Conserving Class Time and Exam Follow-Up

Today's post relates to what I did in one of my classes today. Effective teachers maximize class time. Administrators sometimes refer to this notion as "bell-to-bell teaching." Many teachers misinterpret this term to mean delivering instruction all the way to the bell. Direct instruction all the way up to the bell misses out on a great instructional opportunity: closure.

Since human beings tend to remember beginnings and endings - sometimes referred to as primacy for the former and recency for the latter - providing strong closure activities increases the probability students retain content long term. Michelle Haiken has a great blog post on potential closure activities here. My post will focus on one way I try to conserve class time.

I struggled in my first few years of teaching with how to hand back papers in an efficient manner. I avoid seating my students alphabetically. I dreaded the first day of school each year since my last name starts with two A's. I really don't like sitting at the front of a class. I prefer to sit not necessarily in the back of a classroom but on the boundary of a classroom. I tend to seat my students randomly early in the semester since I know many teachers choose to let the alphabet rule the day. A randomized seating arrangement does have an unintended consequence: handing back papers can torch two to three minutes of class time unnecessarily. Here is an example of how I approach the class period after an exam and distribute papers to conserve class time.

SaveClassTimeByLayingOutPapersExhibit A: AP Stats exams laid out on tables. On top of each exam is a printed grade summary for the student.

I use a desktop scanner to scan my answer key into a searchable PDF. Next, I enter the data into Geogebra to construct a boxplot and dotplot of exam scores, along with statistics on the exam. This allows students to compare their own performance with the entire class anonymously.

Exam_Summary_ExampleExhibit B: An example display of exam results from one of my classes. Protecting the identities of the students that performed poorly is really important to keeping those students receptive to feedback.

After analyzing the summary with students, I will go through the most frequently missed problems with students on the scanned answer key PDF. I identify the problems we spend time on through item analysis. If I am teaching multiple sections of a particular class, I will compare the boxplots and summary statistics across the sections and reflect on my teaching practice if I note any marked differences in median or standard deviation. I will post more information later on what I like to do with analyzing exam data and modifying my practice according to results.


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