Focus On: Can I Increase Accountability During Project Time?

“What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated” — John E. Jones

I like this quotation and I think it applies to Differentiated Instruction and the Learning Classroom because when the students (or myself, for that matter) feels that something is being checked, then I am perhaps more engaged and more likely to finish it because I know I am accountable.

With that in mind, I think there is a connection between increasing accountability during ‘project time’ (or any time, really) and formative assessment.

This year, I decided to deliberately experiment with frequent (if not daily) feedback from the students to me and then from me to the students, so as to not only increase the amount of communication between the students and myself, but also to attempt to create a ‘culture of responsive teaching and learning’, (which for me is a more concrete and therefore manageable definition of “Differentiated Instruction”).

My hope is that the students feel I always want the most up-to-date status of their understanding of concepts as well as their mood (if they choose to share), — and in this case, the daily status of their projects and assignments.

I have been wrestling with how to do this, and have discovered that there is no ‘magic bullet’, per se, other than a desire on my part to know the status of their project and to have my students accustomed to a learning environment where they tell me what’s happening and they reflect on their personal effort.

  • *Note: regarding the above quotation, I think the reward lies not in receiving a ‘present’ for getting their work done; rather the student has a good idea of what their mark will be before they hand in their project by way of checklists and exemplars as well as teacher feedback, they receive praise for getting the project completed and if they achieve the goal they set for themselves, perhaps they receive a sticker as well as more praise!

So, these are the strategies / tactics I used during a recent project:

BEFORE:

  1. To-Do List: Students are required to make a To-Do List of 1, 2, or 3 things they hope to accomplish during the work period that day.
  2. Learning Skills: Students are asked to focus upon 1 or 2 Learning Skills or Work Habits during the work period.
  3. Looks Like, Sounds Like: Students are asked to think about what effective work time looks like and sounds like.
  4. Achievement: After having asked to think about what mark they are aiming for in this course on the very first day of classes, students are asked to ‘remind’ themselves as well as myself what that mark is (so it is forefront in their minds).
  5. What Do I Do If The Teacher is Busy: Students are briefly instructed on what to do if they encounter an obstacle in their project but the teacher is busy helping another student. If the teacher is occupied, the students could be instructed to speak to other students in the class (“Ask 3 before T”),or to try to solve it on their own, skip that part of the assignment until the teacher is ready. *** I don’t think I focussed on this topic enough during the recent project time, so I plan on making this more overt next time.
  6. Traffic Light: Before students embark on their project, they are asked to decide which Traffic Light colour they feel they are — Green = I understand and  I’m ready to go, Yellow = I understand somewhat but I need a little clarification, or Red = Help! I don’t understand.
  7. Earn an Extension: Before the students began the project, I told them that in order to get an extension on their project, they had to ‘earn’ it by using the classtime to its maximum potential, as a show of ‘good faith’, so that if they did need an extension at the end of the project time, the students have used their time wisely and are in a better ‘bargaining’ position for asking for an extension.

An actual 'Green Sheet' from a student detailing his efforts during a recent project

*** GREEN SHEETS: Note that the Learning Skills Green Sheets are very handy for capturing much if not all of this information, so that it is committed to paper and is revisited daily.

DURING:

  1. KAGAN: I stole a few ideas from Spencer Kagan’s book Kagan Cooperative Learning, which might be variations on One Stray, The Rest Stay as well as some sort of icebreaker: 3/4 of the way through the period I randomly handed out pieces to a series of 3-piece puzzles (if I had 21 students, I would need 7 3-piece puzzles, or magazine picture cut into threes, or anything cut into threes) and I informed the students that they had 10 seconds to go and find the other two people in the room that had the pieces to complete their puzzle. Once together, the students were to each take a turn explaining the following: one strength they are experiencing as well as one challenge. Once each person has shared, the students are then to go back and write down one thing they heard another student say. I tell the students that this activity is designed to not only increase accountability but it also benefits them because when  you have explain your project it deepens your understanding, and this activity benefits your classmates because a student may be inspired by another student’s project, which helps all of us to be successful.

AFTER

  1. TO-DO LIST REVISITED: Students are asked to revisit the To-Do List they made for themselves at the beginning of the period and they are to write down what they actually achieved versus what they hoped they would achieve. At this point, they could set-up their To-Do List for the next day.
  2. LEARNING SKILLS: Students are asked to assess themselves on the Learning Skills for that day. In their Learning Logs, the students could be asked to write a longer reflection on why they assessed themselves the way they did.
  3. 3-2-1 / EXIT CARD: Students could then write the answers to the

    Exit Card Sample from the internet

    following: Write 3 things you accomplished today, 2 Challenges you had, and 1 Question you have. (There are many variations on Exit Card questions to be found on the internet via Google.)

I think something I have discovered about attempting to create this type of environment of feedback: the students, I hope, feel that project time is not lost time but rather it can a valuable time for a) practising learning skills and b) reflecting on our strengths and challenges.

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