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Aurora Institute

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Reining in the Checklist Mindset

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

CircleThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 26, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student autonomy is a philosophical pillar of learner-centered proficiency based learning. Transparency of expectations is another. Learning communities that believe in learner-centered proficiency based learning create tools that are intended to support this transparency and autonomy. Pacing charts, learning maps, capacity matrices and the like are standard in these communities. The intention is to lay out the learning path for students, so that they can progress “at their own pace.”

Unfortunately, many times this intention results in the “checklist mindset.” Students race through activities and targets. ​The goal is completion, a check in the box to show they have finished that target and can move on to the next. ​

Learner tools should, and can, be the heartbeat of learner-centered practices when crafted with the goal of deep learning in mind. Try these suggestions to reign in the checklist mindset:

  1. Turn activities into outcomes: Instead of listing out the activities and tasks you expect students to complete, list out the learning you want them to engage in. So “complete even numbers on page 37” becomes “use the lattice algorithm to multiply single digit numbers.” Give options for how they might demonstrate their learning.
  2. List options for input resources: An input resource is the method of getting information. Videos, readings, lectures, and even hands-on experiences can all be input-resources. Try giving students options for which input resources they use. As the teacher you can require a certain number, or even a particular resource.
  3. Have students compile evidence: Instead of having students turn in absolutely everything they do, put the burden of proof on the students. Challenge students to turn in evidence of foundational knowledge and proficiency level knowledge.

Try any of these strategies alone, or combine all three together. The first time, or few, may be messy. Resist the urge to change it up, or add in so much scaffolding that you have a checklist mentality again. This is about getting students to be more conscious of their learning, not about getting it done.

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Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.