Classroom Assessment Techniques, Part 4: Bellwork

When I was still in student teaching, I got to work with an excellent teacher. Every morning, he had an assignment for kids to work on between the time they walked in the door and the time school’s bell announced the beginning of the day. He called this the Bellwork assignment because when the bell rang, everyone turned it in ready or not. This assignment was something simple that the students could do independently. It often reviewed the previous day’s or previous week’s material. The assignment could cover any subject. From time to time, instead of an academic subject, he posed an ethical dilemma appropriate for the grade level.

The assignment served a few purposes. He could get a quick assessment of how well the class understood the material in the Bellwork assignment. When he went over the assignment after the pledge, he had an opportunity to reteach the material, clear up misunderstandings, and review the subject.

This also gave the kids a set routine to follow, which helped them get settled for the day. He demonstrated how important this was one day by not giving a Bellwork assignment. Without something to do, the kids found their own entertainment, which involved running around, talking, and even swinging backpacks at each other. Getting them to sit down and prepare for the first subject when the bell rang was a significant challenge.

When he used an ethics type of question, he usually related those to something that had happened in the last few days. Reviewing those often took a little longer because the teacher took the opportunity to talk about the right thing to do and why.

This CAT could be adapted to an adult class by having a quote or a question related to the reading. As students come in, they find their seats and then get started on the question. The first few minutes of the class could be a discussion of the question either as a class or as small groups.

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