When I look back over the past 16 years of my life as a high school Science Teacher I realize that there are some foundational habits I have adopted which have led to my success in the classroom. Small things, done regularly, which snowball to create a massive impact over time.
One such habit is the Weekly Review.
Just this Sunday gone, as I was finally sitting down again at my favorite Bangkok Starbucks after lockdown restrictions were recently lifted, I realised that the time I was spending reading over my lesson plans was absolutely priceless. You see, a weekly review is just that: time spent reading over the week just gone, planning the week ahead and checking through assignments and work that may have been submitted electronically.
For me, I like to find a quiet place on a Sunday morning to do my Weekly Review – somewhere where I can focus and not be distracted. Some teachers reading this may scoff at the thought of giving up a sacred Sunday morning for school work – after all, this is my free time, right?
You may be surprised to learn, however, that this time I invest every Sunday morning is so valuable because it actually saves me a ton of headaches and stress in the ensuing week of teaching. For me, Sunday works well. For you, this might not be the case, and that’s fine! Choose a day and time that works for you each week, if you can – a free double lesson in your timetable may be suitable, for example.
One question you might now be asking is “Why is a weekly review so useful, anyway?”. Well, get ready because I’m about to describe four ways in which a weekly review can solve so many day-to-day teacher problems.
Weekly Review benefit #1: It allows me to see where I am with my classes, and think about the pace I’m going at
It’s so important to consistently look at where we’re at right now with our students, and where we need to go. Questions I ask myself during this part of the Weekly Review are:
- Are my students at the right place in the curriculum map? Am I behind schedule, or am I ahead of schedule?
- If my students are not where they should be in terms of topics covered to-date, then why is that?
- Am I going too slow, or do I need to speed up with this class?
Answering these three questions is so important: especially for exam-level classes who usually have a large amount of content to cover in a relatively short amount of time. Pacing is so important, in fact, that the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development recently stated in an excellent 2020 article that:
There’s a correlation between effective pacing and student engagement, so it’s crucial to consider the speed at which you move through a lesson and the rate of delivery for different parts of the lesson. When pacing is too slow, students often become bored and disengaged. When it’s too fast, some may not grasp what’s being taught and get lost—or discouraged.Craig Simmons, ASCD.org. Available at https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/pacing-lessons-for-optimal-learning
From this we see that the regular consideration of pace is crucial to not only ensuring that content is covered on-time, but also to ensuring that student engagement is maintained. For me, I need a weekly check-up when it comes to pace, and my Weekly Review works on this like a treat.
Weekly Review benefit #2: It allows me to see if I am lacking variety in my teaching
One of the very first things I learned on my PGCE teacher-training course way back in 2005 was that each and every lesson should contain a variety of activities. 16 years later, and I have come to the conclusion that this is true.
Students generally become disengaged and disinterested when the same types of activities are used over and over again. Whilst it may not be possible to include more that two or three types of activity within each individual lesson, it is possible to introduce variety over a series of lessons – such as those taught within a week. My Weekly Review allows me to answer the following key questions about variety:
- Have I been giving my students the same kinds of activities all week, or did I make my lessons varied and fun?
- What kinds of useful activities have my students not done yet, and would therefore benefit from next week?
- Which activities worked well, and could be repeated in the future? Which activities did not work well, and should be avoided next week?
- Did my students do too much writing or copying, and not enough active engagement? How could I fix this next week?
- Am I expecting too much from my students?
- Am I boring my students?
- Are my activities suitable and relevant?
Sometimes I think, as teachers, we all have our own favourite ‘menu’ of techniques that have consistently worked well for us time and time again. For me, for example, I use a lot of past-exam paper questions because I know that they are every effective at getting students familiar with key vocabulary and the rigors of the real exam. However, my personal list of favourite techniques is still fairly limited in scope, even after 16 years of refinement, and I recognise that I must go outside of my comfort zone again and again to try out new ideas, activities, apps and systems.
One tip I would recommend is to always write out brief lesson plans in a custom-made teachers’ planner each week, rather than relying on looking back through your week on Google Classroom, Moodle, Firefly, etc. When you have your whole week mapped-out on a double-page spread, it makes the Weekly Review process straightforward and efficient.
Weekly Review benefit #3: It allows me to see what student work is missing, and if students need to catch-up
I personally have always found it quite a challenge to assess or mark student work on a day-to-day basis. Instead, a dedicated weekly slot, such as my Weekly Review time, works wonders when it comes to managing my workload and stress levels. By checking through all of my assignments on Google Classroom, or any system I am using, I can see which students are behind with their work and which students are up-to-speed. Whilst it may be necessary to chase students up on the day an assignment is due in, the Weekly Review allows me to see which students have ‘slipped-through the net’, so to speak, and which students have still not submitted work despite being given a reminder.
Nowadays we do not need to take home piles and piles of notebooks home to mark like we did in the early days of teaching – we can check assignments submitted electronically and, I would suggest, use some of the Weekly Review time for marking and assessment. In addition, this time allows us to reward those students who are consistently putting forth good effort – perhaps by giving plus points, merits or whatever our school’s rewards’ system happens to be.
With students who are identified as being behind on their work, we can issue reminders or deploy sanctions in the ensuing week. In addition, if a whole class has been flagged as being behind on a task (sometimes we underestimate how long an activity can take), then that class can be given time to catch-up at some point the following week (if enough curriculum time is available – otherwise this can be set as homework).
Weekly Review benefit #4: It allows me to plan ahead intelligently
Planning ahead intelligently is not quite the same as just planning ahead. Based on the information gathered during the Weekly Review about the stages the students are at in their courses, the pace I’m going at, the level of variety I’m including in lessons and student status regarding missed work or partially complete assignments, I can now plan my week ahead with much better clarity and purpose than if I were not to consider all of these factors.
This is probably the main objective of the Weekly Review – the opportunity to figure out what I’m going to teach the following week (and how I’m going to do it). However, as I hope you’ve seen from the previous points raised, a lot of information must be gathered before effective planning can take place.
Based on my observations and communications over the past 16 years, I have come to the conclusion that there is still a significant minority of teachers in the profession who are planning lessons on a day-to-day basis. This holds especially true for trainee teachers and those who are new to teaching. I’ve been there myself – life gets busy and often we can fall into a ‘survival’ mode of teaching whereby we only focus on short-term goals and getting through the day ahead. This strategy, however, is not only inefficient – it’s stressful and ineffective. Students undoubtedly suffer when the teacher doesn’t plan ahead intelligently: considering long-term and medium-term goals, as lessons are never as optimal as they could be when real thought, time, effort and professional intelligence have gone into the planning process.
Planning ahead intelligently via the Weekly Review process has had a dramatic and positive effect on my teaching over time:
- I start each day in a much better frame of mind than when my week of teaching has not been planned intelligently.
- I can set work via electronic means in a much more timely manner: often scheduling assignments in advance (with Google Classroom, for example, assignments can be scheduled to post at any point in future). This leaves me free to just turn up and deliver great lessons without the hassle and stress of setting assignments, posting materials and creating announcements on a daily basis.
- I feel much more confident every day when I’ve done a Weekly Review, as my resources, ideas, activities and direction are already mapped-out fully.
A comprehensive Weekly Review allows us, as teachers, to:
- Check whether we’re on-schedule, behind-schedule or ahead of schedule with different classes.
- Consider our pacing.
- Evaluate the level of variety and stimulation we are providing to our students within our lessons.
- Figure out what student work is missing, and who needs to catch up.
- Plan ahead intelligently.
- Act on those plans, and review everything again the following week.
I’ll finish by stating a key principle of teaching that I was taught on my PGCE course at Bangor University way back in 2005: Be a reflective practitioner. A Weekly Review is an excellent way to do just that.