This semester I am teaching a short term intermediate algebra class. I taught this last year, and I taught a chapter each week followed by a week to review for the midterm. I repeated the same schedule for the final. This semester I have changed the schedule and have had great success. After I finish covering each chapter, I devote a day to reviewing that chapter immediately.
I bring in an old copy of a chapter exam, and the review takes place in 3 parts.
- I give the students 30 minutes to work the exam on their own. I do not allow them to use notes or any other reference materials.
30 minutes might seem a little short, but I do write my (1-hour) exams to be on the short side, and most students can get through a majority of the problems in 30 minutes.
I then have the students identify each problem as a 1 (I have this under control), 2 (I need a little help), or 3 (I need a lot of help).
- Once students have rated each problem I have them pair up and try to help each other. Many times students who have a problem marked as a 3 can find a student who has it marked as a 1 who can hep them to understand the problem. If the pair of students struggle with the same problem, they can refer to their notes to try to make sense of the problem.
After another 30 minutes I have the pairs rate each problem again.
- The third part of the review involves me. I ask students to tell me which problems are still giving them trouble. We have done this for 4 chapters, and each time we narrow it down to 3 or 4 problems that several students are struggling with.
I work through each problem, asking for students in the class to lead the discussion. What did you try? What is important to remember here? I also offer my advice.
My students have found this very rewarding. One of the strengths of this approach is encouraging students to use retrieval practice. So many times I have heard students say that they thought they had it under control only to have things fall apart on the exam, but if they had put themselves in a test situation without test consequences they may have realized that they were not as prepared as they thought they were.
Another strength of this approach is that students get a chance to turn to each other for help. Often the advice of a classmate will be more helpful to a student than just watching me solve a problem again.
After the midterm I asked my students if they would rather review after each chapter or save all of the review days until the end of the semester, right before the final exam. They overwhelmingly voted to continue with the same review process.
I’d highly recommend giving this a try in your class. Do you have a class that only meets for one hour a day? Try having the students work through the problems, both alone and then in pairs on one day. Then have a debriefing session the next day where you can address their questions.
How do you structure your review sessions? I’d love to hear what you do. Please leave a comment!
I am a mathematics instructor at College of the Sequoias, and an Algebra/Statistics author with Pearson. Follow me on Twitter (@georgewoodbury) or reach out to me through the contact page on my website.