This week, we’re sharing one teacher’s journey to find tracking systems that work for her high school math class.
When technology and the internet make raw information so readily accessible, we as teachers need to shift our focus from teaching content to teaching student how to learn. One of the important aspects in becoming an independent learner is to be able to think metacognitively. As students work on tracking progress, they should be able to answer questions like:
- How do I learn best?
- What do I understand?
- What is challenging for me?
- How should I prioritize my time so that I am able to learn everything I need to?
Using Data to Set Goals
I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get my students to think about these things. My first attempt was during our review period for precalculus three years ago. This was before I used a self-paced model and this review was my first taste of a self-paced classroom. I gave a practice final to my students in which I indicated what skill each question was asking about. Then, I had the students check their work and color code each question: green= “I got it”, yellow= “with a little review I could get it”, and red= “I don’t remember this at all”.
In this video, one student explains how he used the data to plan his review.
When I started a self-paced class the need for students to track themselves and regularly self assessed became even more important. I was finding it hard to have any closure in a class period because the kids were all working on different things. There was no universal exit ticket I could give, no one learning target that I could hit home really hard in last five minutes. Also, I wanted the students to realize what they accomplished and know where they needed to pick back up. The first thing that I tried was “math journal” which I collected and commented on once a week. At the end of each class, students answered three prompts:
1. The most important thing I realized/learned is…2. What I going to start doing when I sit down next class is…3. A question I am having is…
While I liked the math journals, I found them a bit cumbersome for students, especially english language learners. They didn’t take the journals particularly seriously and rarely wrote any questions that they have. Some students loved them, though and used their journals as a way to communicate with me about fears and anxieties. That was extremely useful. One way that I could have made this work more smoothly would have been to model what a good journal entry should look like, to provide more time at the end of class to work on them, or to collect them more frequently.
In addition to Math Journals I also gave them a type of checklist to help them organize all the aspects of my course. Since they are working at their own pace, it’s important for the to know what they have done and what still need to do. I used something like this for each unit:
Again, while a good idea, I didn’t enforce the use of these enough to ensure success with them. On the other hand, most students were able to keep track of this in their heads so I felt guilty requiring it.
Graphs and Grids
With the hope of streamlining the reflection process I tried one final tactic at the end of the year where I had students specifically focus on gauging their level of understanding on each content standard. I gave them two options: graph or grid. For each option, at the end of each class I asked them to record the date and give themselves a score for where they felt they were in terms of understanding on the standard that they explored that day.
We then looked at their tracking sheets before the test and made observations about which standards were hard, as evidenced by how many days of work they required to get a to a 3. This worked fairly well, but I think part of that was because of my diligent follow-through.
Students tracking their own progress is not just a way to stay sane in a self paced room and it doesn’t only help them to improve their metacognitive skills. It actually helps them to learn the content! Research from Fuchs and Fuchs shows that visual displays of student progress enhance achievement (1). The results of this study and others are summarized in a short article from Robert Marzano linked below (2).
This year, I am looking for a hybrid approach to those I have taken in the past. I want it to consist of calendars, math journal style reflection and reflection on mastery of content. I haven’t developed my tool yet but I’m brainstorming and I’ll share it when it’s ready!
1 Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (1986). Effects of systematic formative evaluation: A metaanalysis. Exceptional Children, 53(3), 199–208.