Assessing health skills can be a challenge and todays teachers are rising to that challenge, creating authentic and meaningful opportunities for students to practice and reflect upon their health behaviors. Sarah Chap is one such teacher, and in this weeks blog post she shares her journey towards creating an assessment for the health skill of self-management. Modeling best practice she also reflects upon her work and identifies ways in which she hopes to improve her self-care project next time around. I urge you to check out Sarah’s free downloadable resources and share your feedback online.
Hi there! I’m glad to be able to share this Self Management assessment with you. I originally got the idea for this project from a colleague in Vermont named Louise Deguise. She had done something similar with her middle school students and when she shared her “Stress Self-Care Plan” with me at a Health Educator PLC hosted by the Vermont Agency of Education in the fall of 2019, I loved the idea and decided to take it on in my high school classroom.
I find Self Management to be a difficult standard to authentically assess. How do I assess students demonstrating healthy habits in their lives (NHES 7.12.2 and 7.12.3) when I won’t necessarily be there to witness it? And how do I assess NHES 7.12.1 – which asks students to analyze their personal responsibility for enhancing their health – without prompting vague and humoring responses like, “I have learned soooooo much from this unit and I know I will use it to manage all of my stress for the rest of my life.” I aim to assess student skills in as authentic a way as possible which, of course, is one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs as health educators. To create an assessment task, I think, if I were to show someone how skilled I am in this standard, what would I be able to show them? When I think about managing my own mental health, I think about the habits that I’ve adopted to keep myself calm and under control, the strategies I use when I notice that I am feeling overwhelmed, and the people and resources I seek out when I don’t feel I can manage on my own. Is there a clear and concise way of demonstrating that to another person? Not exactly, and it might look different depending on the person, right? Knowing this, how do I possibly ask my students to show me this skill?!
For starters, it’s important to keep in mind that Self Management is a skill that takes time to develop. It is one of my final units in my semester long course. We take this on after mastering all of the other standards which are necessary to be able to manage one’s health – accessing valid and reliable information about health topics, analyzing how our behaviors are influenced, communicating effectively to others, making health enhancing decisions, and setting goals toward health improvement. After mastering these skills, we can use them to begin considering how to create habits for better health, which is what Self Management is all about.
Side note: Another reason why I teach this unit toward the end of the course is because most students are experiencing stress from the looming deadlines of the semester coming to a close. Again: I want this to be an authentic and meaningful experience for them! I could fabricate a situation as an attempt to induce stress, but the end of the term is a universally stressful event for almost all students so I take advantage of that for the purpose of context and my students get help managing their stress in healthy ways during the most stressful time of the school year. A win-win!
To roll out this unit, I first do a brief review of stress and the stress response. I always try to garner at the beginning of the unit how much stress students think they experience, what events or situations cause the most stress for them, and what they currently do (healthy or not) to try to cope. I can use this information to tailor the upcoming lessons where they will have opportunities to sample a variety of stress management techniques. If no one in class mentions breathing techniques as a strategy, I am sure to include that in our next few lessons. If many say that algebra tests are stressful, I can teach some techniques that can be done at their desk to quickly soothe their emotions. I love this unit because it exposes students to a bunch of healthy coping strategies within the walls of the classroom – meditation, napping, healthy snacking, prioritizing tasks, organizing school materials, talking about their feelings, using stress balls, walking/moving, having a cup of tea, massaging tension points, making art, etc – and then students are encouraged to apply some of those techniques outside of the classroom and reflect on the impact each strategy has for them (I ask them to record what they test out using a simple tracking journal using Google Docs). By the end of the unit, students hopefully have a variety of strategies which they can use in their own lives to manage their stress in healthy ways.
So now, how to assess their skill? I could just use the evidence from the tracking journal or ask students to reflect and write about their experience. That would suffice but my students would not be excited about that task (and, frankly, I would not be excited to read their writing!). One thing Louise did which I wanted to be sure to continue was to make this project about more than just students saying they use yoga, coloring pages, tea, or deep breathing when they feel stressed. Those could all be valuable stress reduction techniques, don’t get me wrong, but what about when stress, anxiety, or depression is more than a student can handle themselves? This year, I incorporated much more mental health education into this unit, specifically around suicide prevention, and tried to tie that into this final project without losing the focus on habits for personal emotional health management. To this end, I asked students to identify who they can reach out to for support, which national or online resources they would access, and reminders to themselves about why they believe their life is worth living (in their final reflections, so many students said that they were most proud of what they had written for their reasons why life is worth living). Though only a small piece of this entire project, I think adding these elements helped connect why it’s so vital that we all develop strategies and habits for maintaining our emotional health and what we can do if we find that we or a loved one needs extra support.
And what about that first performance indicator (NHES 7.12.1)? How can I elicit student analysis of the role they play in staying emotionally well? Remember the realization I had earlier? About Self Management looking different for different people? This is where I decided to have my students get a little crafty and make their projects into something more meaningful than just a graphic organizer. The major project that students must create is a personalized and interactive tool which reflects their unique needs in moments of stress. By designing a personalized tool to access their stress coping skills and resources, students have a chance to internalize this skill a bit and reflect on what they personally need when they are overwhelmed by uncomfortable emotions. As in most educational endeavors of value, the end product which students create isn’t really the point. Students will realize that what does matter is their self-awareness and deep reflection on the process they went through to design their tool. It’s possible that students might work excitedly from the beginning under the assumption that they have created the “perfect” tool for themselves, only to finish it and realize that it’s not as helpful as they thought it would be. Never fear, students! Taking the chance to reflect on how they came to discover that this tool won’t work for them and what they would do differently if given the chance, allows them to show that they can analyze themselves well enough to be mindful of their emotional needs. I received much more insightful responses than I think I would have if I had just assigned them the task of writing a reflective essay based on their tracking journal.
With that background info laid out, here are the materials I presented to students for the assessment:
- Stress Self-Care Tool Project Directions & Steps: These directions lay out the overall idea for the project and the steps that students will need to follow.
- Step 1: Graphic Organizer: This document details the required elements that must be included within their tool and helps students put all of their ideas in one place.
- Step 2: Directions for Creating your Personalized and Interactive Self-Care Tool: I really want students to choose the tool that reflects themselves though without some ideas, some students are paralyzed by the unknown. I’m always adding more ideas based on student feedback.
- Step 3: Final Self-Assessment and Reflection: Because I’m really curious about the process students went through and the discoveries they made along the way, these reflection questions and self-assessment are vital to my scoring. Reflection is a skill that needs to be developed and by this point in the semester, my students know what to expect and (usually) take the time to introspect.
When I surveyed students at the end of the semester, ALL responses mentioned this unit as their favorite. That’s no surprise as they literally got a chance to nap in class one day! However, when I consider the high level of engagement and student ownership over their creations, I really couldn’t be happier with my first attempt with this project.
There are a few things I will likely adjust for next time: Firstly, I’m always tweaking and refining my proficiency scales and have recently started using the “same-verb” scale approach which I learned about through a proficiency based instruction course I took last fall. I think there are ways to improve the clarity of the language used in my scale and make it more student-friendly. Secondly, while I think this assessment task is more engaging and relevant than just a tracking journal or reflective writing assignment, I would like to better ensure that habit building is really taking place. And finally, since the verb of standard 7 is demonstrate, I would love to include a requirement that students submit evidence of themselves actually demonstrating the stress management skills they identify. For now, their use of the tracking journals provides evidence that they attempted techniques and I keep track of students who participate in various strategies within my lessons. In addition, I also trust students when they say they tried a strategy and can discuss its impacts meaningfully. I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate more tangible evidence within this task without taking away from the meaning behind the tool.
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