Start with a Blank Canvas

Consider . . .

Yesterday, a student showed me, step-by-step, how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I finished it, but had no idea what I was doing. At times, I just watched what he did and copied his moves without even looking at the cube in my hands. 

When we were finished, I exclaimed, “I did it!”, received a high-five from the student and some other students even applauded. For a moment, I felt like I had accomplished something. That feeling didn’t last long. I asked the class how often they experience what I just did. 

They said, “All the time.”

The Rubik’s Cube experience reminds me of paint-by-numbers.  I can fill-in each numbered section, but the feeling of accomplishment doesn’t last long.  For me, it’s like filling-in the blanks on pre-made notes.

Now consider another type of painting activity.  Ask a group of students to view a finished painting and then design a simple, effective rubric before they make a first stroke . . . on a blank canvas! Afterward, have each student rate themselves according to the rubric.   Maybe even have them confer with one other student about their performance rating.

The act of self-assessment and peer discussion demonstrates retrieval in a way that facilitates learning.  Not only did each person independently rate themselves according to an agreed upon rubric or standard, but they also took a risk to talk to another person about it!

They had learning-based conversations!

It makes me think about the shift from Lesson Planning (or my plan to teach) to my Design for Learning (which includes Assessment As Learning).

Watch this video for another way to design the learning so the kids can describe their own assessments.

Design the learning and let the instruction follow. Syfr Learning’s Principle of Practice is at work here: Design Principle 2.4: Use assessment, including failures, as learning.

For more on Syfr Learning’s Principles of Practice, reach out to me at

This Post Has One Comment

  1. This great information is a reminder of the play based learning of an early childhood classroom!
    Effective teachers of young children design stimulating learning opportunities that invite little learners to jump in to investigate, to create, to interact. Why is it so hard for educators to carry that style forward to the grades?

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