A few years ago I was helping Helen, a teacher at an Organized Binder school, who was swamped by a very large exam she had to grade. I offered to help her record the scores and file some papers while she finished the grading. I overheard her talking to herself while she was grading the tests, “Oh, gosh, she missed that?” and “How did he get that wrong?” As we chatted about the student scores, she wondered aloud how she could move forward with her next unit if the students obviously did not have mastery of the material in the current unit. “There is so much reteaching,” Helen said. “How am I going to fit this in? If I go back and reteach all of these lessons we will never get through the year.”
I think every teacher in the world has struggled with this decision. Although we’ve all found ourselves in Helen’s situation, I believe this scenario in teaching should-and can-become a thing of the distant past.
I asked Helen how she had gone so long without knowing that so many of her students were so confused. She was unsure of how to answer that. Helen assigned nightly homework that reviewed the day’s lesson; she collected the work the next day and graded it meticulously. She then faithfully returned homework to students the following day in class. When Helen handed back their assignments she said, “Be sure to look over the comments I made on your homework. I’ve noted the questions you need to review/redo…etc.” If there were egregious problems, she would use class time to quickly go over the homework and clear up misconceptions before moving on to the next lesson.
I have witnessed this routine in many classrooms, and unfortunately it tends to yield the same results Helen and her students experienced. The issue is multifaceted: we cannot rely on homework as a formative assessment; students pay very little attention to the comments we make on routine homework assignments; reviewing questions that students have already answered-whether correctly or incorrectly-does not help with mastery; and honestly, we cannot rely on students doing their homework in the first place.
One way to resolve this problem: create a daily starting routine in which you authentically reteach students material they learned the previous day in class. Different than simply “reviewing/going over the homework,” this starting routine creates an opportunity to clear up misconceptions each day regardless of whether students did their homework, understood the material, and/or looked at your comments. Moreover, you build a portfolio of standards-based questions with correct answers for students to review and use as exam study materials.
With this safety net in place your students are less likely to fall behind in class. Whether or not students did their homework or were present the previous day, they all have a chance to learn or review the standard/objective from that lesson. In most cases students need this review in order to be successful in class that day.
The teacher who begins class by offering students a review of the previous day’s content not only clears up student misconceptions, they also provide the students a daily opportunity to gain mastery. When this starting routine is consistently practiced in your classroom you will no longer arrive at a unit exam only to discover that your students, even those who had been doing their homework, are still struggling to gain mastery.
Thanks for reading and sharing,