Copies of the answer key are at the front of the room. When you are finished with your test, come up and mark your work. Please leave your pencil at your desk and use one of the green pens. Circle any errors and explain them.

Those were the instructions given to my 6th grade math students, as they completed their multiplying and dividing with decimals test. This self-checking idea was presented as one of Megan’s favorites during Global Math a few weeks ago. It was introduced to her by Frank Noschese. The premise, of course, was simple. And the benefit seemed obvious – less paperwork. However, today I discovered that this little exercise packs a powerful punch!

Once the class realized that I was totally serious about self-checking, the first group of students picked up green pens and got down to it. Check. Check. Oops forgot comma. I subtracted wrong. Check. Copied the problem wrong. Regrouped wrong. Check. Check. Wrote 7 instead of 4. I did 50 divided by 16 instead of 16 divided by 50. Didn’t move the decimal point. Put decimal point in the wrong place.

“I made so many careless errors,” said one student as he submitted his test.

“If I left out the comma in 13750.2. Is it wrong?” asked another student.

“What if I didn’t put a zero before the decimal point?” said a third student. “Will I lose points?” (That was a bit of a strange one, since my grades are letter-based.)

More and more students submitted their tests and shared their feedback with me. Wait. Hold on a minute. Identifying errors and writing a brief explanation meant that my students were “reading the comments” and reflecting on their work. When returning an assignment or rubric, my comment is always the same. “Make sure you read the comments.” My interpretation is, “Make sure you carefully consider my feedback and reflect. Let’s develop goals and objectives, as well as a plan for achieving them.” The students’ interpretation is, “Flip through assignment. Locate the errors. See if Mrs. Shlagbaum made any mistakes.” Clearly, something is lost in translation. And I will admit that my follow-up needs improvement and negatively affects the value of comments and reflection.

Perhaps self-checking is the first step to bridging the gap. Perhaps more experience with this form of self-assessment (along with more consistency on my part) will give meaning to feedback. Perhaps the next time I say, “make sure you read the comments,” that phrase will have more value. I wonder.

And with that, I have a brand new, brilliant self-assessment and reflection tool in my pocket.

Awesome! I’m really happy it worked for you. I believe Frank single-handedly doubled the sales of orange pens thanks to the many teachers who stole his idea, so I’m really glad you gave green a chance.

Ha! Office supply stores will love another post about this idea then!

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