It's that time of year for those of us on the semester block system - end of course content state exams loom large and student stress is at an all time high. The longer I teach in this environment, the more I see how these tests push teachers to provide packet after packet for review. The stakes are so high for everyone - and teachers are afraid they missed something. A few years ago I decided to ditch the county review packet for something else - an open ended, student led, collaborative concept mapping project and I am never going back to the old way!
All semester, we have worked on making connections between concepts as we move through our curriculum. The week of our exam my students spend the three days leading up to the exam creating concepts maps of everything they know - big 6x3 foot maps with colors, sketches, and lots of great conversations. The instructions they are given are pretty broad on purpose. I want students to have to THINK about what they know and how they know it. They are told they need to decide what the central/big idea is; it has to be a concept map/web (not a list); topics must flow one to the next; and lastly, content is more important than artistic ability - though creativity is absolutely encouraged. Students work in groups of 3 and assign roles to each other (researcher, creative director, and manager.)
The benefits of ditching the packet have been amazing. Students of all levels stay engaged in this process for three block periods without fail (sometimes more when they come back to work at other points during the day!) Students use their notebooks, whiteboards, and sticky notes to really brainstorm about what they know and find the gap in their knowledge all on their own. As I walk the around the room and answer questions, I hear students talking about connections, experiencing light bulb moments, and helping each other. Not one student looks stressed, bored, or unable to contribute.
I would encourage all teachers to give this review method a try - even if, maybe… ESPECIALLY IF - you are in a high stakes testing atmosphere.