Old habits die hard?

It’s the New Blogger Initiation!  I’ve been promised that there would be no hazing, and for that I’m grateful – remember the original Parent Trap scene where Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills pour maple syrup all over Evil-Step-Mother-To-Be and booby-trap her into her tent so that she wakes up with a bear licking her toes and trapped in a nightmare of twine so she slaps them and runs down the mountain barefoot, screaming, covered in syrup, and wearing her pajamas?!  Of course, she totally deserved it, but still… thank you for your kindness :)

Why yes, Parent Trap was my favorite childhood movie!

Anyway… I’m going with Sam’s third prompt:

3. Talk about one or two specific things you plan on doing differently this year… and how specifically you are going to implement them/get the buy-in. Why do you want to do these things?  (If you are a new teacher, what are two specific things you plan on doing this year?)

So, thanks to MS Math Sunday Funday, I’ve already set some goals for myself, but this prompt got me thinking about a new one.  I want to do better at giving my students timely, useful, productive feedback; I’m a master procrastinator, and I always have been – it’s mostly not a problem, because I’ve gotten so good at it… but it sucks for my students.  It means that sometimes I get them their work back right away (let’s be honest: in this case, sometimes is totally code for occasionally), and other times (read: more often than not), I put things off and they don’t get feedback when it’s most relevant and useful (i.e., right away).

In the past, I’ve found a few strategies that help me stay better on top of getting students feedback while it’s still useful to them.  Perhaps the best one is involving the students in the process.  I know, it kind of sounds like a cop-out, but it’s not, I promise :)  I’ve only used this strategy a few times with tests, but it’s been pretty amazing every time, and I’d like to do more of it this year – maybe even using it with other types of work.  Here’s what it looks like:

—Disclaimer: This reflects my experiences with 5th, 9th, and 10th graders, in independent schools with relatively small classes.

Day 1 – Sarah gives pep talk about why we take tests.  Students recall that their purpose is to “show what we know,” not cause pain or misery :)  Students take test.  Sarah glances them over as she collects them.

Day 2 – Sarah has each student choose a colored pencil, and then make sure the table is otherwise clear (binders and notebooks away, etc).  Sarah hands back tests, completely ungraded, while giving pep talk about how valuable it is to really reflect on our understanding, and what better way to do that then to grade your own test!  Students look concerned.  Sarah smiles on, opening her own version of the test.  “Sally, read us question 1, please” … “So, who feels confident about their answer?” … and so on.

Okay, I’ll pause the scene for a minute to explain that this goes on for awhile – some questions pass quickly because we’re all on the same page, and others pass more slowly as we debate the relative correct-ness of different answers.  If it becomes apparent that a specific student needs more individual discussion of a certain problem, I ask them to follow up with me at the end of class so that we as a group can move on.  Also, I should mention that I don’t do points in my classes.  So when they’re “grading” each question, they’re either putting a check/smiley-face/whatever for “Yes!  Correct!” Or they’re revising their answer and writing themself a note explaining where they went wrong and what the correct answer is.

Day 2, continued – Class finishes going over questions and turns to the last page of the test, which lists each learning goal with a copy of this picture underneath:

For each learning goal, the student looks back over the related test questions and decides which term best describes the understanding they showed.  Finally, they pass tests back to Sarah.

Day 3 – Sarah looks over tests, reads students self-feedback and edits/adds as necessary, and circles the “final grade” for each learning goal.  If it’s not proficient or exceeds, she writes the student a quick note about where they need to focus before re-assessing.  Sarah hands back tests as soon as possible, before they get buried in a pile on her desk.

Okay, so how does it play out?  Most students actually do a great job of honestly assessing themselves!  Out of 2o kids, maybe 2 or 3 of them I’ll really have to spend some time adding feedback to their test because they didn’t do a good job of it, but otherwise, they’re pretty good!  They tend to struggle more with accurately placing themselves on the scale, but I suspect if I I coached them better on it, they’d be more accurate.

I want to use this system a lot more this year – and not just because it forces my hand in terms of getting their tests graded :)  I think it’s really powerful in helping students really consider the questions we’re always telling them to ask themselves:

“What do I know?”          “How do I know I know it?”

 “What am I confused about?”        “What questions do I need to ask to better understand?”

And it definitely beats the alternative: I grade the test, and we go over it in class.  Some kids will look at my feedback as we go over it and ask clarifying questions, others won’t.  Some will even tune out completely as we discuss.  One of the great powers of the student-graded test is that it’s an ACTIVE process – they have to read the question, consider their answer, listen to the class discussion, and evaluate their answer accordingly.  It’s not perfect, and some kids still do a much more thorough job then others, but it’s headed in the right direction!  (And I could definitely do a better job of moving around the room while we’re going over it so that I could redirect students who are not being very productive).

Do students like doing it?  I think it’s a mix – and I’ll have to ask for some feedback of my own this year, but based on what I recall… I think they like the fact that it really does help them know what they know, and what they don’t (and it totally solves the issue of “Oh no! I totally know the answer, I just misunderstood the question!” because we can easily have a discussion about it right then).  They don’t like that it’s hard to do… but that’s (hopefully) because they’re getting so much more out of it!  Of course, it’s also harder for some kids than others, so I need to think about how to better support those kids who really struggle with it – especially when they got the question wrong and are supposed to correct it.

Okay, this post got crazy-long, so I”ll stop now.  Thoughts?  Things you do to make it easier to give timely feedback to your students?

7 thoughts on “Old habits die hard?

  1. Super interesting ideas! Love them because they orient the classes at the start towards the ideas of learning, not points. Great way to set up a positive classroom atmosphere.

    • Thanks, Sam! And of course, thanks for kickstarting this whole new blogger extravaganza… I’ve long struggled to figure out how to make this work for me, and I really appreciate the warm welcome from you and the rest of the “cool kids” :) Now, to figure out how to participate in the twitter conversation…

  2. Some interesting ideas. I really appreciated your disclaimer at the beginning. It’s good to know what environment you have done this in/are doing this in. Although it’s not something I would be able to do in this fashion with my students right now, it does give me some good food for thought. Thanks for sharing!
    –Lisa

    • Thanks, Lisa. I agree, this is definitely something that really depends on having the “right” bunch of students who are ready for it.

  3. Thank you for sharing how you beat your own procrastination! I too am a master procrastinator, and I’m really trying hard to stay on top of everything this year. I really like your ideas, and I think I might try them out in my AP Calc classes this year.

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! (And that I’m not alone in my procrastinatory ways :) If you do try it with your AP Calc class, I’d love to hear how it goes.

  4. Pingback: Sarah Educating - Student graded quiz – take 1

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