How might instructional recap strategies support student learning?

My friends and I have a tradition of getting together every Wednesday night to watch one of our favorite shows. Before we start a new episode, we catch up by watching the recap of the previous episodes. With a lot happening since last Wednesday, a recap is essential for catching up, especially for our friend who missed the last episode due to travel. We’re all excited about what’s going to happen in this new episode since none of us knows what the ending will be. I noticed how much TV show recaps help us understand the story better and got to thinking about what recaps could look like in a science classroom.

During my recent classroom visits, I noticed that many of them had learning objectives displayed on the board and they were often the sole strategy used to inform students about the day’s activities. Sometimes these objectives were too detailed, and at other times, they did not offer enough information to help students understand what was expected of them. As an observer, I found myself longing for some sort of recap to tell me what students had done in the previous class and how it related to the current day’s work.

A student who misses a lesson may wonder about its connection to today’s class.

As science learning shifts towards coherent learning activities and lessons that are often anchored in real-world phenomena and problems, detailed objectives on the board may give away the sense-making or take away students’ sense of agency. Revealing spoilers of a TV show could have taken away from the novelty and intrigue of the episode; similarly, learning objectives can take away from students’ sense-making if students feel like they already know the outcome of the day.

Instead, tools that show students’ progression of learning with the unit phenomena or problem can be more helpful, just like a TV show recap. In our review of hundreds of science instructional materials, we’ve seen the use of many different classroom tools such as model trackers, Driving Question Boards, or class progressions charts used as episode recaps in the classroom. These tools help students understand what they have learned so far and what they want to figure out next. This way, students can drive their learning and understand how the lesson fits into the larger picture.

Posting a class Incremental Modeling Tracker along with the unit driving question, like the one featured in the “Intro to Cancer: Leukemia and Hina’s Story” unit on, can benefit all students, including those who may have missed a lesson, by helping them to be aware of the class’s progress toward answering the unit’s driving question.

When a student or observer walks into a science classroom, the use of an instructional recap strategy can establish explicit connections between lessons, set the context for the day’s learning, and serve as a roadmap that organizes and highlights students’ progress. Instructional recap strategies can show students that science learning is not a series of stand-alone episodes, but rather a continuous process in which they must build on their knowledge to make sense of phenomena and problems. Just like a TV show recap helps us to be aware of what has happened so far and excites us for the new episode, tools like a model tracker, Driving Question Board, or progressions chart could help students understand what they have learned so far and create buy-in and provide ownership to the students for their learning.

What’s your experience with incorporating instructional recap tools and strategies into your classroom routine? Did it foster a sense of ownership and agency among your students?

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