Recently I learned of a tremendously helpful tip that builds cooperation among students, increases class efficiency, and holds students accountable for heading their papers correctly. I am excited to share this idea with you in this Teaching Tip. The idea may seem a bit complicated at first, but once you implement it, you will never know how you got along without it.
Let's imagine your students are about to start a math activity on lined paper. You want everyone to head their papers by putting their name and the date in the top right-hand corner and the title of the activity in the center of the top line. Any time we ask students to perform a task such as this, it's important to hold them accountable for doing it correctly, but it takes time to get around to everyone, time that would be better spent helping individual students or focusing on more important responsibilities. With this tip, students can now hold one another accountable quickly and effectively.
Here's how it works. I have 4 students at each table, and I assign them each a number, 1-4, so they can take turns performing this job. (I have a spinner on the board with four spaces, and I keep track of whose turn it is to perform this task by moving the spinner.) Let's say on this day, it is the #2's turn to do the job. As I am about to dismiss the class from the instructional lesson on the rug so that they can start working at their desks, I call up all the 2's and hand them a set of 4 index cards. The 2's then put a card on each of their tablemates' desks as everyone begins to head their papers. Once everyone at the table is done heading their paper, the 2's go around to check to see that all papers are headed correctly. If so, that person brings me back all the cards. If not, the leader politely reminds any student who hasn't yet finished this task to head the paper correctly and then brings me back all the cards. The kids love this system, and usually within about a minute or two, I have the cards from all the tables.
To make things even easier, each table has its own unique color of cards. On one card I write a circle, and the leader keeps the card with the circle. (Printing a circle on the card reminds me which student is acting as leader that day). This strategy can be used with any subject area. It works best when students are heading their papers, but it can also be applied to any situation where the kids are completing a routine task for which we need to hold them accountable, and we want to focus on more important matters. Any time the kids can accomplish a task on their own while building cooperation skills and improving class efficiency, that's a win-win for everybody.