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Talking About Generation

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
March 18, 2021

“GENERATION has the effect of making the mind more receptive to new learning…What is it? Generation is an attempt to answer a question or solve a problem before being shown the answer or the solution.”

Brown, Reedier, McDaniel, make it stick: The Science of Successful Learning

The Promise of the First Two Minutes of Class

I am a strong believer in hyper explicit learning routines. Whether those be in a classroom, at the dining table, or some hybrid of the two. Students are safer and more successful when they can predict what is going to happen next. I am also a believer that a starting routine ranks high on the list of important learning routines. We can literally make or break our lesson in the first two minutes. Therefore, we need to get our start right. 

Kick-Off Learning

If you have ever attended an Organized Binder workshop you know that one focus of the session is about establishing predictable learning routines. You also know that we spend close to an hour of the 2-3 hour session, focused on the two minutes of time leading up to the start of class, the actual start, and the following two minutes after class begins. We call it the Kick-Off, deliberately, and it is housed for students on their Weekly Lifeline. When implemented as intended, the Kick-Off has the power to save class time, reduce off-task behavior, promote retrieval practice and metacognitive strategies, help students be more successful, allow teachers the opportunity to reteach and clear up misconceptions, build a study guide, and a whole bunch more, which is why we spend so much time focused on the Kick-Off in our trainings. It is almost like a teacher’s magic wand they wield in the classroom to support students while promoting learning and engagement. 

Generation and Learning

But one step in the Kick-Off procedure is key - it is known as generation! This really only applies when the Kick-Off Prompt has a “correct” answer. With interpersonal, interpersonal, and other types of prompts it is not quite as applicable. However, if you prompt students and there is a correct answer be sure to employ generation. I have watched it happen many times in classrooms around the country. The teacher starts class with a review of the previous day's topics. Something like a quick recap while the students listen. This routine is well intended, and it makes sense. Let's quickly remember what we did yesterday before we move on to today's objectives. However, when it comes to learning and retention it is a mistake.

Generation is actually quite easy to employ. Essentially you reveal a prompt to students and let them respond before there is any reteaching or discussion. This is one of the reasons the analog (paper) aspect of Organized Binder is so critical, students physically write down their response - they get it out of their brain and they can see it on paper. Research is clear that allowing students to articulate what they believe to be the correct answer before receiving instruction to correct their misconceptions is effective far more effective that simply reviewing a topic.

Encouraged to be Wrong

By design, the Kick-Off is never a quiz. Rather, the aim is to create a learning environment in which it is okay to respond incorrectly. With Organized Binder, we actually celebrate getting the answer wrong. We also give students daily opportunity to self-assess. They get a moment to perceive where they are on their learning journey toward mastery. The goal of the Kick-Off is for students to engage, that is. It just happens to be a no-stakes formative assessment to better inform the teacher's practice. On the Kick-Off students are free to fail, it is actually encouraged because it is an effective teaching strategy. If we design moments at the beginning of, as well as sprinkled throughout our lessons, for students to articulate what they think is the correct response before we address their misconceptions we help them learn. That is why "success" on the Kick-Off is defined by engagement in the process, not the accuracy of responses. Personally, I like to tell my students as we start class that our class in a no anxiety zone (with a big smile on my face)! You are free and encouraged to get the answer wrong!

How do you start class? What is the routine? What impact has it had on classroom management, or student learning and achievement, or some other aspect of your practice. I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. If you have not tried incorporating generation, give it a go and let me know how it goes.

Be well,


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