Given the range of strategies described in this book, some will clearly be easier to implement than others. That may be because they require less preparation or less grading, because they are more easily accepted by students, or perhaps because they aren’t that big a change from your current practice. Whatever the reason, making good choices about what order to implement strategies in is a critical part of controlling the pace of change in a way that is comfortable to you and your students.
Classroom culture. Of all the strategies available, building the appropriate classroom culture is the most fundamental. In particular, developing a sense of trust and a community that is based on a common purpose is absolutely essential, a prerequisite to implementing all other strategies.
Once the classroom culture is established, there is a set of strategies that you can implement immediately, with a large impact and relatively small cost to you in time and energy. They are:
Ungraded feedback. Simply increasing the frequency with which you and your students are communicating gives them a voice, allows you to be more responsive to their needs, and provides the tools they need to become more metacognitive and self-directed students. Similarly, having them periodically write reflections on how well they are doing or how they feel the class is operating is another useful strategy that requires little of you and can positively impact your working relationship with them. It is important to make sure these reflections are not used too frequently, lest they feel onerous or too intrusive for your students.
Reframing student work. Even if you make no changes to the quantity of homework or classwork you assign, having students assess their level of understanding and isolate the specific difficulty they are having with the work boosts their metacognition. Furthermore,
having the work they do become a prerequisite to participating in conversational learning with their study groups can dramatically increase the amount of learning that results.
Furthermore, the use of stamps (or some other means of recognizing timeliness in completing the work) is easy to implement and can have a surprisingly large effect in boosting homework completion rates.
Study groups. Having conversational learning occur at numerous points in the learning sequence is a powerful tool that requires little effort on your part. In particular, study groups can be used easily in the exploration of new material, in reviewing homework, and in preparing for an upcoming test. Having students review the results of a test, while an extremely effective strategy, should probably not be implemented immediately, as it requires a level of trust and loyalty within a group that may take time to develop.
Differentiation. Beginning with simple, small-scale minicontracts requires little planning on your part, and you can gradually transition from teacher-controlled to student-controlled decision making. Over time, the contracts can become more complex and more self-directed.
Protocontracts. Because unit contracts require a great deal of planning, it is best to begin with protocontracts as a means of simply recording all the work items available in a given unit. Initially, you may create and use the protocontract for your own purposes. You can also hand out blank forms and periodically have students fill in the most recent additions. That way, they can maintain their own record of the work they are doing, including their choices in any minicontracts you have created.
Having students self evaluate how well they have done the process of completing each piece of the protocontract can be added at a later date, when they (and you) are ready to take that on. Initially, you can grade their work in the same way you do now, if at all.
Test remediation. While giving students the opportunity to learn from their mistakes on assessments is an important aspect of the learning process, the remediation process should begin with as simple and constrained a form as possible.
Next steps. Each of the strategies described above can grow and evolve over time. In addition, implementing the full use of unit contracts, extensive self-evaluation of student work, and, in particular, developing a new grading structure that better represents your priorities are all tasks that will likely take several years to put into practice.