We have two days of review before each end-of-semester exam, but that’s also just a week after returning to school from the holidays and students prepare for two-hour exams in all their core classes, so it's a very stressful time all around. My students come to class knowing we will be reviewing. I start by explaining the exam format and expectations - use of notes, calculators, extended time, etc and then advise them to bring, in addition to their textbooks and calculators, any old assessments and assignments they have kept.
I'll have already posted the units we’ve covered this semester on the board along with two questions, “Which unit do you feel most confident about and why? Which unit do you feel least confident about and why?” This may seem obvious but I'll tell students that their answers to these questions will help them prepare for the semester exam. I take the time to explain they will be reviewing each unit in class but that for their unique strengths and understanding, will frame the personalized topics they will focus on outside of class. For a formative (for me) and informative (for students) check I'll point to each unit listed on the board, asking students first to raise their hand if it is one of their strong units and then to raise their hand if it’s one of their weaker units. While doing this I encourage students to take note of which classmates feel strong about units they may need help with. I take note of which units each student feels less confident about and adjust the review schedule if necessary as mentioned in the next section. When we complete this activity I remind them that they have today and tomorrow to complete their in-class review, but that they are welcome to come with questions before or after school or at lunch.
I begin with the most recent units and work backward to the units we studied in September. This may seem counterintuitive, but I've found that students have a fairly good understanding and level of confidence about the newer material, but have less recollection of the older content. I explain this further in my video.
Day One Units: Creating Algebraically, Algebraic Reasoning, Building Functions
Day Two Units: Algebraic Arithmetic, Arithmetic Structure, Complex Numbers
For review of material, I created unit guides using previous exam or class problems and as a class we'll work through the units one at a time. Chunking the content this way makes it more manageable for students and for me to see where students are progressing and faltering.
Students are randomly assigned to review teams which ensures that there will be some strong and some weak students in each group. I explain that the expectation is that each student will work through the practice problems and using their team for help only if they can't figure something out on their own. I distribute the review handout for the first unit, Building Functions Semester Review and while students work through the problems I walk around offering encouragement and assistance as needed. (MP1, MP2, MP4) There are always a few students who want to ask for help and/or answers for every problem so I remind them that they will need to be able to work independently on the semester exam and that now would be a great time to practice. Sometimes a student expresses frustration that there is just too much to recall or that they don't understand a whole unit. For those students I suggest some one-to-one coaching out of class and also offer to help them organize their notes. I allocate approximately ten minutes per review section, moving to Algebraic Reasoning Semester Review second, with the goal of getting through the Creating Algebraically Semester Review unit today. If we don't complete that unit review, I begin tomorrow with that unit, knowing that my students are already familiar with the format and expectations so we have a bit more time.
To close this day of review I return to the questions we began the day with and ask my students to reflect independently on which content and/or skills they are most confident about and which they are most concerned about. After a moment's reflection I tell them to write in their notes which things they are going to focus on as they continue to review for the semester exam. This exercise helps them really think about where to put their energy and also encourages greater ownership of the review process.