I was wondering last month if there was a way for students to "know if they know" the material. I've been wrestling with this problem ever since. I've been doing some reading, which has helped a bit. (I highly recommend a gander at this book, if you're interested in this kind of thing.)
Today, I actually stumbled on a way to help kids figure out what they did and didn't know. Maybe some of you can use it, too.
My class has been looking at DNA replication for most of the week. I did a "Read Aloud" for part of the chapter to model using our textbook. We looked at the graphics in the text. We modeled the process. But this is an AP class and time is limited. We have to move on---in fact we had already started a new chapter yesterday.
When the period started today, I asked my kids to partner up. I told them that their task was to take a walk together. And for 10 minutes, they were to explain the process of DNA replication to one another. I also provided an index card. If there were things they were unsure about, they were to make a note on the card. When everyone had returned to the classroom, we'd talk about what was on their cards. And with that, they left.
There were all kinds of comments upon return. "I don't think I know very much." "I think I get the process, but I don't know all the right words for it." "Can we make a master list of the important vocabulary?"
They knew what they didn't know. I couldn't have been more excited. How powerful is that for kids?
So, even though it took some extra time to do the activity and debrief it, I really feel like it was well worth it. I know that I haven't tested them on the information (that will happen next week). I just have this hunch that a real breakthrough was made today.
I plan to keep using this kind of activity---in fact, I hope that students will be proactive about it...maybe even asking for it now and then throughout the year when the material is particularly tough.
If I'm lucky, maybe I'll even find a few more strategies like this.