Thursday, March 13, 2014

Holding students accountable for reading

In the courses I teach, students are typically responsible for reading and thinking about the reading before coming to class. I've had conversations with several colleagues about ways to hold students accountable for doing the reading and, more importantly, for thinking about the reading so that they're prepared to interact with the ideas during class. Some folks prefer to give quizzes on assigned readings to hold students accountable. My preference is to design learning experiences that require students to apply their thoughts from the reading. There are a lot of ways to do this. In my experience, when students know that they're expected to collaborate with their peers and share their thinking during class, they are more likely to be prepared for that work by engaging with the reading before class. In this way, students' peers hold them accountable for thinking about the reading, not me. Below are a few strategies for holding students accountable for reading, for thinking about the reading, and for coming to class prepared to engage with their peers.

Speed Dating

Speed dating allows students to interact with several peers in a short amount of time. Students talk for a short time (1 or 2 minutes) with a classmate, typically in response to a question or set of questions. After the specified time period has passed, students rotate and have a conversation with another peer. Sometimes the questions for each dating round remain the same, but sometimes I'll post a different question or set of questions for each round. Last week in my assessment course, students went through three rounds of speed dating. During each round, there was a different question or set of questions to guide the conversation. Those questions are below.

Gallery Walk

A gallery walk can take many different forms but is typically structured so that students work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas and display them for the class. Groups then move around the room (or explore different displays on their devices) to review ideas that were shared by their classmates. I like to incorporate peer feedback by asking students to leave comments on other groups' displays. Again, in a relatively short amount of time, students have the opportunity to interact with their peers and learn from multiple perspectives. Today, I used the Educreations app for a mid-term gallery walk, asking students to reflect on topics we've focused on for the first half of the semester.


I use Triptico often to engage students in a game-based review of the reading. Triptico is one of the only web tools I've actually purchased the premium account for, and I'm glad I did. Triptico makes it easy to build interactive games to review important content. In addition to game-like activities, Triptico also includes cool timers, task cards, spinners, and quizzes. Below are a couple of examples of Triptico activities I've used recently.

RAFTs, Menus, and Choice Boards

I believe that it's extremely important that teacher educators model effective instructional practices, such as differentiation, in their coursework. Rather than simply telling students that they need to differentiate learning opportunities for students, I model that for my own students. RAFTs, choice boards, and menus are some tools I use often in order to give students choice. Below is a RAFT I used with students in my assessment course earlier this semester. 


While I'm using more collaborative than independent learning experiences this semester, that changes each semester depending on my students' preferences. I use Google Forms at the beginning of the semester to find out how my students learn best, and I make a conscious effort to design learning experiences that meet my students' needs (more about that here). Some students prefer to reflect on their thoughts independently, and some do their best thinking when they have the chance to write out their thoughts before talking with others. Freewrite is a quick and easy strategy to give students time to process and reflect. In addition to individual freewrites, a collaborative freewrite strategy I like to use is 4-2-1 Freewrite. First, each student identifies the 4 most important ideas from a text, a video, or some other learning experience. Students then work in pairs to narrow down their two lists of 4 ideas to a list of the 2 most important ideas. The act of narrowing 2 lists of 4 ideas down to a single list of 2 ideas takes some negotiating, which can be a powerful learning experience. Next, pairs partner up with other pairs to form groups of 4. In those groups of 4, pairs share their lists of 2 most important ideas. Each group of 4 must identify the single most important idea from the lists that were shared. Finally, each student freewrites for 3 minutes about the 1 most important idea that was selected by the group.

There are countless other ways to engage students with ideas from texts and from their peers. I'd love to hear about the strategies you use often. Feel free to leave a comment below.