A sixth grade social studies teacher sees strides in student learning when he consistently reflects upon the closure activities that he uses at the end of each class to re-think or plan the next lesson.
When Mark first started teaching social studies twelve years ago, he admits that he was often frustrated at the end of his classes when students would start to “pack up” and “check out of learning”
just as he would move to summarize the day’s lesson. Since those early years, Mark has gathered, created, and utilized various closure tools that get students thinking and writing about what they learned that day and how it went for them. Mark shares that his students learn pretty quickly that they “aren’t off the hook” for the day until they complete their “exit pass.” Mark has tried variations over the years, including some “3,2,1 activities” (list 3 important facts you learned, 2 interesting things, and 1 question that you still have).Other helpful questions over the years include the following: What one thing did you learn today? How does today’s lesson impact your understanding? How would you summarize today’s lesson for someone who wasn’t there? What was the most important thing you learned today? Describe an “a-ha” moment that you had today? What was the most difficult part of today’s lesson? What do you hope I review further in the next class? His myriad of “tools” mirror the wide range of goals he has for the classes, with the ultimate quest to gather enough information to help him best plan for the following lesson.
Mark admits that while he became adept at asking his students to partake in “closure activities,” it was not until he figured out how to organize, reflect, and act upon this valuable data that it had any great worth beyond focusing students at the end of the class period. While his students may have felt they “had a voice” in how their learning was going, he knew that his request for their reflections would start to feel disingenuous if he did not effectively act on the daily feedback – but how? With five classes and over one hundred students, Mark needed to create a model of reflection on student feedback that could be sustainable. He divides his data for reflection into three categories: urgent, short term, and long term. Able to “check for understanding” throughout the class period (based on project work, verbal feedback, and built in hand gestures), Mark carefully considers one “essential question” that he deems “urgent” to review in order to best plan for the next class. He makes certain to read all student responses to this “starred” question. It usually is related to a concept of understanding that he feels his students cannot proceed without. Mark created a simple graph program where he can enter levels of student understanding based on their responses. If half or more of the students have not grasped the concept, Mark re-teaches the concept using a different strategy or language for learning. If the majority of students have grasped the concept, he usually turns to a “pair share” activity to start the class, intentionally matching students who “got it” with those who need a review/re-teach. The “short term” data that Mark gathers usually pertains to students’ learning styles. Mark tries to review this data weekly, to make certain that he is addressing the needs of the various learners in his class. It becomes a good way to make certain that he is employing a variety of methods in his teaching. Finally, Mark turns to the “long term” data as a way to reflect on how he will make more substantial changes for the next unit, and for how he will teach the current material next time around.