In my AP Research class, students complete a year-long research project on a topic of their choosing; because they have to follow disciplines-specific rules and implement an appropriate research method, they end up having quite different learning plans. One student is currently gathering evidence through interviews and surveys; another is completing a t-test of secondary data; a few are writing the results section of their Academic Paper. As their teacher, I have to be able to keep track of where each student is during class quickly and without too much disruption. Some days, I do this simply through touching base with each student for a minute or two asking what they are currently working on and what their goal is for the end of the class. But there are some days when I need to have an extended conference with a few students which eats up more of my time. On those days, I have my students spend the first few minutes of class coming up with a to-do list, setting deadlines, and posting these on the board. We have an 80-minute block, and I tell them that their goal is to spend 90% of the time on task (I try to be reasonable with teenagers!), breaking their goals down into manageable chunks. This is the work when we generally do as teachers, but it’s important for students to practice managing their own time.

When we first started doing this, they tended to write goals like “Begin writing results section.” But as teachers know, there are a LOT of steps to writing, some of which don’t even involve putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys). For some students, this might mean they have to read some models or talk through ideas with a peer before sketching out ideas. So when composing a to do list, it’s important to help students be realistic about the individual steps it takes to complete a task; this helps them manage their time as well— individual tasks are less daunting than larger items like writing an entire section of a paper.

Once they’ve figure out their steps, I have them write their to do lists on the board to help me get a quick idea as to what everyone is up to that day. I can tell students whether their list is too ambitious or not ambitious enough; I can also pair students up (e.g. one student’s goal was to figure out how to find an average of two pieces of data and I suggested she speak to our resident math whiz) or point them to a useful resource. Posting their to do list also holds them accountable because their peers get to see what they are doing (which also helps remind them of steps they may have forgotten). I have my students post their deadlines too so if 8:15 rolls around and Johnny hasn’t reached his goal, I know to touch base with him. As students finish their tasks, I have them erase them from the board; we all know how good it feels to cross something off our to do list! Some students might find it anxiety-inducing to see their classmates getting up and erasing tasks, but that’s why the timeline is important— as long as they are meeting their deadlines (or are aware of why they aren’t meeting it) they are in good shape. Anything not erased by the end of the block could be homework or a goal for next class; it also lets me know how much workshop time I might need to provide the next time we meet. There are certainly more sophisticated ways to do this type of task— if there’s a push to use technology, there are lots of platforms for students to post their daily goals. But I like that the kids have to get up from their seats periodically throughout the block and they like to individualize their lists on the board through drawings or fun sayings (like one student’s “eat, pray, research”). This is a simple strategy we use for longer workshop times but it’s also one that I think will be helpful as they become more independent in their own lives.

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