If your students produce quality work all of the time, then read no further. This post is for teachers like myself with students who have tons of potential, but rush through their written responses and turn in work, let’s just say, ahem… that is less than par. Okay, I’ll just admit it. Sometimes my students turn in work that looks like garbage. While neatness is important, by quality of work, *right now* I’m talking about the amount of detail and thought that went into a written response. In other words, I’m referring to depth in meaning, rather than appearance.

In this post, I would like to share a teaching strategy that I use to help my students reflect, evaluate, and improve the quality of their written work. I have used it many times with my students. Every time I start to feel the work quality slipping, I utilize this method to get my students back on track. It works like a charm.

Here’s the great news! The resource I discuss here will soon be yours for free! Read all about how I use it first, and then follow the link at the end of the post to download the freebie and get started with your own students. You’ll be glad you did!

So here’s the scoop (pun intended).

Last week, my students turned in a STEM lab sheet that required written reflection on their performance during the STEM challenge. The lab sheet asked them questions about the problems they encountered, and how they fixed those problems. It also asked them to explain what they would do differently if they were to complete the challenge again. This lab sheet is familiar to my students, because we use a similar reflection page with all of our STEM activities. This time, when I read over their responses, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Many of the students had one word, incomplete answers that lacked thought. I just knew they could do better.

I looked through their responses again and selected a variety of answers that ranged from terrible to awesome, and everywhere in between. Then, I typed those answers on a document to project on my board. I **did not** include any student names on those responses.

The next day, I came equipped with the magic tools I needed to turn this around.

First, I displayed five {ice cream} rating scale cards. These cards have visuals and a description of the qualities for each rating, from 1 to 5. I explained to my students that I needed some assistance in scoring the STEM lab reflection sheets. I wanted them to think like a teacher, and use the given rating scale descriptions to evaluate the answers that were written by real students in our class. I assured them that no names would be shown, and that if they saw their own response on the board, they should keep it a secret to the class.

Then, I gave each student a copy of the work quality rating scale and a set of five number cards for them to cut apart. We talked about the scale and the given characteristics for each rating. Here’s the criteria for each score.

- The response is wrong or has no meaningful information.
- The response makes sense, but lacks an explanation.
- The response makes sense and has a supporting detail.
- The response makes sense and has two supporting details.
- The response is full of deep thought and contains a thorough explanation with many details.

You’ll notice that the ice cream cone gets better and better with each added point. A work quality score of “1” shows an empty ice cream cone. A “2” has one plain scoop of ice cream. A “3” has a scoop with fudge sauce. Then, the “4” has sprinkles. Finally, a score of “5” is complete with a cherry. My students are really able to connect with these visuals.

You can see where this is going. Next, I displayed each of my selected responses from the STEM lab sheets, one at a time. I asked students to look carefully at the rating scale and then to hold up the score they would give if they were the teacher. **Here’s the important part.** After the ratings for each answer were given, we talked about the most common score, *why *that score was given, and (in most cases) how it could be improved. It turns out, my students are really tough critics. They were now miraculously able to find flaws in just about every written response and knew exactly how to make improvements.

At that point, I redistributed the STEM lab sheets. Without hesitation, my students fixed all of their responses to show deep thought, thorough explanations, and many details. Like I said, it works like a charm.

Now, as I know from lots of past experience, my students will produce quality work for a few weeks, and then it will begin to slip again. I keep those rating scale cards on display to revisit with the whole class or individual students, as needed. Also, when I notice the work quality going down again, I’ll simply repeat the process with a new set of questions.

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