The Gift of Inner Knowing

Dec 31st, 2010 | By | Category: Thoughts

At the beginning of July, 2010, I spent a week with a group of educators from Ontario Canada – what an enriching and inspiring experience! We were there as Performance Learning Systems (PLS) instructors to share and learn more about collaborative inquiry, differentiated instruction and classroom management. When a group of experienced and passionate educators gather, discussions are never limited to the specific topics on the agenda . . . and such was the case at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario.

Much of the discussion in the sessions and beyond involved teaching and assessment. To a person, the consensus was that real change needs to happen in education in Canada and the US in the ways we engage students in learning and in the ways we assess their learning. For our students to survive and thrive in a global society, more emphasis needs to be placed on thinking vs. regurgitation of information . . . and the assessment of thinking needs to move beyond “paper & pencil” methods.

A traditional teacher role has been to impart knowledge as the expert and to have students parrot back information as “proof” of their learning . . . usually in “paper-pencil” assessments which yield “marks” or “grades”. The teaching of information, driven by the curriculum and specific subject area content, has been more one-sided than collaborative, with the result that many students do not purposefully experience metacognition (thinking about their thinking).

Students can and do learn information through traditional verbal-linguistic teaching. When the balance is tipped more heavily toward information regurgitation, thinking about thinking is limited, and the  benefits of education do not play out as intended. In looking at the big picture, it is logical to wonder whether our students are learning about their own learning . . . and more important, do they have ownership of that learning as a result of knowing about their thinking?

How do we, as educators, facilitate greater student ownership of their learning and how do we provide an environment that fosters metacognition – the “inner knowing” of thinking?

A few ideas that were bandied about are listed below:

  • Use portfolios of student work as “proof” of learning and having students debrief about their work and the quality of their work with teachers
  • Structure parent conferences so that the students lead the conference, talk about their work, and give their own assessment and rating about the quality
  • Post rubrics and examples of work for each rubric rating so that students can decide what quality of work they wish to turn in
  • Recognize a student’s effort and thinking vs. how “correct” their answer was. Value their thinking by noticing even the smallest element of connection and appreciate that connection with words that communicate the recognition.

Adding to this line of discussion is a collection of thoughts from Chick Moorman, author of Spirit Whisperers – Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit.

  • Resist the habit of making judgment statements, such as “good answer”, “good job”, “not quite” or “no that’s not it” – these are all evaluative and (according to Moorman) do little to help students develop an internal sense of self worth and to become their own source of encouragement and motivation. Even evaluative praise (example – “good answer”) does little other than provide an outside source of “goodness”- there is no teaching in evaluative praise – only evaluation.
  • Use descriptive praise and appreciative praise – informatory praise statements affirm and appreciate efforts and actions. An example of descriptive praise would be “you got 16 out of 18 and showed all your work” (pg 42). Appreciative praise expresses appreciation – for example, “I appreciate your cooperation with the substitute teacher yesterday. It makes me look like I’m doing my job. Thanks.” (pg 43). “Both types of praise allow the students to draw their own conclusions and make evaluations about what they did.” (pg 44). As long as teachers respond with judgments vs. informatory praise, students are not given the chance to make their own assessment on the quality of their answers.
  • Use debriefing. Moorman defines debriefing as “an opportunity to help students look at their behaviors and the impact those behaviors so they can learn from them” (pg 62).  He goes on to quote John Dewey, who said, “You don’t learn from your experience. You learn from processing your experience.” Moorman then adds “debriefing begins with an experience . . .  then reflection by thinking, talking and writing about it (pg 63). Debriefing approaches the issues of respect and responsibility by drawing from the inside out rather than by attempting to work from the outside in” (pg 65).

Teaching should provide opportunities for students to learn, to learn about their learning, to think about their thinking, to develop a sense of respect & responsibility, and to establish an internal standard of self appraisal. When “best practices” include the ideas and suggestions mentioned above, there is a greater chance for students to develop the metacognition skills that lead to ownership of their learning and the “inner knowing” of self appraisal.


Moorman, C. (2001). Spirit Whisperers – Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit. Merrill, MI: Personal Power Press

© 2010  Dave Krupke  All Rights Reserved

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One Comment to “The Gift of Inner Knowing”

  1. Debra Jeske says:

    I like this approach of not giving a judgment.

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