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Wall of Remediation: A How-To Guide

December 31, 2012

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:

Wall Part 1

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.

If you’re curious, Here are all of the problems I had in my Wall of Problems. Every Single One. Enjoy!

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:

IMG_0313

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.

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24 Comments
  1. Love this idea! This will be my summer project. Examgen is also a great generator for questions for the wall. I wish there was a site where everyone posted there skill lists and remediation for each skill on there.

  2. rowex105 permalink

    This is really great! I really appreciate the answer keys being in a folder for students to check themselves. Very empowering.

  3. rowex105 permalink

    This is really great! I really appreciate the answer keys being in a folder for students to check themselves. Very empowering.

  4. deanna permalink

    Do you have different worksheets per folder? I am trying to implement this in my class but i am not sure how to divide the folders. For example I have a section on simplifying radical expressions. I would need review worksheets on simplifying, adding & subtracting, multiplying & dividing, and 3rd and 4th roots. Do you do a different folder for each worksheet? Or do you do them all on the same worksheet?

    • If it was me, I would have a different worksheets for each skill – one for simplifying, one for adding and subtracting, one for multiply/dividing, and for 3rd and 4th roots, and then one that combines all of them together.

      If a student came in for help and didn’t know where they needed help, I would start them with the combination one. Based on any patterns I saw in their work, I would stop them and grab one of the other sheets to focus just on that skill (ie: if they’re missing the addition/subtraction rules of problems, start them working on just the addition/subtraction worksheet, then come back to the combination one).

      In my mind, the goal is targeted remediation. If you put too much on one worksheet, it becomes overwhelming for the student. It’s also easier for a student to jump in independently if the skills are more discretely organized.

  5. I saw this on someone’s blog earlier this semester and have used it ever since–it’s such a great idea! I especially like your requirement that students check their answers with your notebook of answers–I’m going to put one of those together as soon as I have some time!

    On other thing I put up there was the little patterns sheet from Fawn’s http://www.visualpatterns.org website. Many of the students really enjoy doing those, and it’s especially good for those students who are up-to-date with their work and their standards and don’t need any remediation.

  6. Matt Vaudrey permalink

    Just finished building the “Algebra Concept List” this week, numbered them all, re-read this entire post. I like how it looks, and I’ll let you know how it pans out for my class.

    • Mrs. Walford permalink

      Matt, would you be willing to share your concept list?

      • Matt Vaudrey permalink

        Sure. Send me an email. My name (no spaces) at gmail.

      • Matt Vaudrey permalink

        Also, I posted it on my website this week.

  7. Jeff permalink

    Love the idea. Have you experienced some students not doing any of the work? I know I can think of at least 10-15 students already that I’m 99% sure would completely ignore these. Any suggestions what to do with these students who simply don’t care about a D or F because there is no consequence for a poor grade at home (My 8th grade classes are full inclusion)?

  8. Allison permalink

    I love this idea and plan to use it this school year. I just have a question. Do you change these folders throughout the year or do you keep the same ones up all year long? I noticed that when you shared your worksheets (THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!), the folder was called Geometry 1st Semester. So I wasn’t sure if you kept these up all year or switched them at the semester change.

    • Hi Allison,

      I tend to change some of the folders once a semester. The basic skills folders (integers, solving equations, plotting points) tend to stay up the whole year; some of the more discipline-specific folders change from semester to semester.

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