art, etc showed up in our lives. Sometimes it was something the kids were directly a part of and sometimes it was our “home learning”. I enjoyed it!

  • 18. Matt Renwick  |  July 2nd, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Terrific idea Mary Anne. I plan on sharing your idea with our faculty (I am an elementary school principal). Being intentional about taking to reflect will pay dividends down the road for learners.

  • 19. Joanne Bell  |  July 2nd, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    What a great idea! Children need to have the goals in front of them to help internalize those thoughts. The reflections help even more.

  • 20. Elisa Waingort  |  July 3rd, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks for writing this post. I like how you created the learning targets with students at the beginning of the week. It sounds like it was teacher directed, otherwise how would students come up with the goal for math, for example? I can’t picture how this was developed with students. Maybe I’m missing a piece of the picture? I would love it if you fleshed out this part of your post. Also, would it be possible to post a picture of an individual end-of-week student reflection?

  • 21. Elisa Waingort  |  July 3rd, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I just saw the image of an end-of-week reflection at the top of the post. Thanks!

  • 22. Diane Anderson  |  July 5th, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    The statement about posting the standard of the day seeming forced is a familiar thought. This idea is much more practical and gives each student more ownership of their learning.

  • 23. Mary Anne Buckley  |  July 6th, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    You’re right – the learning targets are teacher directed. I based them on what I was planning to accomplish during the week. I tried to make them as open ended as possible to allow for all levels of student understanding. For example, for place value as a class we would discuss what they know and I would choose the language “By Friday I will explain place value.” This allows students to use words, cubes, number diagram, etc to demonstrate their understanding.
    Sometimes I did not include the students in the discussion because it was a very specific strategy goal such as “By Friday I will add double digit numbers keeping one number whole.”

    You know how to make the best decisions for your students. Each week you choose how much to include them in the goal setting. Hope this helps to get some ideas flowing!

  • 24. Most Memorable Blog Posts&hellip  |  December 29th, 2015 at 11:51 am

    […] Nurturing Responsible Learners by Mary Anne Buckley (Stenhouse Blog, June 22, 2015) […]

  • 25. Nurturing Responsible Lea&hellip  |  October 30th, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    […] Stenhouse Blogstitute […]

Leave a Comment


Required, hidden

Some HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs