Sunday Panel: Assessment Review Strategies

What is your best review strategy for exams and other assessments?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom: I have students make the review sheet. The class period before review day, I ask students to write a few pointers. I add those to my review lesson (incorporate them somehow, even if they were already on my notes) and emphasize that that is what a student brought to the review.


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 Ellen Weber:
One review strategy my students enjoy most involves a flip from verbal-linguistic intelligence where words abound, to engage their visual-spatial intelligence where images thrive.

Here’s how it works. They sketch ideas facts or numbers into simple pictures as they review for the test. These can be very rough drafts for less artistic learners. Students ensure their images remind them of key facts they wish to remember for a test and can share these with a peer as part of the review process.

Once the test begins – they re-sketch their rough draft from memory onto the test (or question) paper. Now they refer to it as a trusty guide to write related facts into test answers. It’s a fun way to remember and it offers a valid cheat sheet to assist the brain, by simply outsourcing facts to be easily remembered.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
Depending on the type of assessment, I have a variety of review strategies. Often I will play games before students take their vocabulary tests, which we have every two weeks. Sometimes we play bingo. It’s easy because I just give the students a blank bingo board to fill with their vocabulary words in any random order. Then I read definitions, synonyms, and antonyms and they just mark their board with whatever symbol (star, smiley face, etc.) we have chosen. We usually do several games.

If I have more time, I will play a game of Vocabulary Baseball with my students. I post bases around the classroom so that students can move to the appropriate base when they advance. I divide the class into two teams and they choose a “batting” order. As each “batter” has a turn, he or she chooses a single, double, triple, or home run after I have chosen a random vocabulary word. The student is required to give a definition, synonym, antonym, or use the word correctly in a sentence depending on the challenge he or she has selected. As each new batter has a turn, teammates advance one another around the bases to score. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins.

No matter what game we play, students are usually engaged and the practice helps them to be successful on their tests!

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Jackie, Room 213: When I assess my students, I want them to do more than regurgitate facts, so exam review needs to be about much more than simple memorization.  I expect them to understand the ideas presented in their texts, so they can use higher order thinking skills to apply and synthesize their knowledge.  I also want them to be able to demonstrate the skills they have learned and honed through-out the semester.  In short, I don’t have a traditional exam review, where I lay out all that I want them to “know” for the exam.  We focus on a series of activities that remind them of the important elements of our texts, and of the skills they have learned. These activities also activate the thinking skills they will need to do well on the assessment.


Low Tech, High Engagement Review

Students often enjoy reviewing games.  With cell phones, SmartBoards and clickers, there are a lot of new ways to add instantly visible reveiew results.  But not all classrooms have these luxuries– it’s a luxury in my room to have chalk for the chalk board.  Luckily, there are still some low-tech options available to keep engagement high during review.

WhiteboardsOne of the best investments I made for my classroom is a set of 8×10 white boards.  I purchased mine from a local Michigan company because The Markerboard People specialized in student boards (And I like to support local, small companies.)  They also have math, music, and specialized boards along with the plain classroom boards.  You can also turn any laminated paper or page protector into a dry erase surface– knowing my students, I opted for these purchased boards.  They’re one piece– nothing to pick at and nothing to break off if dropped.  (I did still put my name on the backs… and a few students were tempted by the opportunity to alter the surname Dickson, as only high school students will.)  Plus, I loved the little durable felt erasers.  To stretch my budget just a bit more, I bought so-called “Scratch and dents” which had no flaws I could detect.

Student answers

Showing their answers (using my first set of cheap, clearance boards from the store. Those boards fell apart in a few weeks, but my good boards are on 8+ years!)

So, marker boards in hand, I set out to create a review game.  Since the whiteboards are blank, I could conceivably have any type of answer written on the board.  Short answer, order of events (such as history), conclusions, or even grammar review.  Students could write however little or much was needed.  These could be used in class discussions to engage students uncomfortable with speaking before the class or practice work that doesn’t need to be submitted.  Lots of options for dry erase in the classroom, not limited to review games.

The next problem I had to tackle was the issue of speed.  Not all students think fast under pressure or in competition.  I wanted to give all students who would get the correct answers a chance to think and to get credit/ points for their efforts.  In my whiteboard review games students (or, more frequently, small groups) were not racing to get the answer first, but working to get the right answer.  When all answers were ready, students held their boards up for review and scoring.  There was still some competition to drive students to get the right answer, even if it took longer– hearing groups debate their readings and studies was always great, from a teacher-point of view.

Scoring the groups

They wanted to take a picture of me, since I had taken pictures of them. Only fair, I suppose.

At the end, the winning group or groups could choose between candy or extra credit points.  But most importantly, they could use that review on their short quizzes.  Students who paid attention to the review game, including when I reviewed answers, could score very well on their quizzes– along with greater retention overall.

Engagement doesn’t need to be digital or high-tech.  It just needs to have students actively participating.  And that is worth the investment.

CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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2014 Holiday Blog Hop


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In the spirit of “Faulkner’s Fast Five,” here are five thoughts for this holiday season…

1. On my holiday bucket list: Read a good book! When I went to the NCTE Annual Conference recently, several people recommended “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I’m not sure I can even wait for our winter break to start reading!

2. Here’s a special tradition: We always join our friends and family in a Shuvunda (a gift you “shove under” the bed because you can’t take it back) gift exchange! Much like a White Elephant gift exchange, we always enjoy laughing at the gifts. One of my favorites was A Christmas Story Leg Lamp!

3. Need a gift idea? I love giving presents that keep giving back. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital sells beautiful ornaments that make great stocking stuffers or unique gifts for colleagues. I always get one for our tree, too, and each year when we decorate, I’m reminded of the patients who inspired the artwork on the ornaments.


4.My students love: Every year I create a holiday “gift book exchange.” I tell my students to find a gently used book or inexpensive new novel, and they bring in beautifully wrapped presents to share. It also helps me ensure that they read when they’re on vacation!


5. Finally, a gift for you: Recently I used these Free Analyzing an Argument Task Cards with my American Literature students. I numbered each card and distributed them to my students with their different abilities in mind. Each student completed his or task individually, but then the students met in groups (based on numbers) to discuss their analysis of Patrick Henry’s argument in “The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention.” Enjoy!

Thanks for “hopping” over to Cross Curricular Corner and celebrating the holidays with us!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel

How do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: Collaborative learning, as we know, can be hugely beneficial, but have disadvantages as well. We know that students can take advantage of others, intentionally or not intentionally, and may not get the full benefit of the learning experience. However, they can also benefit from learning from each other, and from speaking and listening to the key vocabulary terms and concepts. Additionally, students need to have the chance to learn social skills and to practice positive, productive interactions with peers. The benefits of collaborative learning outweigh the negatives, if used carefully.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: The advantage is the ability for students to collaborate. It can cut down on off-topic chatter that interferes with work, while allowing students to learn with and from each other. It can make learning more active and engaging…

Assuming that students are actually working collaboratively. The downside is when group work is uneven in distribution– one or more students doing the work of remaining members. A truly student-led, open collaborative project is almost always, in my experience as student and teacher, going to have at least one student not pulling their weight (which also penalizes the others). I’ve even had students cover for others when each has assigned roles.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures: Students typically groan when I announce that I am having them participate in a group project. However, I get them to be a bit more on board when I explain my reasoning. The truth of the matter is, working collaboratively in groups is a life skill. When thinking about the CCSS we are supposed to make our students College and Career ready. In both environments students must work with others to accomplish tasks. Learning how to successfully navigate group work will make them a more employable and successful person later in life.


My Favorite Cooperative Learning Structures

There are so many different cooperative learning structures that you can use in your classroom. It’s all about what you want to get from your students and how you want them to interact.

Here are some of my favorites:
Brosseau - Kagan Book
Why it’s great: It is a very quick way to make partners, and then groups of four, and it allows students to move.
How to do it: All students stand up, put their hands up and mix around the room to find a partner where they pair up. Use a fist bump or high-five to indicate that they are partners. Hands go down when the student has a partner so that the partner-less students are easily identifiable.

Why it’s great: Students can use this to review, but I love it for practicing presentations.
How to do it: Form two circles with an equal number of students – use StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to form partners and have one be on the inside and the other on the outside of the circle. Students share their presentation (or answer to a question) then have the non-presenting student give feedback. Switch presenters and then rotate the inside circle (by one student or multiple students if you really want to mix things up)!

Why it’s great: 100% engagement all the time!
How to do it: Have the students create review questions on index cards, include the answer too. Start with StandUp-HandUp-PairUp and have the students quiz each other, explaining the answer if they student got it incorrect. Swap cards and it’s back to StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to find new partners. If you have an odd number of students, you can join in the fun too!

One Stray
Why it’s great: Students become confident in an idea or opinion, then one gets to shine as they travel to another group to share those ideas and opinions. It is also much more organized than having a bunch of different group members meet up.
How to do it: In your groups of four, pose a question, have the students number off and discuss the topic. Be sure to let the students know that they will need a good understanding. Pick a number and have that number become a “travelling star” – other groups will have to entice the stars to come sit with them. There, they share the ideas from their groups and can bring new information back to their home group.

I love Kagan structures! Dr. Spencer Kagan was the one to introduce me to these cooperative learning structures at GLACIE in Toronto. Dr. Vern Minor solidified my love for them at the same conference the following year. I don’t get paid to say that (I wish!), but if you are looking for one conference, or one resource to get you’ve got to check out

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Getting Started with Structures

The backbone of cooperative learning is the structure that is in place. Just saying, “discuss with your group…” doesn’t work effectively until those structures are in place. But first, it is important to look at the physical space and the initiation of the structure.

Brosseau - Seating Ticket
I like to group my students in fours. 4 people is nice because you can have a range of skills, a difference in abilities, strengths, weaknesses, genders, heights, etc. I choose heterogeneous groups. And yes, I choose them. I certainly take into account some personal preference and offer the students a little form to fill out. I wouldn’t want exes sitting together with the high school drama that goes on. I meet my needs first for heterogeneous groups before I consider their preferences. Once the semester is well established I use a ranked class list to help the groups have a wider range of abilities.

Brosseau - Classroom1In terms of physical arrangement. I have tables and raised counters (lab bench) seating in my classroom. Most of the tables are set-up in a way that the students face each other, but the seam of the two tables is directed at the front of the room where I start the class and where the projector screen is. This works for the majority of my students.

Due to the configuration of my classroom, I have two rows at the front each with two tables. This works great for students who tend to get distracted and for students with poor eye-sight as it is at the front of the class.

The lab benches are used for seating if I have a large class or if groups need a new environment. They have stools on either side. Stools make it easier for students to move around the classroom.
Brosseau - Classroom2
Initiating Cooperative Learning
There are so many ways that you can order the students to help initiate the structure so there is no, “you go first.” “No, you go first!”
Numbering the students is easy, but you can have them number themselves. That takes only a few seconds. I always like to ask, “Where are my Ones? Where are my Twos? My Threes?” and then add “let’s start with Fours!” so they don’t think it necessarily is the order that we will go in.
Smallest to Tallest, or “closest to the ground” is a nice one because it is quick to see. However, if you want to avoid physical identifiers, how about getting the students to know one another better:
-Who has the most pets is number 1
-The youngest is number 1
-Whoever had the longest trip to school this morning is number 1
Those are just a few ideas, but if you can spare a minute or two you can build some relationships in those moments that students get to share a little bit about themselves.

Keep a timer in your room to keep track of how long interaction is going on. You want to offer each student a fair amount of time and not have anyone feel as if you cut them off too soon. Use the clock, or an online timer like this one:

Stay tuned to Cross Curricular Corner for some Cooperative Learning structures you can use in your next class!

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Sunday Panel: Assessments for Group Work

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I tend not to count group projects for a large grade, but for smaller classwork grades. On a small project I will grade the final product. In other cases, I will put three grades together (1) a participation/effort grade based on my observations during their work (2) a grade on the final product, (3) a teamwork grade or peer grade that their group completes. I may use something like this, or change it to fit the particular project.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I include both true group parts (like assembling a group poster board) and individual parts to a collaborative project.  The weight of the individual parts is greater than the group portion, so the assessment is largely based on their individual work– but they can still collaborate in the process and help each other with the individual parts. I’ve used group assessments, where students rate their own contributions, with limited success– my students are so keen on covering for each other (or at least not “narcing” each other out) that they’ll insist that a student contributed, even if said student slept, was absent, or clearly did nothing.  Including my own assessment with theirs helps a bit with this, as they do their work in class, allowing me to see who is working and who is not, generally.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I structure group assignments in a way that everyone must do an individual aspect and then they must work together to assemble a larger piece. This keeps everyone accountable for their own work. I also have students self asses and peer asses themselves throughout the project. I can compare what a student feels he/she did to contribute with what his/her peers think he/she did to contribute and assign participation points that way.