Making Class Time Pay: Putting Students in Charge of Review Time


Whether it’s Whether it's homework review, chapter review, or test review, I've recently started trying a new approach: student leadership as we go through the material. I've found it has some significant advantages over the way I was doing things before, letting me function much more as the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage! Read on to see how I put students in charge and the various benefits it has brought to my sanity, my students and their learning!homework review, chapter review, or test review, I’ve recently started trying a new approach: student leadership as we go through the material.

I’ve found it has some significant advantages over the way I was doing things before, letting me function much more as the “guide on the side”  instead of the “sage on the stage,” so I thought I’d share my new approach and let you know how it has made my classroom a more engaging and informative place for students!

I welcome your own ideas on how you’ve improved the process of going through a workbook type review page!

Tried and True and Traditional – What I Used to Do:

My usual approach until a few months ago was fairly predictable. Students would get out their written work and I would call on students to read each problem and provide their response. I’d announce whether their answer was right or wrong and then we’d move on to the next problem. Sometimes before announcing the correct answer, I’d poll the class or encourage a discussion of possible responses.

I imagine that most teachers have done a lot of review approximately like the above. Of course, I had a lot of other approaches in my teacher toolkit as well. Sometimes we’d have games to review material; sometimes students would construct their own learning and share it with the class by writing and performing skits or even by making animated movies we’d all watch together. I’ve always had an eye on making learning as engaging as possible. But still, when we’d done a workbook page to review material and it was time to let students correct their own work, I usually led the class through the content as described above.

Not terribly engaging, I know. But then I found a much better way, and all I had to change was one simple thing!

New and Improved – Students Run the Show!

What I do now isn’t a hugely different from before, but the small changes I’ve implemented have made a world of difference. Students pay better attention and have a lot more “buy in”  to the review activity. Plus, they find it more engaging. The ironic part is that my role as teacher has actually become easier with my new method, even as I’ve found that in the new dynamic, my time and attention is freed up in a way that lets me be a lot more effective, too!

So what do I do? On with the show!

How I Implement Student Leadership

I use this technique when students have already had ample homework or class time to complete a set of questions or problems. The idea is that they will be reporting back their previously generated responses, not thinking on the fly.

  • Appoint a student to be the leader for the first set of responses. For example, if the worksheet is divided into some true/false followed by some cloze and then some multiple choice, I would direct say, “Alejandro, you’re going to lead us through the true/false section.” If the worksheet lacks convenient divisions, you might need to go with, “Alejandro, you’ll be the leader for #1-8.”
  • Being the student leader means that Alejandro will take charge of calling on classmates to read problems and provide their responses.
  • However — and here’s the twist — after each student has given a response, as leader Alejandro must provide his own answer as well. For example:
    • “I also thought that the correct answer was true.”
    • “I disagree. I think that Stalin was the Russian leader responsible for the Great Purge.”
  • As the teacher, I follow along and participate after each pair of answers has been supplied:
    • If the chosen student and the leader both supply the correct answer, I might simply confirm that they are right.
    • If the chosen student and the leader both supply  the wrong answer, I might poll the class before announcing the correct answer.
    • Sometimes I poll the class even when the chosen student and leader are both right, just to mix it up.
    • If the chosen student and the leader disagree as to the answer, I might ask each to provide a rationale for their response. This can trigger a class discussion about the validity of the rationales presented, with most students participating before I debrief the correct answer with them.
    • Sometimes I ask for rationales even when both students agree on the answer. It depends on the material and the complexity of thinking involved.
  • When Alejandro’s “turn”  is over, I will have him choose the next student leader.
  • When the whole review has been completed, I’ll jot down who the last leader was. Then, next time we do a review in this manner, I’ll say, “Clarissa, you were our last student leader. Who would you like to appoint as leader this time?”

What’s the Point???

I know that the changes in procedure that I described above are really very minor. For all that, though, I’ve found them to provide profound benefits in the classroom.

  • Less multi-tasking for the teacher!
    When I teach, I’m very focused on the content and how well the students are mastering it. I’d get deep into a discussion, for example, of how a change in a market would shift supply and demand, and I’d find it difficult to also keep track of the fact that we just did #6 and now I have to call on someone to answer #7. Just as much, I’d have a hard time remembering for sure who I had called on so far. With my new approach, students are responsible for keeping track of where we are and who to call on next. This small change has let me focus better on clearly communicating content when it’s my turn to speak up.
  •  A better “global” vision for the teacher
    Because I’m not being distracted by keeping track of minor details any longer, I have more time to roam the classroom during the review. This typically lets me look over several students’ work for each problem, giving me a better global vision of how my students are doing on each problem. This, of course, informs my instruction and tells me when I should devote more time to polling the class about an answer, asking for rationales, or eliciting discussion.
  • The All-Important Perception of Fairness
    Since students are now calling on one another and picking the next leader, I’m freed from students resenting *me* over how I call on them too much or not enough. Students who don’t want to share their answers out loud seem to handle it better when it’s a classmate picking them, than when it was the teacher “picking on them,”  if you see what I mean. And since student leadership changes on a frequent basis, I haven’t run into problems with other students complaining about one, either.
  • Discussions Happen More Organically, Now
    It’s a lot more obvious to everyone now when we should stop and think a question over, since the two-students-answering system will immediately highlight at least some of the problem areas in the review. Also, since the students are getting used to hearing more than one answer for each question, they have become more willing to speak up on their own and announce that they disagree, which also triggers discussions. They used to be more shy about going out on that limb, but now, each student leader has to repeatedly go out on a limb by expressing agreement or dispute with each announced answer. I can see the students’ comfort zones expanding as they come to understand that it’s not the end of the world to be wrong and have to revise your thinking.
  • More Alternative Points of View are Heard
    This is particularly useful in my main discipline of social studies, where good teaching means that we spend quite a bit of time on evaluating history. What was the most important factor that led to the development of the Cold War? Students can have widely differing, but equally valid, answers to questions like that. As long as their rationales are based on accurate facts and sound historical reasoning, I want to spend class time letting students consider alternatives. This is part of being the “guide on the side,”  helping them learn, instead of telling them what to think or accidentally conveying the idea that there’s only one way to view the history we’re studying.

So There You Have It!

Like I said, this change in reviewing procedures isn’t a huge one. It’s actually pretty minor, but I’ve found it to have huge pay-offs! It’s kind of like the old story: For want of a nail, a horseshoe was lost, and then an entire battle…. except in reverse. This nail is one more tool you can have at your fingertips when working with your students, and if your classroom is anything is like mine, you’ll find it a powerful improvement to all the great things you’re already doing with your students.

Speaking of those things, I’d love to hear about them! How do you proceed through a review page of a textbook or workbook?

Speaking of worksheets to review…

If you use any of the Crash Course social studies courses on YouTube (I highly recommend them!), you might want to take a look at some of the Crash Course Worksheets I’ve put together. These help students pay better attention and learn more, even as they hold students accountable for staying on task during these short videos!

Crash Course Worksheets for Economics, Government, and World History


Making Class Time Pay: Putting Students in Charge of Review Time

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