Spreadsheet software allows the user to capture, analyze, and distribute data. The most simple spreadsheets are data tables of numbers. More advanced spreadsheets can relate data to other worksheets, include text, or display as charts. Spreadsheet software enables students to generate different kinds of graphs. This allows them to visually represent information, which can help them identify patterns and make connections to improve learning.
Sixth-graders reflect on and categorize traits of successful learners
Barb Philips has been teaching sixth grade for eight years. Early in the school year she realized how much her students depended on her assessment of their work instead of their own. She wanted them to learn strategies for reflecting on their own work to identify whether they had met the criteria for success. Philips had been using the computer lab weekly for learning projects in content areas, but now she planned to use the computers to document her students' learning growth.
Philips had used the strategy of identifying similarities and differences in math and science to help her students understand content. Now, she considered the value in having students apply them to their own work, using the practices of comparing and contrasting.
She began by having students make a list she called "Characteristics of Successful Students." She described these as skills, behaviors, and practices that help a person be a success in school. She chose not to create a class list first because she wanted each student to reflect and consider what these qualities were at a personal level. She asked the students to write out 25 characteristics.
She noticed that students had included behaviors, as she had hoped, but also categories such as environmental conditions ("rich") and personal qualities ("smart"). She asked students to expand their lists, divide them into subcategories, and make sure that characteristics were similar within each category.
Next, students shared their categories. Philips created a class list on the board. She asked students to describe their thinking, which helped others see new possibilities. Some students ended up with five and six categories as they considered the differences among their characteristics. Many students included content-oriented items such as "can do math problems in their head" and "knows all the state capitals." This opened Philips's eyes to the students" perceptions of success.
Their own definition of a successful learner was what she was after, so student decisionmaking was important. After a few more minutes, she asked the students to create a new list, this time including only behaviors and skills. This helped the students focus their thinking on characteristics that can be changed. Next, Philips asked them to circle those characteristics that best described their own behavior. Her goal was for students to begin to compare their perceptions of themselves with their perceptions of successful students, and identify connections as well as gaps.
Her second lesson occurred in the computer lab. She asked students to use the spreadsheet software to create a chart to compare characteristics of successful learners and themselves since the beginning of the year.
She asked them to title the first column "Successful Learner" and write their earlier list down the column, one characteristic or skill per cell. Then she asked them to rate each behavior as "very important, "useful", or "not as important" on a scale of one to three. She had them figure out their own rating schemes (personalizing their charts with choice of color, font, etc.). This took about 10 minutes as students considered this new layer to add to their scheme.
Finally, Phillips asked her students to use the next column to compare their behaviors in the beginning of the year with what they thought they had accomplished or mastered by this stage. She left the organizing devices up to the individual students, fostering divergent thinking and creativity. Students used different titles, colors, and even symbols and icons as they compared their past and present selves, reflecting on their learning achievements. Throughout the semester Phillips asked students to fill in the next column of the spreadsheet during their time in the computer lab.
At the end of the semester students shared their spreadsheets in student-led parent conferences. The documents generated self-reflection and discussion as students explained their choices and categories, and provided evidence of their awareness of what it takes to be a high achiever.