Learning Maps: Empowering Students to Chart Their Course

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My school recently implemented a feedback-based assessment model (a version of gradeless) for all its incoming grade-nine students. Prior to that, some of us teachers volunteered to “pilot” it across departments to work out the kinks of implementation before we tried it school-wide.

From my experience, implementing this version of gradeless requires a plan for each individual teacher and a developed consistent approach. These include creating and using Learning Maps, establishing one-on-one conferences throughout the semester with students, and ongoing effective and descriptive feedback shared with parents and students (preferably online and always accessible).

I have found Learning Maps to be crucial and very helpful in guiding my method. A Learning map provides an entry point into the course and states the next steps to successfully achieve Overarching Learning Goals. A Learning Map is a map because students mobilize along the map at different points in the year based on their understanding and meeting of expectations. It provides clear evidence by tracking feedback and progress for how students can demonstrate learning through knowing, doing and being of defined skills (Assess Peel Guides, 2018)

How to make Learning Maps:

Effective Learning Maps are made collaboratively. In order to construct them, it is necessary to engage with departments, teaching teams, instructional leaders and other teacher leaders to co-create consistent Overarching Learning Goals that are achievable for your students. Overarching Learning Goals are stated on the Learning Map and are the general expectations / big ideas taken from the curriculum documents that encompass the learning process and skills that students must develop by the end of the course.

How they are used by teachers and students:

Learning Maps can help inform teachers’ triangulation of evidence among conversations, observations, and products in determining what knowledge and skills have been obtained.

Using a Learning Map and clear Overarching Learning Goals has helped to overcome grade inflation in my French classes because expectations are clearly defined and the onus is on students to demonstrate where their skills fall on the Learning Map.

Students can refer to the Learning Map and can show evidence of learning during conference meetings with the teacher. In my classroom, Overarching Learning Goals are posted on the classroom wall to serve as a reminder for students to reflect on and to make reference to during varying tasks. I ensure that I reference OLGs on all assessments but hone in on specific Learning Goal statements for the learning - knowledge, and skills that students will obtain and develop - that will take place for the particular assessment. Furthermore, I add Success Criteria (co-constructed with students) that will describe how students will successfully achieve Learning Goals. Learning Goals and Success Criteria are found on particular assessments and from evidence collected. LGs and SCs can lead to creating descriptive feedback from teachers and assist in writing report card comments. The best feedback I’ve ever provided has directly quoted and referenced the clearly articulated and co-constructed Success Criteria that I included in the task.

Impact on Learners:

I strongly believe that Learning Maps make assessment more clear so learning becomes more accessible to students. They help students understand what they are expected to learn in the course. I can attest to the fact that students are chasing the learning and not the grade with the increased descriptive feedback-based assessment. I’ve had students say,

“Madame, can you give me feedback on this?” or “How can I improve?”

I’ve also had students use specific language around the Learning Map such as:

“I know where my skills are but also where they could be”;

“The Learning Map helps me know how to stay organized and know where my skills are currently. The stated skills help me to understand what my current skills are and how I can improve. The skills provide a pathway/destination for where I want to be by setting timeline goals for improving skills within an OLG”;

“The statements describe how good we are at an OLG and what the next steps are. Grades don’t tell us how to improve”;

“Place yourself where you believe you’re doing in the class. The Learning Map helps with self-evaluation. The Learning Map helps communicate how you think you’re doing, the teacher checks in, then we can talk about relating that to a number. I like doing it because I know where I am so there are no surprises - I got what I deserved; I expect the result because I talked to the teacher about it; I know how I’m doing in class.”

“I enjoy conferencing with the teacher and talking about where I am on the Learning Map”;

“I’m not stressed in gradeless, I can relax and enjoy the learning”;

“Gradeless is a good idea because the Learning Map helps me see where I am and I can move around. Conferencing helps me set goals and to see where I can improve.”

Sample Learning Map:

The levels listed below can be read as a progression, spectrum or gradient, along which students can move. The statements written under the levels should be read by students in terms of which applies to them and their skills the most accurately.

Grade 9 Academic French - LEARNING MAP

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Adapted from:

The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 to 12, French as a Second Language, Core French, Extended French, French Immersion, 2014.

“Overarching Learning Goals”, “Learning Goals”, “Success Criteria”. Assess Peel Guides. Peel District School Board. 2018.