How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning
From reminding us of what to pack for a trip to helping doctors perform surgery, checklists are crucial for projects that require sequential steps or a series of tasks. As Atul Gawande points out in his book “Checklist Manifesto,” checklists break down complex tasks and also ensure consistency and efficiency if more than one person is working on a project. If checklists are so effective for airline pilots, skyscraper construction teams, and heart surgeons, why shouldn’t students use them as well?
Checklists can benefit students in the following ways:
For younger students, simple, task-based checklists can help them become accustomed to following steps, adding order to the relative chaos of learning, and offering a pathway to accomplishing complex tasks. For older students, they can do all of the above, and also serve as memory aids as they work on unfamiliar or complicated tasks.
Checklists help students feel in control and hold them accountable by removing obstacles to success such as “I didn’t know we were supposed to do that,” or “I forgot to do that part.”
Checklists keep students on task. Rather than losing focus and forgetting where they left off or abandoning the task all together, they always know where they are in a task or project. (Or should know.)
- Checklists can help communicate the details or goals of an assignment or project to other teachers, parents, or relevant community members.
Education specialist Dr. Kathleen Dudden Rowlands believes checklists are more than just a way for students to stay organized and on-task. As she explains in “Check It Out! Using Checklists to Support Student Learning,” checklists can aid students in developing metacognitive awareness of their own learning process.
“Used effectively, checklists can help students develop metacognitive awareness of their intellectual processes,” Rowlands explained. Metacognitive awareness is essentially people’s understanding of both the process of learning and how they can optimize their learning of certain knowledge or skills.
“Metacognitive research consistently suggests that students who know how to learn, know which strategies are most effective when faced with a problem or a task, and have accurate methods of assessing their progress, are better learners than those who don’t,” Rowlands noted. She also discussed checklists’ role in the process of fostering strong metacognitive awareness: “By articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development.”
5 Resources To Use Checklists In Your Classroom
This turbo-charged mobile app checklist allows users to collaborate on shared lists, turning it into a project management tool. You can create simple “to do” lists or different lists (subtasks) based on more complicated tasks. It syncs across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows and the Web. You can leave notes, set recurring tasks, share your lists and set alarms. The app lets you break big projects or tasks into manageable smaller goals. Of special benefit to the classroom is the fact that Wunderlist lists can be printed. It is also free, with an option for Wunderlist pro at $4.99 a month.
List Weaver’s strength lies in the simplicity of the app and the fact that checklists can be shared among users. If team members are completing tasks at the same time, the shared checklist ensures they don’t duplicate efforts. When someone has completed a task on the list, others on the team receive push notification letting them know it’s been done. If you are looking to foster collaboration among your students, a shared checklist could help you achieve this. The app is free and offers in-app purchases.
You can do a search on Pinterest and find a variety of checklist resources. Search on “checklist classroom” and find simple, pre-made checklists such as the “Dismissal Checklist,” a list of tasks to help young students prepare for leaving school at the end of the day. A writing checklist for older students helps them make sure they are taking the necessary steps to successfully write essays and compositions. Other checklists include “end of the year,” “field trip,” and “active listening.”
From the simple “Homework Checklist” for young students to more in-depth rubrics for older students, TeacherVision offers dozens of checklists for both teacher and student. All you need to do is search using the term “checklist.” Even if you don’t find quite what you need here, you’ll discover plenty of ideas that you can incorporate into your own custom checklists.
There are several templates available from Microsoft and Adobe.
This site, a collaboration between the International Reading Association, The National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon’s Thinkfinity program, offers several in-depth and useful lesson plans that are accompanied by comprehensive checklists.
The “Editing Checklist for Self and Peer Editing” offers a step-by-step guide for students to edit their own work as well as their classmates’ work. A quick web search on any school subject will yield checklist ideas as well.
Any checklist you use in the classroom should be a flexible document that adapts to the needs of your students. Remember to visit your checklist with a critical eye frequently to make sure it’s still working for you and your class. As you work through your checklist and realize ways to make it better, take the time to do so.
Ask for feedback from your students as you implement new checklists to ensure that they are working as effective learning tools. They might surprise you.
Kristin Marino writes about education for several websites, including onlineschools.com. She has a bachelor’s degree in English composition from the University of Nevada, Reno; How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning; image attribution flickr user stuartchalmers; How A Simple Checklist Can Improve Learning
I truly love my class this year. Honestly, I do. For the first month of the school year I told everyone who would listen how wonderful my third graders were. These amazing kids listened, they were kind to each other, and they were taking charge of their own learning. Well, enter week six and I have to admit, the honeymoon is over.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re still wonderful. It’s just that after the first six weeks I have really learned who needs more structure, guidance, and support to be successful students and classmates. The first phone calls of the year have been made and the first parent meetings had. Usually these meetings are to let parents know what I’m seeing in the classroom and to discuss what we can do at school and at home to help their child be the best they can be. Part of these early meetings sometimes includes letting parents know about a behavior contract or checklist I would like to use with their child. This week I’m happy to share with you a few of the behavior contracts and check-off forms that have worked to modify behaviors in our school in a positive way.
What's the Difference Between a Behavior Contract and a Behavior Checklist?
In my own classroom, I tend to use the terms interchangeably. Both a behavior contract and a behavior checklist are simple interventions meant to change some aspect of a child's behavior in the classroom or on the playground. A behavior contract usually details specific minimum expectations that are understood by the child and the parents. If those expectations are met over a specified period of time, a predetermined reward is earned. A checklist is a tool I use to help students self-monitor their behavior throughout the day. I've listed expected behaviors and the student is responsible for checking or crossing-off each item after they complete it. The checklist helps guide behavior while the more formal behavior contract attempts to change certain behaviors.
When Is a Behavior Contract Needed?
A formal behavior modification form is used in my classroom only when a student does not respond to repeated reminders and prompts and routines designed to change their behavior. When a student's actions, or failure to act, are interfering with learning and/or my obligation to provide a safe environment for all students, I will create a behavior contract or checklist for him or her. These contracts can also be useful in documenting behaviors should a student need interventions from a source outside of your classroom. Below is a checklist first grade teacher Nancy Haboush created for teachers to make sure appropriate interventions were being tried with students.
Get Parents Involved
Before starting any sort of contract or checklist, I always get parent approval. Once I've decided some sort of behavior modification is necessary, I contact the parents to schedule a meeting. During this meeting, I discuss what I'm observing in the classroom. Frequently, I discover parents are observing these same behaviors at home and are also looking for a solution. I let parents know I would like to implement a tool to help their child, and then I introduce the prepared contract or checklist I would like to use with their child. I also ask them for suggestions and feedback as to the contents of the contract. If possible, I like the student to be present at this meeting as well to look at the contract and give feedback along with suggestions for a reward they feel will motivate them.
Rewards for Expected Behavior?
I'm not a big believer in giving out extrinsic rewards for expected behaviors under normal circumstances. With that being said, if a child's behavior warrants a contract in my class, what's normal isn't working. Working closely with the parent is crucial to me when deciding what the reward should be. In order to reinforce the home-school partnership to the student, I actually prefer the reward be given at home by the parents rather than in school. If rewards are to given in school at the request of the parent, I prefer to give a privilege rather than a toy or prize of some sort. This privilege might include preferential seating, lunch with the teacher, extra time on the iPad, etc.
Below are some coupons you can use to reward students:
See fellow blogger, Lindsey Petlack's post, "3 Free Super Secret Student Rewards" for even more options to reward students who successfully complete their contract.
Daily Checklist for Work Habits
I created this chart for a student in my class a few years ago after I was inspired by one that middle school Top Teaching blogger Addie Aldano shared in her post, "Motivating the Unmotivated: Tough Kid Tools That Really Work." It clearly spells out what is expected for excellent behavior.
Keep it Simple for Lower Elementary Students
My colleague Nancy, uses this simple form with her first graders. Behavior is noted twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. This also gives parents of young students a window into their child's day.
For Only One Targeted Behavior
If a student is working on a single behavior, Nancy uses the form below:
There is No One-Size-Fits-All Form
Because no two children have the same behaviors, no two contracts or checklists that I've done look alike. Below you will see variations from one contract that I have customized to address the specific needs of different students over the years. They have all been created in a Word document so you may click on each image to download and edit them to fit your needs. The student fills out the form each day, and I check it before they take it home for a signature. If a child does not follow an expected behavior, they need to explain why on the back of the sheet in the comment section.
For Students Who Are Not Using Time Wisely in Class
For Students With Inappropriate Behaviors
For Students Who Need Help With Organization and Time Management
To Support Students Who Need Help With Behavior, Organization and Self-Control
Asking students to reflect on their behavior can have a powerful impact. Knowing they will have to explain anything that got in the way of having a great day often results in students making better choices. Nancy created the form below using our school mascot, the Leonard Leopard, but you can easily customize it to fit your school.
Checklists for Personal Organization
Every now and then I have a student who simply cannot manage to organize themselves or their belongings. By now morning routines should be down: unpack, turn in homework, sign up for lunch, and sit down for morning work. Everyone knows how desks should be organized, everything in a color-coded folder with no loose papers in the desks. For the students who can't successfully complete the morning tasks independently or whose desks are so disorganized they often can't find what they need, I start using the checklist below. Each time I use it, the behaviors are customized to the targeted behaviors I want the student to display. Tip: I laminate checklists so students can cross things off with a dry erase marker, then erase for the next day.
Nancy adds images to help her first graders with organization.
When a student is consistently failing to turn in assignments, I use the form below. The consequence of leaving their school iPad with me came after I discovered one student in particular was spending so much time Web surfing on his iPad at home, that he was neglecting homework. Customize your consequence to fit your students.
Homework Contracts From Scholastic Teachables
Behavior Helpers Aren't Forever
The goal of a contract or checklist is to make students aware of the behavior so they can modify it. When I start contracts early in the year, I find that after a month or so, the contract or checklist can be discontinued. When behaviors do not change, it may be necessary to involve members of your school's child assistance team to help determine what further interventions may be needed.
While I don't use behavior contracts often, it is nice to have a few that I can adapt to use when I need to. If you find your honeymoon is also over and the time has come in your classroom for a little intervention, I hope you'll be able to use one of these templates to help your students succeed.