One of my favourite ways to gather assessment is through thinking prompts. I love it because it gives me a quick snapshot of a child’s thinking at that moment. At the beginning of my teaching career, I used to use exit cards to determine whether or not students could understand a concept. Asking them to answer a question or to complete a parallel task were the common types of exit cards I used. As I started to reflect on my teaching practice and student learning, I felt this type of assessment had a certain finality to it. I was trying to find out what the students retained from lessons, but this didn’t leave a lot of room for student voice and reflection. These types of questions seemed content focused. As I became more interested in having students think reflectively about their own learning, I began to change the questions I used and while it took some time and a lot of modelling, these prompts became an important part of assessment that informed my own practice.

Reflecting on Learning Styles

Some thinking prompts help to elicit responses about students’ learning styles. They can be a great tool to arm students with the vocabulary and knowledge to advocate for their identities as learners. I always found this strategy most helpful in meeting student needs, honouring their voices, and being able to help make learning accessible for them. At the beginning of each year, I would begin by sharing about my own learning style with students. For example, I am a slow thinker so I need process time. I am a visual learner and like to learn by seeing things in math. If music with lyrics is playing, I get distracted easily. Sharing these examples empowers students with the knowledge that not everyone learns the same way and it’s okay to need different spaces or accommodations when we are learning something new. Prompts that help students to consider their own learning styles may include, “I could focus or learn better when….” or “I find it was easier to (use ……. strategy) because…..”

A few years ago in a grade four class, we were working on exploring sound. After designing and building musical instruments, I asked the students to finish the sentence, “I could focus on building my instrument better when…” The answers ranged from students who liked frequent check-ins with me through their progress, to those who worked better when they could talk with their friends, to others who liked being able to draw out their design before building. It was interesting for me, as the educator, to be able to see the variety of conditions the students wanted to do their best work. I used the information gathered from those exit cards to prepare for our next experiment and organized spaces in the classroom where students could choose to work based on their reflections.

A Change In Thinking

Sometimes I choose certain sentence starters when I want to encourage reflective thought. It allows me to see where the students’ thinking started and also asks them to reflect on their learning. In my classes, it usually takes some practice and modelling to use these prompts effectively. I would model my own thinking out loud for students during large group discussion. While reading aloud, I would often pause and explain how something changed my mind about a character or prediction and emphasize that when we have new information, our ideas may change. My favourite thinking prompts that encourage this type of response include, “At first I (thought)…. Now I (think)….because…” or “My thinking shifted when….”

I have found this opportunity for reflection gives students a chance to really engage reflectively in their learning and also provides valuable information for me. One year, we had worked with different representations of fractions and I had asked students to think about the prompt, “At first I thought…. Now I think… because….” One of the students shared the idea, “At first I thought fractions looked like pizza, now I think fractions look like linking cubes because the cubes are the same size and pizza slices are not always the same size.” This was far more interesting to me. In the past, I might have asked students to draw a representation of a few different fractions and looked at which representation they might use. With this response, I could see which manipulative was most influential to shift their thinking. I could also see they understood that fractions should be equal parts of a whole. As feedback for me, I could see the representation that helped to build their understanding and I could use that to inform future lessons.

When I think back to being a student, I wonder how I would have responded if I had been asked those reflective questions as a student myself. Would it have still taken me until university before I knew more about my learning style? Would it have changed my relationship with teachers to know that they really cared about what I thought and how I learned? What I love about these thinking prompts are that there is no definitive right or wrong answer; all the answers encourage students to know that I care about their learning, their thinking, and their ideas and that getting the right answer isn’t the most important thing to me. And maybe that’s the real lesson I want them to learn.


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