Get Your Tech Up Part II: Closure

logoOne of my favorite teaching resources is Poll Everywhere. I use it all the time. For a teacher, Poll Everywhere is a free, text-message based student response system. My Do Now uses Poll Everywhere, I incorporate Poll Everywhere into my lecture to keep kids engaged, and my closure uses Poll Everywhere. I was never a big believer in closure until I developed the one I use now. The kids love to do it, and I find it really helpful for my own assessment and planning after they leave. Here is how you can Get Your Tech Up and make an awesome, useful closure for your class.

For my closure, I create a free response poll for every class period I teach. I don’t write in a question for the closure; in fact, I don’t write in anything but the class period on the poll. Since I project directly on to a whiteboard, it is faster for me to write on the board (over the poll) the type of closure I want my students to do, than it is to edit the poll every period/day. Below, you will see a screenshot of period 2b’s closure from yesterday. In the blue box, for this closure activity, I wrote in the abbreviation: TIL.

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What is TIL?

The closures I use are inspired by one of my favorite websites, Reddit. I frequent two Subreddits: Today I Learned (TIL), a forum where users (called Redditors) simply write about what they learned that day, and Explain Like I’m 5 (ELI5), a forum where users ask other users to explain something complex to them like they were a five-year-old.

In my class, depending on what I want to assess, I will write one of the following abbreviations on top of the projected poll:

TIL (Today I Learned…): Students text in and tell me what they learned in one sentence.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5…): Students will explain a difficult concept in as few sentences as possible. For example, I’d write in marker, on top of the poll ELI5: Why is Holden Caulfield an unreliable narrator?

IDU (I Don’t Understand…) Students text in something they don’t understand about the day’s lesson.

IWW (I Wonder Why…) Students finish the sentence with something that they wondered about during the day’s lesson.

TMM (Tell Me More…) Students respond with topics related to the day’s lesson that they want to know more about. If we are reading Catcher In The Rye, for example, a student might respond with “TMM about Holden’s red hunting hat.”

Here is a quick video of students doing the TIL activity after a lesson on Jamestown and John Smith (we are getting ready to read A General History of Virginia and explore Smith’s habit of… embellishing). For context, this is a class of 28 Sophomores answering the closure, and it took about ninety seconds for everyone to respond.

The reason why I am such a big fan of this free response closure is what it allows me to do after the kids leave. Here is how I assess with and use each one of these closure activities.

TIL: In my lesson plans, I write what I want my kids to learn that day. With TIL I am looking to see if what I wanted them to learn and what they actually learned align. As long as most of the responses are in the ballpark of what I wanted them to learn, I consider it mission accomplished. If I don’t think they learned what I set out to teach them that day, the next class I reassess them in their Do Now’s journal. For example, If I want them to learn that Holden is an unreliable narrator, but most of the responses were about his red hunting hat, the next  class their journal will ask them directly: “Why is Holden an unreliable narrator?”. This closure/journal combo lets me know if I need to reteach something.

ELI5: I think the truest sign of mastery is whether or not a student can teach something to someone else. I like ELI5 because it is a way to assess if students can do just that. If a student can take a complex topic or question and explain it in a way that a five-year-old could understand it, I considered the topic mastered.

IDU: I Don’t Understand might be the most important of my closure activities. First, a tip: I usually make students include their initials with their answers for these closures, but for IDU you should allow students to remain anonymous. You’ll get better responses. After school, I will usually look over the IDU poll responses and prepare an index card that answers their questions. The next class, after the Do Now, I will put that class’ poll back up on the board (which is why I make a poll for each class) to remind them of their questions and then will answer them.

IWW: I like asking students what they wondered during a lesson because it interests me to see what they were thinking during a lesson. I often ask this closure when we are reading a novel or play. Kids usually ask questions about character motivation. If I see a lot of the same “wonderings,” I will usually turn it into a discussion question or journal topic for the next class. I also think when kids see that other kids are wondering (maybe even wondering the same thing they are), it helps create a positive learning environment.

TMM: Tell Me More is similar to the I Wonder Why closure. I see it as a way for students to tell me what they want to learn more about in  class. This helps give them ownership of the class. If I see a lot of similar responses, I’ll work it into a lesson. For instance, last year I briefly talked about the assassinations associated with Catcher in the Rye. It was only two slides on a PowerPoint designed to give background information on Salinger and the book. The TMM responses were overwhelmingly asking to be told more about Chapman’s assassination of John Lennon. Knowing they were interested, I put together a more in depth lesson on Chapman and his connection with Catcher in the Rye. We watched an interview, created a psychological profile, and had a great discussion about why Chapman did what he did. This would have never happened had I not asked my students what they wanted to know more about. During the Chapman discussion, I also told my class about the movie Chapter 27. Many watched it on their own time because they wanted to. TMM closure not only gives teachers a chance to make lessons students are interest in, but also recommend movies, readings, etc., that students might enjoy, but can’t be done in school. A TMM closure is why most of my students are currently watching Breaking Bad.

While, I don’t  change the type of closure I do everyday (it is always a free response poll projected onto my whiteboard) I do change the response based on what I want to assess. I hope you see how TIL, ELI5, IDU, IWW, and IMM are used in my class, make me a better teacher, and make the class a better place to learn. Take it from me, a teacher who used to never use closure: even if you don’t use mine, closures makes a big difference in the classroom.

If you made it this far, you have earned what may be my most valuable Teched Up Tip. If you are like me, and forget to do closure sometimes, do what I do: I set an alarm on my phone to go off eight minutes before the end of every period I teach. When it goes off, I hit the snooze on the phone and tell the kids to wrap up what they’re doing as I go and project the closure up on the whiteboard. This gets students in their seats with enough time to do the closure, hear my reminders, and  preview the next class. It makes for a nice, orderly end to the period.

Until next time,

GLHF and maybe check out the education or teacher subreddits. They’re awesome!

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