It’s the day before a test, and as a teacher, you start to panic for your kids. They’re asking questions during your review session. You’re realizing that their mastery of the material is far below what you expected. You’re not sure if they didn’t study, if you didn’t teach it well, or if something else went wrong, but you know your classroom isn’t in a good place.
This scenario can be heartbreaking when you’re a caring teacher who wants your students to succeed. The good news: this is fixable. Review and reteach are two very different methods of helping your students retain information, but they are not interchangeable.
The difference is simple. Review is what most teachers do the day or week before a large test. You go over large amounts of information, and students ask questions on things that have always been a little bit tricky for them. You see eyes widen as your kids remember things from the beginning of the unit. You might play a game, do a few worksheets from the beginning of the unit, or have kids battle it out in groups to see who can answer the most questions correctly. Review is about reawakening the brain to things that it may have forgotten in time. Review is about remembering- not re-learning.
Reteach is different. It’s targeted to a specific objective that was a struggle for students. It’s not a large scale review. Reteach requires you to constantly have your finger on the pulse of your classroom, finding misunderstandings and fixing them before they become large-scale problems.
In order to effectively reteach material, you need to know what your students aren’t understanding. Dr. Robert Marzano, co-founder and CEO of the educational powerhouse Marzano Research Laboratory, stresses the importance of regular assessment when deciding whether it makes more sense to reteach a concept, or simply review it at the end of a unit. This is where end-of-class exit tickets can come in handy. At the end of the class period, each student gets a paper that has one to three multiple choice questions that will let you as the teacher know whether they understood the day’s objective. Here’s the key: students need to write their rationale (how they knew their answer was correct) underneath their answer for each question. This allows you to see where the breakdown information occurs (if any), and helps you see how to change your instruction during your reteach.
When you use this type of check for understanding to fuel your reteach, one of the following scenarios inevitably occurs:
Every kid mastered the objective. This can be great, if the objective in question was rigorous and challenged your students. Be honest with yourself when this happens- was class too easy? Are you pushing your kids? This may be a sign that it’s time to step up your instruction. A simple look at Brown’s taxonomy can help you ramp up the rigor with higher order thinking questions.
Most of the kids mastered the objective. In most classrooms, this is the sweet spot. To target the students who missed the objective, you have a few options. You can group them together while the rest of the class is working on an extension activity the next day and help break down their misunderstandings. You can ask them to stop in before school, after school, or at lunch for a quick reteach. You can simply check in with the student when you return their exit ticket the next day, asking them to explain to you where they went wrong, helping you to gauge their level of misunderstanding. Make sure you’re getting to those students who missed the mark, and celebrate the students who got it right.
Most of the kids didn’t master the objective. Eek! This can be scary to see as a teacher, but addressing this with the class can be fun. If most of the students didn’t get it, that means some students have the hang of it. While going over the exit ticket at the beginning of class, call on students who nailed it to explain their thinking. Sometimes, having the point rephrased in kid friendly language can work wonders. If most kids are still missing the point, stay tuned- we’re about to get to how to do a full class reteach.
Literally no one got it. Buckle up, teach- it happens to the best of us. It’s time for a full class reteach.
Now that you know where your class stands, it’s time to talk to them about reteaching if they fell into one of the bottom two categories. The key here is transparency. Be honest with your kids- let them know what percentage of them mastered the objective, without calling out names (it’s ok to shout out a rock star, but no one wants to be singled out for doing poorly). UK based educational think tank and charity The Sutton Trust have proven that learning is supposed to be hard at first. Kids actually retain more knowledge when they struggle with a concept in the beginning stages of learning- share that with your class. Have an honest conversation with your kids about what went wrong, and be prepared to own up if you weren’t fully prepared for the lesson or if your explanations weren’t the best.
After the conversation, it’s time to get the reteaching going! These tried-and-true methods work wonders for getting to the proverbial light bulb moment with your kiddos:
Cooperative learning. Education expert Dr. Spencer Kagan’s Sage-And-Scribe approach works well here. If you’re unfamiliar, the concept is easy. You ask the class a question relating to the reteach topic, and then pair your kids up. Partner A answers the question while partner B writes what partner A is saying. After 60 seconds (or however long you feel is appropriate), they switch. After each partner’s answer is recorded, have students look over the answer and create one superanswer. Walk around the room while this part is happening to hear students overcoming their original obstacles with the objective. Carefully select a few answers to read out loud, and watch students suddenly begin to “get” the concept as they hear it explained in the words of their peers.
Switch modalities. Scholastic, Inc. education expert Brenda Weaver notes the importance of recognizing that re-teaching cannot simply mean doing more of the same. Did you use slides to teach the concept the first time? Ditch them, and use a video instead. Used a video before? Scrap that, and have students read and discuss a short article on the concept. Use something new to let their brains explore the concept in a different way.
Have kids simplify. This is a great way to have kids break down the concept, both for themselves and to each other. Group kids into small bunches (3-4 students) and ask them to write a paragraph explaining how they would teach the concept to a kindergartner. This forces children to stop using tough vocabulary, stop using jargon, and really get to the heart of the concept. The big key here is having each group present their answer out loud, so all students in the class benefit from hearing a tough concept re-taught in simple language multiple times.
When students struggle, remember that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. All educators have concepts that need to be hit on more than once in order to stick. By constantly checking for understanding and reteaching concepts that need to be hit hard, you’re ensuring that your students have the knowledge they need to successfully move forward in your classroom and beyond.