This blog post was written by Bob Cline. Bob teaches at Shanahan Middle School, in the Olentangy school district. Bob is also featured in the FIP Video Library.
I have been teaching for the past nine years, trying to maximize the learning of every student in my class. This is the vision of any good teacher as they start each year. I have attended numerous conferences and professional development sessions, and tried other approaches in engagement, rigor, and curriculum alignment; the list goes on. Regarding FIP, I have found that the Evidence game I use to collect and document evidence gives me and my students the biggest bang for our time and effort. This activity blends many best practices into a process that drives my teaching and supports my students.
The Evidence Game holds students accountable for their learning using a clear and fair approach. However, holding students accountable requires a balance of high expectations and pushing them even when they are feeling uncomfortable. I would argue it is not only students who often can feel uncomfortable, but also the teacher, as we attempt to determine when and how to support students, and how to create a sense of accountability for the learning. I want my students to know their role in the learning process, which is a role just as important and as active as mine.
Here is a description of how I hold students accountable and why I don’t run away in the moments that make my students and uncomfortable.
Learning targets/standards must be clearly visible for students. Early in my teaching career, I thought students knew what the expectation was because it was modeled in class or discussed. However, I came to realize that students need a visible reminder of the learning expectations daily. I began the “Evidence Game” with new learning targets for a given unit in the form of questions. The expectations become clear and visible. At the end of the class, I remind students that if they need help on these expectations they must approach me. If they walk out of my classroom, there is a common agreement between us they should be held accountable to that target.
As we move through a given unit, more targets are displayed. After being discussed in class, these targets move to the ongoing targets category (a section on my wall). After a few days, we physically move to the part in my room where all the targets are displayed. I often start by saying, “You have 5 minutes to review all the targets and ask a friend for help or clarification.” I help a student or two, but I keep a close watch all the students as they engage with each other. I point to the ongoing targets discussed in class. Students are asked not to raise their hand. I begin to call on them, one at a time. Participation is not optional in my class. It is my responsibility as a teacher to determine what each student knows, not just the student who always raises his/her hand. My students know that I will call on anyone, unless they have approached me within the last day or two on a given target to indicate they still need more time and support. This allows the students a safety net and the opportunity to be accountable for, and active in, their learning.
You might ask, what happens when a student does not know the proper answer/response during this process. Here’s how it works. I call on a student. They may stare at me and hesitate to answer, maybe feeling unsure or uncomfortable. However, I do not move on until that student can give me a response, whether it is accurate or inaccurate. This gives me a next direction to take. If a student is close, I support and guide them through the question posted. However, if it is clear that the student does not know the question at all and has not approached me earlier, I let them know very clearly that it is unacceptable and they need to be more accountable for their learning. Only then will I move on to another student until I get an accurate response about the given target. Next, I immediately return to the student who was unprepared, to see if they can now successfully answer the question.
Why do I do this? I believe too many teachers move past students when they don’t know something in a larger class setting or discussion. This may be because many teachers feel uncomfortable about how to support students, and choosing the right moment to do so. I, however, have told my students that the role I have as their teacher and the point of this activity is to support them in their learning. When a student gets something wrong, I return to that student immediately because I do not want to send the wrong message. No student gets something wrong and leaves my classroom without any support or follow up; l want them to learn that waiting is not acceptable. I want to help students in what I call the “moments that present themselves,” even when they might feel uncomfortable.
The Evidence Game activity has been a game-changer in my classroom for the past six years. For this to work, there must be clear, structured, visible expectations, and a relationship with students based on trust and shared accountability. I have found this approach holds students accountable; they know what they don’t know, and they seek out help way before any graded assessment takes place. I do this Evidence Game activity several times within a given unit, which allows for a short cycle review of content. It gives students a more cohesive understanding of the connection between standards/targets. I also collect additional evidence of learning with other individual data tracking of student progress. In the end, the Evidence Game has allowed me to be a better teacher as I continue to strive to maximize learning for every student.