Study Guide Issues

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This past week I started working on my school website.  It’s a journey every year, but this year is a bit different since my district adopted a new math text and quite a few of my links need to change.  In the past I’ve posted homework, a few math strand practice sections, and class newsletters to my website.  I’ve decided to change a few things up for the 18-19 school year.  I’m nixing the homework section and adding a study guide piece.  The reason I’m adding a study guide section is because I’m not thrilled with how it’s currently being used.

Study guides have been a sticky issue for me over the years.  There are so many different ways that they’re used.  My class tends to give and review a study guide a day before the unit assessment.  Each teacher in my school uses them slightly differently, but the process usually follows this sequence:

1.) Students use class time to complete the study guide

2.) Study guide is reviewed by the class and teacher

3.) Students correct their answers and feedback is provided

3.) Students use the study guide to prepare for the test

It seems that most teachers use some version of a study guide or review before an assessment.  Some teachers use games, while others go the paper and pencil route.  I think it truly depends on the teacher and their students.  This study guide process works well for many students, but I think it needs some tweaks and to a certain extent, improvements.  This summer I’ve been reading Make it Stick and it affirms some of what I’m seeing when it comes to memory retrieval.  Teachers want students to be able to retain what’s experienced in the class and giving a study guide with only that night to prepare isn’t as helpful as other strategies.  I’m starting to become more critical when it comes to questioning study guide practices. I sent out a Tweet indicating my concerns.

Here are my issues:

  • Students aren’t being given enough time to process what’s being discussed on the study guide
  • Students aren’t benefiting from enough retrieval practices
  • Students solely rely on the study guide to review for the test
  • Students might not be engaged or they decide to copy the answers from their partner
  • Students aren’t aware of how to study (this could be a whole different blog post)
  • Students aren’t experiencing enough reviews throughout the unit
  • The questions on the study guide are very similar to the actual test

I’m aware that some of these issues will occur regardless of the policies or procedures that are put in place.  I’d like to specifically address the blue issues in this post.

  • Students aren’t being given enough time to process what’s being discussed on the study guide 

In order to give students more time to process the study guide I’ve decided to give the packet in advance.  This requires more planning on my part (let the uploading and copying process begin!).  I’m planning on posting the study guides on my school website and giving students a paper copy at the beginning of the unit.  Students will have 4-5 weeks to finish up the study guide before the assessment.  In addition, this will help students preview the learning, as Mary pointed out.  It’s likely that some students will lose the sheet as they’ll need to hold on to it for about a month.  That’s why I’m deciding to post the study guides.  I’m also planning on having students code their work with a few self-monitoring strategies. I really like the completed, mistake, misconception, and correct coding.  Occasionally the class will review concepts discussed on the study guide so that the class won’t have to wait until the last day before receiving feedback.

Giving students more opportunities to experience math has its benefits.  Being more  intentional in how retrieval practices look is important.  I currently have specific exit cards and review checkpoints that are used for particular units.  I’m planning on creating more and placing them strategically throughout the units.  I’d like to give students multiple opportunities to address standards and receive feedback.

  • Students aren’t experiencing enough reviews throughout the unit

Moving forward, I think students need to have the opportunity to review topics as the unit progress.  The text my district uses has reviews, but the students need more opportunities to address skills that are taught at the very beginning, middle, and end of the unit.  Like David said, I’m planning on adding deliberate interleaving of concepts to the study guide.  That may add additional questions to the packet, but I think it’s worthwhile.  I also need to keep in mind that students will have around a month to work on the packet.

  • The questions on the study guide are very similar to the actual test

I’m conflicted with this.  I think students should be aware of what skills are on the test and the format shouldn’t be a surprise.  Being unfamiliar with the questions or format can cause anxiety.  There’s already enough anxiety surrounding testing.  I think sometimes giving questions that are too similar can cause students to be overconfident.  I think there’s a balance, I just haven’t found it yet.  I’m placing this bullet point in the ‘to be continued’ section.

From here, I’m currently updating my school site to include study guide materials.  It’ll take a shift in expectations as I loop with many of my students and they’re not used to that process.  Change is inevitable and I believe being aware and making a shift will benefit students. I’m looking forward to seeing how this process plays out and will write a post about it at some point.


 

 

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2 thoughts on “Study Guide Issues

  1. Saw your tweet for this article on #MTBoS. I enjoyed reading this as well as the links to self monitoring and retrieval practices.

    One question that I’m pondering. If long term memory is helped by retrieval practices, how do you set the right level of struggle for the answer? What’s easy for one student can be impossible for another.

    Second thought is how can the study guide be customized to the needs of each student: some students may need more/less review for each section on the test. Perhaps as part of the daily self-monitoring of homework, students can write down on their study guides the textbook page and problem numbers that were mistakes or misperceptions. Obviously the point is moot if the student just copied answers to complete the study guide, but it might be helpful for those willing to put in extra effort.

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    1. I find that students comes into the classroom with different math mindsets and a tolerance for a certain amount of struggle. It seems like everyday there are math standards that all students are expected to reach and some students have already experienced success while others are struggling. I think first you need to have a decent understanding of where each student is in relation of the standard. I believe this can be accomplished through pre-tests or by gather information during class/1:1 conversations. Having open-ended tasks like Tanton’s Pinwheel* problem gives students options to “enter” the problem at their level. How they arrive at a solution may be different, but there’s a solution that we can all agree on. The emphasis is on the journey (and struggle) regardless of the current academic level. Not all assignments or tasks are like this, although it sure beats problems that rely on only an algorithm. I think also giving students extension options to enrich might be beneficial, although I don’t find students take advantage of them as much as I’d like.

      This next year I’m planning on using the study guides as more of a retrieval practice routine. The study guide refers to the test which explores specific standards for that unit. I’d like to possibly have students use something like this* for students to use as they fill out the study guide. I’m also looking at having the students bring in the study guide about 2/3 of the way through the unit to check-in and ask questions.

      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exyO45yuEbs&feature=youtu.be
      * https://pamjwilson.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/wpid-20150825_2027453.jpg?w=169&h=300

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