Death to Review Day: Intentional, Daily, Engaging Review for All Students

A few weeks ago I wrote about coaching a super talented teacher on ratio.  She’s a science teacher and the fifth grade science curriculum often means teaching students ideas and content from grades K-4.  There’s an amazing diversity and amount of content.  Do you remember the five ways to test rocks and minerals?  Effective cumulative review is essential for her kids.

This idea is stolen entirely from the amazing work of Joe Negron, founder, principal, and teacher at KIPP Infinity Middle School.  Joe describes the elements of effective cumulative review using the acronym IDEA.

Cumulative Review should be Intentional in content, format, and grouping.

1. Content:  There’s a general rule of thumb we apply to cumulative review that was also borrowed from KIPP Infinity.

  • Content where kids demonstrated 80% or higher mastery gets tossed into cumulative review periodically (monthly, once a unit)
  • Content where kids showed 60-80% mastery gets reviewed multiple times a week.
  • Content that kids had less than 60% mastery gets reviewed daily.

This is not a perfect rule but I think something like it helps teachers quickly prioritize re-teaching and remediation.  I’d love to hear how other schools approach this.

2. Format: All too often kids only recognize content if it’s in the same format  they have previously seen. Kids who demonstrated mastery on a series of teacher-created tests are thrown by the font and layout of a standardized exam.  We need to intentionally mix as many formats as possible into our daily cumulative review.  Intentional formatting will help make kids more flexible users of their own knowledge whether it’s on a state test, at a museum exhibit, or a college application.

3. Grouping: Ideally cumulative review activities involve a mix of heterogeneous and homogeneous grouping.  This can be as simple as mild, medium, and spicy questions on a do now or as complex as using Kagan’s numbered heads to assign different questions to different skill level groupings during a review game.

Daily: As teachers and leaders we see how all the units and lessons add up to knowledge of a discipline.  The thread that we easily see connecting one day to the next is not always so obvious to a child. For kids lesson to lesson feels like runaway train lurching to a stop at some unknown locale before picking you up again and dropping you off farther away.

In order for cumulative review to work it has to happen on a daily basis.  There’s a lot of emerging (or at least emerging to me) science that suggests memory requires constant work*.

Cumulative review evokes images of massive worksheets and elaborate jeopardy games.  As we pushed to make cumulative review part of our daily routine in already jam packed lessons teachers became incredibly creative about weaving in old material.The science teacher I referenced at the top has become adept at weaving vocabulary review into the transitions between activities.  As the kids break up from their discussion groups to do independent responses to a demonstration she has them perform the motions for words from prior units.  It takes all of fifteen-thirty seconds and ensures kids have a daily dose of old vocabulary. Several of our math and language teachers do mad minutes, quick quizzes on old material in the middle of new content.

The idea of a review day is a cherished teaching zombie refuses to die. These days are often aim-less meanderings where we repeat content.  They also ignore the fact that cramming huge hunks of knowledge is far less effective for students’ long term success than daily review. One happy consequence of daily cumulative review is that it put a stake in the heart of review day.**

I’ll tackle engaging and all students working in a later post.

*Check out Moonwalking with Einstein or the Memory edition of Radiolab if you want some cool science and history behind memory.

** Stakes don’t kill zombies.  I should have said chainsaw.

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2 Responses to “Death to Review Day: Intentional, Daily, Engaging Review for All Students”

  1. charlesabq Says:

    All the review days I have seen in my blob school are walking zombies–they exist more so that the teacher/school can say they ‘reviewed.’

    I believe review is a key area where digital learning can be a teacher-multiplier. I have seen the way the Reasoning Mind Math program works and admire how adaptive it is to the child’s ability. The student spends the 60 minute review session focusing on the standards which demand improvement. Proficient and accelerated students tackle more rigorous problems which mostly involve combining these math standards in multi-step problems. In short, it is both surgical and efficient and even moderately invested students stay on task because they can see their growth and control their speed. (Also, this particular program presents the problems in many different formats).

    And, lastly, this allows me to work with at-risk students for long stretches of uninterrupted time.

    • mrdolan Says:

      Definitely need to add a long list of good digital cumulative review apps, programs, and sites to this post. I wonder if we should change the acronym from all students working to all students working and assessed. Hmmm.

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