Thursday, June 13, 2019

What If I Show All the Answers?

A slight tweak that seems to be making a difference these days is showing my students everything - all the answers, all the solutions, to an assignment just before it's due. About a day before it's due actually.

The Problem with the old follow up:

I used to show the solutions (beautiful colourful step-by-step solutions mind you -  I am an artist you know) after handing back the assignments, making sure to point out common errors, subtle details that may have been missed, how their work should look etc and it seemed for the most part to go over like a lead balloon. And I was pretty sure that almost no one was going back to correct their work, or to figure out where they went wrong, or at the very least to inform themselves of what the right procedure/answer was. The only person doing any follow-up was me.

What was it about follow-up that was so not worth it from their point of view? Well, for one thing, I could tell that as soon as they got their assignments back with their mark on it, it was ancient history. It's got a mark, it's over, not much I can do about it now. Also, it takes a lot of discipline to redo something. It's a lot easier to assume - well I know better now, I'm sure I'll do better next time. I could have, of course, asked them to re-submit, or to do some kind of reflective writing, but then it would be ANOTHER thing that I'd have to chase kids for. Nevertheless, I needed to do something, because I kept seeing the same mistakes on subsequent tests that I'd seen on the formative assignments.

And I was really miffed that my beautiful work wasn't getting any attention. For its beauty or for its math.

SO on a whim last week, the day before an assignment was due, I made the full step-by-step solutions available, and asked them to do their own corrections BEFORE handing in their assignment. I still planned to do the corrections myself ( I wasn't trying to offload my job to them!) but I wanted to make sure they were actually looking at the solutions. And they did. Because now, before handing it in and ending their participation, everyone had a stake in looking at the solutions now - those that were feeling pretty sure of their work as well as those who weren't.

I added a 4th marking criterion - there had to be evidence that they had corrected their work, like check marks, or x's, and the correct procedure and answer as needed. I told them the important thing was that by the time they handed it in to me, they knew what they knew, and what they didn't know.

Here are a few samples of what I received:

All checks

Mistakes detected and corrected

A note-to-self

Visible learning, imho

Self assessment!

A few things I noticed:
  • A lot fewer no-shows. Almost everyone got this in on time.
  • Some students switched to a different coloured writing implement when they switched to correction mode. I like that - I'm going to insist on that next time. It makes it easier for me to distinguish, and I like the idea of a concrete gesture to signify a new stage of working, a new way of thinking.
  • This time, when there weren't any questions, I wasn't worried about what that meant -  I knew where they were, and I knew that THEY knew where they were.
Next assignment:

SO I did something similar for the next assignment, which, because it was much longer and more complex. I didn't think it was fair to ask them to correct. Nevertheless I did make the solutions available before the due date, in a more gradual fashion, that is, at first only within the classroom, as they were working, and only as needed. I helped kids individually, and of course first asked them to show me what they had already done.  I then made the solutions fully available at our LMS the day before the due date. Naturally I wanted to diminish the temptation of taking the easy way out and copying.

During the in-class session, and even in between, when I was getting lots of questions via email and twitter, it seemed as though for everyone, being able to confirm, re-interpret, or correct made it all more doable. I heard them answering their own questions - oh I see where I went wrong, or oh find the solution set means solve for x - all things that I know I said, or would have said while doing my old follow-up, but which would have fallen on deaf ears. And I got to witness them not only reading the solutions but digesting them in the context of their own path thus far. I got way more questions, and way better questions than I'd ever gotten on the day before an assignment was due. I suspect that for some kids, this was the time when they'd hide from view, not wanting to admit how much they were not able to do on their own. Maybe having the solutions was a license for them to at least try, and then magically, to realize that they actually could do this.

On the due date, I went over the solutions in class one more time. And the response was very different than if this had been the first time they'd seen them - kids noticing all those little things that I'd struggled before to highlight, figuratively and literally with all my beautiful-coloured tools. Or noticing that their way was slightly different than mine, but legitimate anyway. It was a wrap-up that held a lot more meaning, because it felt like the end of a journey we had been on together.

Next year:

I'm so doing this again next year. I already find my worksheets are getting a lot better as a result of being more confident that more kids will do more of them. I think I'll add a reflective component to it. Identify where you went wrong, or what you got right after struggling with it. When did you look at the solutions. Tell me about this journey!