Today I did something that I’ve never done in almost 20 years of teaching. It isn’t original – the kids told me that their science teacher does this all the time. But for some reason, today was the first time the idea clicked for me.
We’re taking a quiz on properties and equivalent expressions. For most sixth graders, variables are very abstract and confusing, so combining like terms can be a train wreck. Based on how long they spent on the practice quiz yesterday, I expected the one-page quiz to take all period. However, 10 minutes into the quiz, I could tell it was not even close. I could also tell that there were a lot of mistakes being made. So, inspiration struck, in the form of a blue highlighter.
I told the kids that, contrary to my strict “No one leaves their seat during a quiz or test” policy, they should line up next to my desk when they finished. I quickly scanned their answers, highlighting the problem number on any problem where the answer was incorrect. I did not provide any other feedback. Students then returned to their desks to take another shot at those questions. The next time they turned it in, I took it to grade later.
My hope is that by knowing what they did correctly, they could identify their mistakes. In essence, I was thinking that they could learn from their own correct work and lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We’ll see how effective that was when I sit down to grade them and when we continue studying tomorrow.
There were a lot of factors working in my favor. My largest class is 17 students, so I never had a long line waiting. Students at my private school are extremely well behaved, so there was no talking or pushing in line. Combining like terms is a simple enough topic that I could scan the answers quickly without using an answer key.
The students were a little confused (“You mean then we get a better grade?”) and very appreciative (“You’re the nicest teacher ever!”) I work hard to develop a culture that values learning from mistakes in my classroom. I hope that this is one way my students see my actions speaking as loud as my words.
If you use similar techniques, I would love to hear from you in the comments. I’m sure that there are refinements I could use to make this more effective for my students.