Wrapping up NeverBore’s first semester

For my final post of 2015, I want to provide updates on a few of the pieces I’ve written this fall. I have enjoyed writing and reflecting on my 20+ years in the classroom, and I look forward to making the blog and website even better in the new year. Thanks for reading!

Re-learning that really works

In this post from October, I wrote about my new “20 Questions” strategy (based on Make it Stick) to help students study and re-learn material. I’m happy to report that this method continues to produce excellent results.

In the original post, I explained the strategy this way:

After tests are handed back, students have the opportunity to review the original test and identify learning objectives they have not yet mastered. Then, their job is to write a new test for themselves, measuring their own understanding of just those objectives, using all open-ended questions.

Students must show me their questions before they answer them, and I help make sure their questions are clear and specific – in other words, answerable. On their own, they take the test, grade it, and bring it in when they are ready for the re-take.

I have used this strategy for four tests now: two in Microeconomics, two in Psychology. Twenty-nine students have done the “20 Questions” activity, and 26 of them have improved their performance. Just one received the same score, and two performed worse.

The overall average (including the students with lower scores) was a 9.9 percentage point improvement. In other words, the typical student who did “20 Questions” improved their score from a 75% on the test to an 85%. One student improved his score by 30%!

I have not been able to run a full trial with a control group and random assignment, but my colleague, Alex Hinseth, has run a limited trial in his 1st and 3rd hour U.S. History classes, which have similar demographics. His 1st hour students used his traditional re-learning method of completing independent assigned work, while his 3rd hour used 20 Questions.

In all, he has had five students re-test in each hour, and the 20 Questions students improved their scores by twice as much as the control group. The average improvement for students using the traditional method was 6.5%, and the average improvement for students using 20 Questions was 13.3%.

In addition, his students reported that they preferred the 20 Questions method and found it more useful.

I’m hoping to gather more data in 2016.

Her math problem? Chronic boredom

In November, I wrote  this post about my cousin’s daughter, who has been killing time every day in her undifferentiated, much too easy 7th grade math class. My cousin sent me an enthusiastic update this week, titled, “They listened!”

After meeting with parents and discussing the research around differentiation, growth mindsets and the importance of challenging all students, the middle school administration has agreed to make significant changes. (To be fair, other parents had already been at work on this — so it wasn’t a 180 degree change in one month.)

A few of the highlights:

  • The teachers are putting a solid differentiation structure in place, including specific scaffolding within classrooms. No more giving kids idle time once they have done the daily work.
  • The school is re-evaluating the performance of current 6th and 7th graders to see if they are ready to move up a grade in math. If 7th graders move up to Algebra mid-year, the teachers will help bring them up to speed on what they have missed.
  • The school is explicitly allowing parents to waive the class placement recommendations (based on the testing). This was already permitted but not communicated to the parents.

I’m glad to see that the parents, teachers and administrators were able to reach a solution. They obviously shared the same goals, which makes problem-solving a lot easier. I’m cautiously optimistic that the implementation will live up to the plans.

Hopefully, Clara will no longer spend 50% of her time “doodling, working ahead, doing homework for other classes or reading.” She and several of her classmates will be working hard to get caught up in Algebra and prepare for Honors Geometry at the high school next year.

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