The high-stakes nature of state exams means that schools need to assess student understanding in real time rather than wait for scores at the end of year or even the end of a unit. And simply relying on more tests as formative assessments is likely to cause students psychological stress and prompt them to disengage from learning. What’s needed are ways to engage students that also enable educators to determine how and what those students are thinking.

Education researchers have discovered that back and forth communication leads to greater student engagement, deeper understanding, and increased retention (it appears to be particularly true of peer-to-peer collaboration). Also, talking about their work helps students develop critical learning skills that prepare them for future challenges and opportunities.

A Teacher’s Role in Making Thinking Visible

Listen to students talk: How can teachers encourage student communication and collaboration? In a recent webinar, noted education expert Alan November recommended that teachers find ways to speak less and listen more. He also advised teachers to have specific goals for listening to what he called “student voice.” One of his suggestions was that listening to students talk can alert teachers to any misconceptions those students may have and give ideas on how best to correct those misconceptions.

Encourage peer learning: In order for students to reveal what and how they’re thinking, teachers need to create opportunities for peer learning as well as environments in which students feel it’s safe to take risks. For example, the itslearning platform has an array of student-to-student communication tools as well as incorporate student-to-student tools such as discussion boards, surveys, peer assessments, course group folders, etc. Some of these, such as e-portfolios, blogs, messaging, and communities, are designed to be used outside of courses so that learners have ways to work and experiment together without worrying about the grade they’ll receive. And in all cases, teachers can easily see what and how each student thinks.

(Next page: More ways to make thinking visible)


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