Encouraging Student Reflection through Unit Trackers
As I add years and experience onto my teaching belt, I have become more reflective of my practice. I challenge myself to try new things in the classroom in order to improve my students’ achievements and mastery of the material. Often, new teachers bring great, innovative ideas to my ever traditional self. Using a unit tracker is one idea that came from a colleague, which I just implemented for the first time.
Michaela Duggan, our 6th grade science teacher is a “growth-mindset” guru and has served as inspiration for me to try new things. Her passion for recognizing student growth and progress has improved both our team and our school culture. She allows students to retake quizzes and tests, but only after students complete “action steps.” She uses data daily to adapt and modify her instruction (Seriously, you should see her spreadsheets!). Little do students know, but their science unit trackers are a way to encourage their own self-reflection and document their progress through each unit. I must also cite Myron Dueck, the author of Grading Smarter, Not Harder, as making an impact on my decision to implement a unit tracker.
My First Unit Tracker
I decided to “test out” the idea of a unit tracker for my Expressions, Equations and Inequalities Unit. My goals are to use this data to inform my conversations with students and parents, to encourage students to advocate for practice in areas in which they see a need for improvement, and selfishly, to help me stay organized and well planned. It also serves as a transition to a possible move towards standards based grading in the future.
My first unit tracker is shown below:
When I introduced the tracker in math class, the first matter of business was to compare and contrast it to Ms. Duggan’s science unit tracker. Here’s what the students noticed:
- Both trackers have “attempts.” The math tracker has more “attempts.”
- The math tracker has more topics and they are written as “I can” statements.
- Science tracker mastery is considered 85%. Math mastery is earning two, consecutive smiling faces.
- The mastery on the math tracker is much more subjective. Students determine if they give themselves a smile, a straight face or a frown.
- The math tracker does not incorporate “action steps.”
The unit tracker is a way to differentiate and individualize learning. I often say “we strive for progress, not perfection,” and I think this system solidifies the idea that we should challenge ourselves as learners. The following pictures show trackers mid-way through our Expressions, Equations and Inequalities Unit.
Instead of nightly homework, one assignment per week is dedicated to students reviewing their tracker and determining if they need additional practice on one of the topics listed. They are asked to write down, on a blank piece of paper, the topics in which they feel they need more help. If they don’t turn in anything, I assume they are feeling confident in all topics. When I receive the homework, I create or draw from my resources, skill specific practice. I hope this process will encourage students to be both independent and reflective, but I do worry about students who might not yet be intrinsically motivated.
Challenges and Successes
As we continue to progress in our Expressions, Equations and Inequalities Unit, I will continue to consider the following questions:
- Do I want to make action steps mandatory? Do I think I can keep up with creating/finding enough practice to use as action steps?
- At what point do I need to use another intervention besides the “action steps?”
- Where will I find the time to sit down with students to discuss their strengths and weaknesses based on the unit tracker?
- How can I incorporate “spiraled” skills onto the unit tracker without having ALL topics from ALL units on each tracker?
- What will I do about students who do not take the tracker seriously? (For example, what if a child says, “I got 0 out of 5 on an exit ticket. I am going to give myself a smiley face for that topic”)
Unit trackers not only give students an idea of what’s to come, but also encourage them to be aware of where they are in the learning process. As for me, unit trackers force me to backwards plan and have the “big picture” in sight, while allowing me to intervene more strategically.