Relay Review (Issue 9, January 2011)

– On your marks, get set, RELAY!!!

The relay review is one of those “simple on the surface” classroom activities, that has a certain pedagogic richness when used with a little bit of thought. Nominally, to use this you split your class into two teams, assign a colour and a piece of flip chart paper to each, then ask them to run up one at a time and write down something that they have learned that lesson. The first team up to say twenty facts wins. That’s it, a simple and quick review task.

It is at this point that I can restate why I believe having pedagogical purposes are essential for teachers. Without them this article ends here, with a simple a tool to use in the classroom.

Tools and toolkits are not enough.

I have not hidden my passion for SOLO taxonomy (see insert), and it has been revealing to reflect upon to what extent the pedagogical purpose of this activity matches the different levels of it. It has given me different lenses though which to consider my classroom practice.

If you use the Relay Review in your class one of the first things you’ll notice is that your students will enjoy doing it. I must admit that I was being slightly pejorative in labelling the FUN aspect of this tool as prestructural (the lowest level of SOLO taxonomy). This stems from my lack of ability to define fun properly in an educational setting.

On a personal level I learn more when I’m challenged, find things difficult, when I’m intrigued or curious, when I can see the benefits to me. I also enjoy a satisfying, stimulating, thought provoking and safe learning experience, none of which I would describe as fun but things I certainly enjoy. I’m sure there is a great debate to be had on the Pedagogy of Fun as the arguments for it embrace engagement, motivation and risk taking by learners.

A quick Google search reveals the diversity of opinion, but this one really caught my eye: [apologies for broken link, will try to rectify! – Ed].

Most of the “tool” uses of the relay review I have classified as Uni-structural due to the limited amount of student learning associated with this task, after all no new learning is taking place here. It is a simple ‘remember what we have been doing task’. So engagement through competition and increasing blood flow to flagging students’ brains are all valid uses of this tool, but they bring nothing new to the students learning.

With a little adaptation this activity renders some whole class formative assessment information. To do this I provided a little more structure to the flip chart, so that student responses become more targeted.

A simple grid with the key topics quickly displayed not only what the students had learned but also what they had not i.e. a multi-structural use. Instantly the learning in the classroom becomes visible and the students’ next step is obvious to me and to them. The photograph included here [see end of article – Ed.] was taken approximately 3 minutes into an activity, it was so obvious what they were avoiding! Being aware of the order of responses is actually giving me useful information to use in my teaching.

This kind of thinking takes the use of this task from a multi-structural to a relational use. This can be augmented, by debriefing what a quality answer/ response would be. Over a sequence of reviews you would hope to improve this over time.

A limitation of this tool is that you are only assessing the whole class, so using this as a hinge activity for individuals is problematic. It is possible to stand betwixt the two flip charts, and scrutinise the contribution of individuals. In fact this is a potential way of differentiation being more challenging to more able students. Simple feedback can be given at this point too. If you are feeling particularly astute you could stand with your mark book and note who writes what down, although this is blurred by the confluence of student learning. Hence my focus on the process and sequence of this task rather than its finished product.

If you observe your students when they do this, you notice that as they wait their turn students break out of the line and form small huddles, where they vibrantly exchange facts, and clarify ideas. Taking photographs will aid debriefing the quality of the teamwork, the pictures providing non-judgemental feedback. A well structured discussion can lead to ways forward and the building of a safe community of learners, and makes it clear that skills like teamwork are learnable.

Further discussion can take the implicit and make it explicit, getting students involved and aware of that “secret teacher business” Namely that learning is social (is this where the fun’s at?) asking who helped you learn that? How did they explain it so that you understood? Likewise that learning involves repetition. What did you do when you realised that someone had written down what you were going to? How often did you have to keep checking what was on the list already? Was it helpful to recheck ? How often do you recheck your work normally? Will try to do it more often? This makes it clear that metacognition and learner behaviours are learnable.

Perhaps the strongest message is that it is fine not to know everything. Simply by having a conversation around what is our next step and then changing the lesson plan/ route as a result of this makes this clear. This is difficult for teachers but this activity gives opportunity to engender a culture of students seeing feedback not as criticism but as an essential part of learning. Research by Black and Williams highlights the academic impact in having formative assessment in place.

Darren Mead


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