Review Days?

Math Test Easy or Wrong

I was having a discussion with a few of my colleagues today about our upcoming quarterly exams. They’re basically our midterms – we just give them a fancier name. We were talking about the amount of review days (or class periods) that are necessary for students to prepare for these types of summative assessments.

It made me think. I don’t really “review” before big exams. I don’t even regularly review before a unit exam. I definitely have days where students aren’t learning new material. Maybe they’re reinforcing things they have learned previously. Or maybe it’s an extension of a previous lesson. Those aren’t the days I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of traditional review days that aim to refresh students minds before a significant assessment.

Whenever it’s necessary or if I feel the moment is right, sure, I’ll whip out a game to review or have the students speed date to catch each other up. I do these sorts of activities from time to time, but this is infrequent and rarely happens right before an exam.

So why don’t I review before exams?

I want raw, unfiltered data on my students’ understanding. By reviewing just before an exam, I am giving my kids a mental cheat sheet that they can use on the day of the exam. Did they understand the content before we reviewed or because we reviewed? My data is inherently skewed because of our review. But if I test them on a concept that we studied two months ago, yes, I want data on their understanding of that concept without refreshing their memories. I want them to forget a step or two. Or for that matter, I don’t mind if they completely forgot how to start a problem. This is precisely the information that will drive my future planning. Also, those misconceptions are exactly the sorts of things that will help my students do better in the future.

But don’t students want review? I mean, they want to increase the odds of performing well on the assessment and therefore increasing their overall grade in the class, right? I answer that question in two ways. First, there are plenty of instances where I don’t even count an exam towards their overall grade. Yes, I said that. I treat it as a diagnostic and the kids buy into it. I find out where they’re at and they get a (potentially poor) exam that doesn’t count against them. We all win. Second, students will adapt to the no-review-before-an-exam policy. They will meet our expectations. If they know I don’t review before exams, then over time they will prepare/study accordingly. And if at first they don’t, they may complain, but eventually they will come around.

So what to do with that extra time not spent reviewing? I spend that day or two (or three) after a big exam to reteach and reassess what my students had trouble with. It just makes sense. Now, because I looked at the data, I have a pretty good understanding of what they know and don’t know. I can pinpoint how I reteach a particular set of concepts. Often times, I even immediately reassess them on concepts they struggled with. This almost always results in improvement, which only helps to establish a growth mindset. It also helps them understand the method behind the madness of no review days.

I guess all this may count as “review after the test” and I’m good with that. Reviewing before an exam is overrated. Intuitively, as teachers, it makes sense to review before. But I think the more effective strategy is to do so after.

I’m really curious about what others believe about this. How do you incorporate review into your class structure?

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The Quotient ~ 2.9.15

0. The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing. ~Socrates

1. That is probably my favorite quote of all time. It resonates with me so deeply because I’ve realized that every thing I read, write, watch, speak, do, and listen to is but a mere spec on the number line of infinity.

2. Despite confidence in myself and in my abilities in whatever the task at hand is, whether it be teaching complex numbers or overhauling a bottom bracket, inside I always understand that I can be better. There’s always someone or something with knowledge that I don’t have.

3. I have finally begun using exit tickets as they should be used. In other words, I understand their assessment value.

4. I once heard someone say that true innovators and learners engage with people and things that go beyond their area of expertise.

5. Real learners can take a seemingly meaningless or unrelated moment and relate it directly to something that is meaningful to them.

6. Quality over quantity. Always.

7. Being open and willing to accept criticism has taught me that I can be always be better.

8. I’m very excited to begin my (voluntary) intervisitations. I sense an immense amount of growth on the way.

9. Math teachers are always asked to incorporate more reading and writing into their classes. Why aren’t ELA teachers asked to include more mathematics in theirs?

10. If I pray for rain, I better be prepared to deal with the mud too.

11. I need to walk around with small slips of paper (or Post-its) and provide random instant feedback to my students.

12. Video in my classroom. Transparency. Vulnerability. Growth.

13. My standards-based grading has opened up areas of assessment that were simply not available to me before.

14. You have a dream, a goal. Each day, lay down a single brick. Work towards that goal. One at a time, work on perfecting how you lay them. Get better. Eventually you’ll have a great wall. Your goal will be achieved.

15. The wind howls, but the mountain remains still. Stop talking so much. Observe. Listen.

16. Don’t eat the marshmallow.

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My feeble attempt at SBG

This past week I attempted my first unit using standards based grading.

Letting SBG be the driving force of my class was one of my new year’s resolutions. I got much of my inspiration from Frank Noschese, Jonathon Claydon, Jason Buell, Shawn CornallyMichael Ziloto and many other teachers I have met in person and virtually met online.

My motto the first time around was to keep it simple. So I did. Here’s my approach.

Before I thought about SBG, I always broke down my units into distinct concepts using standards. So nothing new here. Next, to help simplify things, I decided to give two smaller exams covering 3-4 concepts instead of one larger exam that would have covered 7 concepts.

For each exam question, I went with a four point scale. Each question is assigned a value between 1-4:

4 = mastery
3 = proficient
2 = developing
1 = needs improvement

For free response questions, this is pretty straight forward. For multiple choice questions, I decided to go with 1 for an incorrect response and 3 for a correct response. There will be at least two questions for each concept and I will average the scores earned. This will provide a final measure that determines their level of understanding for each concept.

My biggest issue was deciding how in the world I was going to keep track of all this. Whatever method I finally land on must be sustainable and practical. Well here’s my system as of now. As I grade the exams, I enter each student’s score for each question into a spreadsheet. (We luckily have a scanner that does this for multiple choice questions.) There’s only 3-4 free response questions, so its not terrible. I have the spreadsheet compute the averages and spit out a final score for every student on each concept. The spreadsheet will serve as my tracking system for each student towards mastery of all the concepts we learn.

Their cumulative score for the entire term will be given by:

SBG Fraction

Now for student ownership of their knowledge. When I hand an exam back, I’ve always provided each one of my students with an individualized report that summarizes their performance. Before, the report contained their overall score, the class average score, etc.

Score Report Old

Now the focus is on what they actually understand (or don’t understand). For SBG I use a simple mail merge to print out a report for each student stating which concept(s) they achieved proficiency/mastery on and which one(s) they need to reassess on.

Score Report New

My next step, which will be a doozy, will be to decide how to maintain and organize my reassessment system. I know I will assign Friday as the one day that will serve as a “Retake Day.” This will be the only day where students are permitted to retake the concepts they need. This will help me stay sane and keep organized. Also, I need to get in the habit of creating retake material for each concept.

Of course this is a work in progress. I’m just glad one of my resolutions is coming to fruition.

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