If you haven't used small student whiteboards in your classroom, I promise you, you are missing out. As soon as the whiteboards come out, I have automatic buy-in from students. Students love writing on them, and as a teacher I love them because they are great for visual learners, and they are an easy way to quickly assess student learning. Since it is so easy to erase and fix mistakes, students don't feel pressured to have the right answer all the time. They create a fun and low-stress environment.
While they aren't ideal for every activity, here are some times you can bring them out:
1. When Introducing a New Topic
I love getting out whiteboards when we are learning a new topic and students need the ability to mess up, erase, try again, and master a new skill. If you teach biology like I do, pedigree charts, punnett squares, or mapping out dichotomous keys are great examples of times students need to erase and try again. (Tip: instead of wasting paper towels, bring in old rags or socks and use them as erasers instead).
2. Experimental Design
Doing a lab where students need to design an experiment? Having lab groups whiteboard out their experimental set up really helps them talk through the process before beginning (see image below for a 5 second rule bacteria lab). I usually make lab groups call me over and get teacher approval before grabbing their supplies. I'll ask them to explain their set up to me, clarify their variables, and make sure their experiment is controlled before beginning. If you use CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) at the end of your labs, whiteboards are another place they can map out their findings.
3. Giving Peer Feedback
One of the first official whiteboard PD's I took was based on modeling instruction which relies heavily on whiteboard use. Without going into a bunch of detail, students use whiteboards to draw models of science concepts. Once drawings are complete, the class holds a whiteboard session where we would stand up and face each other in a large circle, and give feedback on other groups' whiteboard data. This could also be applied to ADI's argumentation sessions. It takes a few times for students to get the hang of asking appropriate questions and giving helpful feedback, but once they get the hang of it you as the teacher can step back and let students discuss their learning without much guidance (which is pretty amazing to watch).
4. Showing Progression of Learning
Do you ever have students write things down that you want to refer back to throughout the unit? For example: do you ever have students brainstorm what they already know about a topic to identify misconceptions? If you are trying out project based learning, do you have your students write out their need-to-knows and update them throughout the project? Sometimes I have students write things down that I don't want erased for a few weeks. If you have enough whiteboards to get you through all your classes, allow students to turn in their whiteboards without erasing them, prop them up in the front of the room or window sill, and refer back to them when needed.
5. Formative Assessment
If you finished a concept and want a quick way to visually assess where students are at before moving on, whiteboards are a great tool for formative assessment. Put a practice problem on the board, have them whiteboard the answer, and hold it up for a quick visual check.
Have I sold you yet? Are you ready to run out and ask your principal to buy you some? It is much more expensive to order whiteboards from school supply companies than to just go buy your own at home depot. When you go, ask them to point you to the white tile board or panel board. It comes in large sheets (usually 96" x 48") but they will cut it down for you to your desired size. So come prepared with dimensions in mind based on the size of your student desks.
Once you get the whiteboards back to your classroom, there is one magic step you don't want to miss to keep them looking white and shiny for years to come: car wax. Before you hand them over to your students, grab an old rag and some turtle wax and give them a nice coating. This will keep your whiteboards erasing well. I do this about once a year and my 10 year old whiteboards still look practically brand new.
Don't have the budget for whiteboards? Or are you interested in some other options? Here are a few other options I've tried you might be interested in:
Do you have any other white boarding tips to share? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!
When we ask students to review each other's work and give feedback, we often hear...
"Why did you do that?" or
"It's just wrong." or
"It's good" (even when it's not).
Teaching students to give effective feedback is hard and takes a lot of student practice. And then more practice. If you are using project based learning in your classroom, peer feedback is a vital part of the process (you can read more about PBL here). But it's worth it when you get to the point where students give feedback that is meaningful and actionable, and you are receiving higher quality work at the end. It's going to save you a lot of grading time!
So, where do you begin?
1. Always begin by modeling what good feedback looks like.
Pass out a sample lab report, essay, or whatever assignment your class will be completing. Walk the students through the strengths and weaknesses of the assignment, and show them that feedback needs to be specific in order for the person to improve. Show them how it is possible to be honest and be kind at the same time.
2. Don't ask them to give feedback on everything all at once.
It can be overwhelming if a student gets back their lab report or essay and it is covered from top to bottom in red pen. Instead, beak it down into smaller chunks. On the first round of feedback, have students look for and highlight the thesis or hypothesis and write in tips to make it more clear. On the second round have them look for and highlight supporting details or data and write in any clarifying questions. On the third round they can check for grammatical errors.... you get the picture. By breaking it down into smaller, manageable chunks you are making it easier on both the student giving the feedback and the student receiving the feedback.
3. Feedback should be actionable.
Make sure that if students leave comments, they need to be actionable. If they just write "paragraph needs work" in the margin, that isn't helpful. Why does it need work? What specifically needs to be improved? If the feedback isn't clear, the author of the assignment can go back and ask "What did you mean when you wrote this?" and get some clarification.
4. Feedback should be timely.
One mistake is waiting until the very end of the assignment or project to do a round of peer evaluations. If the assignment is due on a Friday and you wait until Wednesday or Thursday to give feedback, it can be too late. Students are busy after school with jobs and sports and need time to make edits. By giving feedback multiple times along the way, it will save them a lot of frustration and time at the end. Also, plan ahead and build in class time for editing instead of having them do it all at home.
5. Feedback can be anonymous.
Sometimes students don't want to offend or hurt feelings when giving feedback, so they only leave nice comments instead of being completely honest. By providing methods of anonymous feedback such as sticky notes, gallery walks, or removing names and numbering the papers instead, you are allowing students to be more honest in their critique. That being said, you are opening the door to negative comments as well. Be sure to go over expectations with students prior to the activity, and if problems do arise, have a way to track down the offender (try different pen colors or group them in small groups to narrow down the possibilities).
I love this video of "Austin's Butterfly" and show it to my high school students even though it is of elementary kiddos. It shows the process of giving feedback where "they were specific but they weren't mean about it."
Sentence frames are also a great way for students to give structured feedback, especially when they don't know where to begin. If you would like to check out some FREE peer feedback forms I have used with my students, you can download them here.
Card sorts are one of my favorite tried-and-true ways to formatively assess my students. I use them all the time!
1. You can use them at the beginning of a lesson to check for prior knowledge
2. You can use them in the middle of a lesson as a checkpoint for the lesson
3. You can use them as a form of exit ticket
4. You can use them the day before a quiz for students to self-assess
I've found they are great for my ESL students and tactile learners. Once they are sorted, have your kids read them out loud to get your ESL kids talking and practicing vocabulary.
Are you sold yet? It's super easy to make your own! For example, suppose you are learning mitosis. All you have to do is look up a picture of the phases of mitosis on the internet, and print off multiple copies (I have 16 lab tables in my room, so I usually make 16 sets and have students work in pairs). Next, cut them up, paperclip together, and voila! (Bonus: if you have a laminator or your school library can laminate for you, it makes them more durable from year to year).
Since I have so many sets, I needed a way to keep them organized that worked for me. The best (and cheapest) way I've found to organize my card sorts, task cards, and review puzzles is in small manila envelopes. I write the topic on the front and they are placed in order that I use them (quarter 1 through 4) in a filing cabinet.
If you are interested in checking out the ones I have pre-made, CLICK HERE. I'm always posting new sets so check back! If you would like to request a set, leave them in the comments and I'll try my best to get them made. Happy sorting!
Want a fun way to change up how you assess your students? While there is value in giving multiple choice assessments (students need to have these test taking skills to pass the ACT and SAT), I also like to change it up. Not all students do well with multiple choice or written tests, and offering creative ways for students to show their learning is always fun.
I recently finished my cells unit, and asked students to create an infographic on an organelle. We used the website piktochart.com which is free. (There are paid upgrades, but everything students need is available with the free account). Students found the website to be relatively user friendly- everything is click and drag.
The project students about 4 class periods to complete. The first day I showed the students sample infographics and we discussed what characteristics were of a good infographic. If you want some samples of quality infographics there are a TON on pinterest. Then I had students do background research on their organelle (I required a minimum of 5 facts on their infographic). The following two class periods students created their infographics and do some peer editing. On day 4 students finalized their edits and submitted them to me. The biggest hiccup we tried to avoid was it turning into a power point slide with a bunch of text. I reminded them that the goal of an infographic is to use images to make complex information quick and easy to understand. For example, if you state that the average US meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, how can you help the reader visualize that? (It's roughly the distance from New Orleans to Phoenix, so they could include a map).
Here are some sample infographics we came up with:
Prior to turning in the inforaphics we did a few rounds of peer feedback and editing. This will save you a lot of time later when you go to grade them. After editing students shared the link to their infographics in an email to me, but you could easily have them upload it to google classroom or canvas if you use these tools. Also, if your library can print them poster size they are great for classroom decor!
If you are interested in checking out the forms and grading rubric I used for this project, you can check them out here.
I hope your students have fun creating them!
Since I started teaching, I always got my students trained pretty quickly to start working on bellwork when they came in to class. It is a great way for them to have a few minutes to settle down, remember what we learned the previous day, and also gives me time to take attendance. One thing that I didn't start until recently was using exit tickets. I mostly didn't use them because I wasn't prepared. By not being prepared, I mean I didn't have set questions ready to go. I didn't like the generic tickets of "one thing I learned today was..." and "one thing I'm still confused about is..." because I feel like it didn't give me any concrete information or data and half the time students left them blank. I really wanted the students to SHOW me that they understood the concept.
Now that summer is here I've had time to create exit tickets for all my biology units. I'm really looking forward to having them done and ready to go. At the top of each ticket is a set of questions that deals with the new concept the students learned about. At the bottom there is a place for students to self assess themselves.
Here are 4 reasons why I think exit tickets are beneficial to use in the classroom:
1. Formative Assessment for the Teacher- Do you truly know where all your students are in the learning process? Are you giving a summative assessment when your students aren't ready? One of the best quotes I have heard regarding assessment is "How are you rewarding students at their best, not punishing them at their worst?" That really spoke to me. The use of exit tickets allows me to really hone in on which students needed help before we moved on to new concepts.
2. Formative Assessment for the Student- It's good for you as the teacher to know where your students are in the learning process, but it's even better if your students know where they are too. How often as a college student did you walk into a test not having any clue what would be on it? What would they focus on? Did you study the wrong things? Thoughtfully prepared exit tickets allow students to identify exactly what they already know and where there are learning gaps.
3. Increased test scores- After students turn in exit tickets and you sort through them, what do you do with them? Do you group them into piles? Do you recycle the ones that have mastered the content so you can focus on the lower students? I think you should pass them back, even though they aren't necessarily graded. This allows students to review them before a test and feel confident about what material they have mastered and what they need to study for. When students have a clear understanding of what to study for, test scores will increase! (Side note: I generally let students use notes on tests. You can read about that here).
4. Be Better Prepared for Evaluations- When I walk into my teacher evaluation conferences, I know I will be asked these two questions without fail: Do I have data to show how each of my students are doing in class? and how do I allow my students to self-assess themselves? Exit tickets are a great way to answer both of these questions. Explain how you formatively assess your students and allow students to self-assess themselves and look for gaps in their learning. Following the use of exit tickets, explain your methods of intervention before the summative assessment. I think your evaluator will be impressed with your answers!
I've created tickets for all the biology units I teach. If you'd like to try out a few for FREE, click here!