Breaking Up With Review Days.

It’s been a while. My days have been pretty packed between teaching and coaching, but I’ve had these thoughts rolling around in my mind for the past few months and the (anecdotal) evidence has been eating at me recently.  Since this blog is the place where I try to pull together the jumble of events and questions I have about teaching into something coherent, I thought it was time to write something that might help me as the rest of the year unfolds.

To put things bluntly, I am breaking up with review days. Here’s the (sorry, it’s kind of long) story of how I came to this conclusion.

The Start of Year 1: I’m fresh out of college and new to teaching 6th graders.  Almost every teacher at my school builds in 2 review days before each test.  I never really used review days during student teaching, but I figure I might as well give it a try.  I soon find I like the arrangement.  Review days are predictable, provide some closure, and create distance between the content of a unit and when it is assessed.  More than anything else, I love the comforting presence of review days and the way students seemed a little calmer walking out of the room.

The Tail End of Year 1: I’m starting to wonder if review days are nothing more than buying time.  Some students make the same mistakes regardless if I spend one, two, or even three review days before an outcome assessment.  Still, review day is such a sweet lady.  Even though I’m starting to question the benefit our of relationship, she’s fun and assuring.  The kids like her and look forward to her games.

October 2015: I attended the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference.  On a whim, I attended a session from Kelly Rooney and Tyrone Martinez-Black with the promising title of “Revamp Your Review Day.”  I was thinking the session would share some strategies and activities for making review days more effective.  After the session started, I soon found these guys had a different idea in mind.  The teachers shared the problems of review days (use of class time, little to no impact on student assessment scores, and the tendency to cause a teacher to question how a student still made misconceptions addressed during review).  As an alternative, mixed review throughout a unit and culminating projects were offered to help students correct misconceptions. I walked out of the session a bit frustrated with my relationship with review days, but kind of uncertain about how to change.

December 2015: I continued to notice and question my use of review days throughout second quarter.  For instance, I saw that the number of review days really had no effect on test scores.  I also saw that some of the percentages on test scores reflected percentages students earned on quizzes throughout a unit.  Beyond this quantitative evidence, I had a ton of qualitative evidence to support my growing annoyance with review days.  During these days, the students fell into two categories.  One group of students got bored with the review activities or completely dominated a review game.  The other group of students worked hard, sometimes asked questions, sometimes were uncertain about what to ask, or lost interest in a review game because they already knew who would win.  Also, I saw the success my classes were having with spiraled homework.  I questioned why I should take two days to work with more spiraled assignments  in class when students were already completing spiraled practice on a routine basis.  With all of this evidence, I decided to separate myself from review days for the next unit.  Maybe we just needed a break for me to see the value of our relationship.

January 2016: The next unit for my general classes (numerical and algebraic expressions) was a ripe candidate to cut review days  The unit tends to be easier for all students, but I also felt confident that I would be able to easily spiral assignments for the content.  As the unit progressed, the spiraled homework continued to be a success for my students; however, I also discovered my experiment changed my teaching for the better of my students.  Since I knew no days would be side aside for review, I found myself opening or closing every class with random practice with topics from the unit.  I changed my routine of moving onto new topics immediately after quizzes to setting aside part of the following day to address common misconceptions in greater detail than I have in the past.  Basically, each lesson became more eclectic than normal.  Students were a little anxious when the test day arrived, but I was shocked to find that the class averages were actually higher than my classes from last year!  While I could easily attribute the difference to the students or my experience, I couldn’t help attributing some of the success to the lack of review days.  Now, I was seriously questioning the value of review days.

February 2016: I had a great fling with my “No review days, but review in so many more ways” experiment, but old habits die hard.  For the following unit (equations and inequalities), I planned on setting aside 2 days for review like old times.  I tried to use the lessons I learned from my experiment (spiraling assignments more, including a lot of mixed practice throughout a unit), but I did not feel the same urgency/necessity of those practices knowing that I had 2 days at the end of the unit to tie up loose ends.  Beyond the impact on my plans, bringing back review days only magnified the issues I saw with student engagement with review earlier in the year.  During the review days for the test, more students checked out of the games than normal.  I also witnessed more misconceptions when I graded the assessment.  The unit (equations and inequalities) is among the most abstract of the year, but I think this story would have had a happier ending if I never planned to use review days.

The Breakup:

I’m at a dead end in my relationship with review days (at least for my general classes).  She’s a lovely lady.  We’ve had a lot of good times together playing games, asking questions, and making my plans predictable.  We worked out a lot of small issues, but she gave me (and my students) a false comfort in the face of a test.  I hope we’ll be friends and maybe she’ll even visit from time to time in the future, but I think it’s time to go our separate ways for the benefit of my teaching practices and the learning of my students.




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