The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
Successful lessons trigger student interest. Sometimes even the most innocuous content can worm its way into the imagination of children and take on a life of its own. In addition to completing tasks and generating grades, teachers should aim to spark a larger interest in learning. Sometimes this happens naturally but oftentimes this can be coaxed into life by the teacher. What if learning didn’t have to stop at the conclusion of a lesson?
Why It Works
Far too often students fail to see the connection between what they are learning and the real world. Facts and figures in textbooks remain disconnected from life outside the classroom. When this viewpoint is taken to its ultimate conclusion, transfer and applicability are beyond reach. Learning tasks are given merely to feed the ravenous grading monster that requires constant input. Spitting out numbers and grade point averages on a weekly basis, information is processed mainly to keep the machine satisfied.
Supplemental review challenges that idea head on. It allows students to take something they are learning and find connections outside the classroom. Students who begin to see that the knowledge and skills they acquire in school are valuable in the real world find instruction much more interesting. Relevant learning that connects them to their homes, their hobbies, and even their favorite music and television shows suddenly becomes infinitely more engaging.
Of all the benefits of supplemental review, its greatest is probably its messiness. Textbooks and preprinted worksheets condense knowledge into bite-sized chunks. The information is cleaned up, the rough edges filed off, and it’s presented to students on a silver platter. Rarely does life fit that pattern. Reality provides incomplete data and conflicting points of view. Asking students to wade into the morass of information known as general knowledge provides them with a wonderful opportunity to practice their analysis, evaluation, and other critical thinking skills.
To ease students into supplemental review, keep some of the following considerations in mind. It’s an extremely powerful worksheet alternative but also has a few gray areas you’ll want to avoid.
1. Consider the lesson for which supplemental review might be used. If the content is too narrow, perhaps students could search for additional material on a broader scale. For example, if students learned about the fractions ½ and ¼, perhaps their supplemental review could encompass a larger topic such as unit fractions.
2. Be prepared to give students a head start with possible locations of supplemental material. While some students will take to the task like ducks to water, others will be overwhelmed with the vast abyss of data available on the internet. Have some websites, library books, or even textbooks from different grade levels available to help get things started.
3. Decide how you want students to evaluate the material they discover. Should they answer questions about what they find? If so, which questions and how many? Will they instead use a rubric? However it is set up, it is this component that makes supplemental review worthwhile.
4. If needed, create grading guidelines for the task. With something as open-ended as this, students should know ahead of time how their work will be judged. How much of their grade will be decided by the quality of the supplemental material? How much will be determined by their analysis of that material? Should they receive full credit if they find something completely unrelated and then produce an analysis showing that it has no value?
5. Possibly using another alternative found in this book, decide how the analysis/review will be submitted. Will students submit a written or an oral report? Can they draw a picture or create a graphic representation? Will simply writing answers to the questions suffice? Will they create a presentation or demonstration? There are many different ways that teachers can structure the analysis of what they find.
6. Plan for how the reviews will be compiled and stored. This provides a rich opportunity for students to create tools for how they will learn in the future. Whether it be a binder, a folder, or even a class webpage, great supplemental materials should be available for students to use as a resource.
7. To keep the learning going, provide feedback on the students’ analysis. Most won’t capture the finer points of critique the first time they attempt this task. Set aside time to hold short conferences with students about what they found and the reasoning behind their analyses.
The students in Mrs. Cottman’s second grade class had spent the last few days learning about the properties of magnets. Instead of simply taking a quiz over the material, however, she wanted to give them a choice to do something different. Her students had played with magnets and discussed some of the basic properties of magnetism. Some students had really taken to the unit, bringing in magnets from home and asking to stay inside from recess to play with them.
“Class, I know you’ve enjoyed learning about magnets together this week. Even though we are taking our test tomorrow, and we’ll start exploring weather on Monday, that doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. I want to talk to you about an extra task you can do to help me out if you’re interested. It’s not for a grade and you don’t have to it if you don’t want to.
“You can use this half sheet of paper to record what you found. Make sure to write the title and where to find it so I know how to make it available next year. More than anything, I need your answers to the two questions on the right. That will let me know how useful the information is.
“First, tell me what you learned from the book, video, or website. I’ll want to include extra information that isn’t in our science book. Also, I’d like your opinion on how valuable you think the extra information is. Do you think second graders should learn the information? Is it helpful or is it just the same as what they’ll already learn from our textbook? If you can help me organize all the cool things you discovered about magnets, it would help next year’s students greatly.”
The students all seemed excited about the project and most said they would do it over the weekend. Not all students who took the half sheet home returned it but a majority of students did. More than that, some students brought back three or four sheets because they couldn’t decide which information to write about. Mrs. Cottman also received several emails from parents thanking her for sparking such an interest in their children.
The example in the scenario depicted supplemental review for a second grade science unit. That type of support would also be appropriate for older students who struggle with the demands of the task. Instead of leaving it wide open, provide a rigid structure for students to follow. Even though it looks similar to a traditional worksheet, the thought process required is extremely rigorous.
If students are more familiar with common rating systems online, they can use one of those to reflect their thoughts on the supplemental material. For example, many online retailers, such as Amazon.com and Walmart.com, use stars to symbolize the value that customers place on items. It’s typical for shoppers to read reviews from several buyers before deciding to purchase. Likewise, a student can create a review for additional material. The review should contain stars to denote the opinion of the information and a written paragraph. The key questions required for the task will be answered by information and opinions supplied in the written statements.
Along the same lines, students looking for an extra challenge may be familiar with the concept of a critics’ average score. Popular on movie websites, it’s a compilation of noted movie critics’ thoughts on a film or TV show. IMDB.com calls it a metascore while RottenTomatoes.com calls it the Tomatometer. In the same way, students can work together to provide critical reviews of several different supplemental materials.
Instead of four students working to review one book or website, however, each student chooses his/her own additional material. Every student then reviews each other’s material using the guiding questions provided by the teacher. The review is in paragraph format and is awarded a number from 1 (lowest) to 100 (highest). Finally, each student compiles all the reviews on his/her own supplemental material and averages the scores to represent a metascore.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
Supplemental review works easily in digital formats. Not only can students create their summaries in a Google Doc or Google Slide, they can link the related material as well for sharing. If students find something they really want others to know about, their opinions can easily be uploaded into a digital classroom.
As stated in the implementation stage, how students rate the supplemental material is going to be a major decision. When creating this task digitally, you can now easily link a rubric from an outside site, either pre-made or custom, for students to reference.