Wall of Remediation: A How-To Guide
Last year, in an effort to figure out the best way to encourage aspects of ownership and responsibility for learning from my students, I created a Wall of Remediation. This year, I also tried Standards Based Grading, which also emphasizes a sense of ownership and responsibility for my learning. Having just finished the first semester, here’s what my Wall of Remediation (or, as I called it this year, my Wall of Problems) looks like:
This idea seems to be popular out there in the world, so I thought I’d offer some updated insights on how I implemented it this year.
The Overview: What Is This Thing Anyway?: I have a bulletin board at the very front of my room with folders stapled to it. Each folder has worksheets that correspond to a particular skill that I assess using Standards Based Grading. You don’t have to be doing Standards Based Grading to do this (although they go well together). Instead, you just need to be asking yourself this question: What specific problems should my students be able to complete in order to be successful in my class? Whatever problems best answer that question – start organizing them into worksheets and you’re ready to start creating your very own wall.
The goal of the wall is targeted practice and remediation. If a student says to you “I can’t do these problems: _______”, you should be able to walk up the board and grab a worksheet that targets those specific problems. Eventually, you want your students to be doing this themselves – walking up the board and saying “I need to work on this”. These are jumping-off points – problems that lead to the deeper conceptual misunderstandings that a student might have. Some students grab a worksheet, try them at home, then come in for tutoring and say ‘I didn’t know how to do these ones’ and we talk about it. Some students grab a worksheet, can’t do any of it, then come in to tutoring and we do it together. Some students don’t grab a worksheet but come into tutoring anyway and say “I don’t know what I need to do – I just know that I’m failing”, at which point I grab something and say “Do the first five problems and we’ll see how you do”.
There is another very subtle but important goal of this wall which deeply affects me as a teacher: It forces me to be very conscious of the knowledge and skills that I am teaching my students. Creating problems for the wall forces me to think about how to make a complex process discrete. It forces me to make sure that every problem on that wall is meaningful and worth doing. It forces me to look at my curriculum and ask myself “What are all of the skills that are building up these final problems? To this final knowledge? And how do I break all of these things down so I can give my students an opportunity to be successful with them?” For example, I have three folders that all target Solving Algebra Equations: One folder is only two-step equations, one folder has variables on both sides of the equal sign, and one folder uses the distributive property and combining like terms. Scaffolding the folders makes it easier for me to remediate. I do similar things with coordinates and basic numerical operations (long division, multi-digit multiplication, etc).
Why Do The Problems Have Skill Labels On Them? These correspond to how I’ve set up my class with Standard Based Grading, which you can read more about at Dan Meyer’s Blog. I highly recommend some sort of label corresponding to a chapter/unit/section that you’ve taught – it makes it easier for you to organize and easier for your students to understand where exactly their misunderstandings are.
What Kinds of Problems Should I Use? Most of my problems are quickly generated and very procedural. I source a lot of my problems from the following sources:
- Worksheet Works: Excellent for quick algebra and arithmetic practice. Generates answer keys too.
- Kuta Software: If your school has a license for this, these problems are perfect for the basic procedural fluency skills that most students need to work on. My school didn’t have a license, so I downloaded the trial and generated tons and tons of worksheets based on anything I thought I might need. Then I found a free print-to-PDF program and saved all of the worksheets as PDFs so I could use them when the trial ran out.
Where Do I Put The Board? Last year, I had the board right in the front of the room so it was always staring my students in the face. At the start of this year, I had it in the back of the room so students could discretely grab a worksheet if they needed it. I noticed a steep decline in the number of students who took advantage of my board. So, after a few weeks, I moved it back to the front of the room and saw a sharp increase in the number of students who would casually grab a worksheet as they left the room. So, based on my anecdotal evidence, I recommend making this a prominent part of your classroom in order for it to be used for full effect.
How Do Students Check Their Answers? One goal of the wall is to foster independence and responsibility. I do this by having all of the answers in a binder that is always at the front of the room:
Inside the folder is simply the answers – the problems are not worked out. When a student completes a worksheet, I make them check their answers (I don’t do this for them unless a student needs some serious handholding, in which case I teach them how to check their answers so they can do it in the future). After they’ve checked their answers, I look over the ones they’ve missed:
I look for any patterns in the problems they missed – if there is, I address that specific problems and make them do more of that type.
I look to see if it’s actually an even more remedial skill that’s stopping them (integer arithmetic is usually a big one) – if it is, I grab that skill from the wall and work with them on that. Then we come back to this skill when they’re ready. Students who need serious remedial help find this frustrating – they feel like they’re not working on the real skill that they’re struggling with. I need to stay consistent, because once they have a firm foundation, the rest of the mathematics comes incredibly quickly.
I look to see if it’s sloppy mistakes – if it is, I make them do a different version of the worksheet and tell them to stop making sloppy mistakes. They don’t like this, but I stand my ground. I tell them that wrong is wrong no matter how much you argue (Sample argument: ‘But -7 and 7 are the same thing! It’s just a negative sign!’). Eventually they learn to be slow, careful, and correct rather than quick, sloppy, and incorrect. This policy also makes it incredibly apparent when they’re missing a serious foundational skill, such as adding and subtracting signed numbers, basic algebra, or long division (those are the big ones, in my experience).
If they got 100% or they’ve done more practice, I ask if they think they understand the concept or if they need more practice. Students learn to be honest with themselves and ask for more problems if they need it.
Are These Problems Worth Extra Credit? I don’t give extra credit, and I recommend you do the same. If a student missed a bunch of homework assignments, I’ll sometimes replace those grades with problems done off of the wall. However, once a student has completed worksheets on a specific skill, I usually let them retake that portion of the test. Test retakes and the Wall of Problems go very well together.
If They’re Not Worth Extra Credit, Then Why Should My Students Do Them? Valid question, but that has more to do with your individual classroom. I let my students retake their tests once they’ve demonstrated that they’ve put in some effort to master the material – this is the primary purpose of the Wall of Problems in my classroom. Once they complete a worksheet, I let them retake that portion of the test. I call it a Retake Ticket.
Last year, it served primarily as a tool for remediation – most of the folders were full of skills that they should have mastered in previous grades, such as integer arithmetic, solving algebra equations, graphing lines, long division, etc. This helped me quickly target and remediate areas that my students needed help with.
I’ve also used it as targeted practice for high-stakes end-of-the-year assessments. The Arizona one is called the AIMS Test. As the test got closer, I put AIMS Practice tests on the wall for students to work on and try independently. Our department has a bulletin board in our hallway which serves a similar function – there are always packets and worksheets aimed towards practicing for this high-stakes test. As students are walking between classes, they can pick up a worksheet and practice at home, then come to tutoring for the answers. If your department has a bulletin board in your school that isn’t being used to its full potential, I highly recommend something like this.
Parting Thoughts I said it before and I’ll say it again: as a new teacher, this has been the best idea I’ve had (so far) for my classroom. I like the reflective habits it forces on my students and I like how it focuses how I think about my curriculum and the types of problems I assign. This wall is all about giving students the opportunity to improve their skills in a meaningful and un-overwhelming way – give this worksheet a try and we’ll go from there. This wall is also about giving me the tools right at my fingertips to help remediate whatever it is that my students need to work on. I keep finding that half the battle in teaching is being prepared for whatever your kids throw at you. Having this wall has helped me prepare for whatever remedial problems I might encounter, and has helped shift some of the responsibility to my students’ rather than having all that weight lie on my shoulders.