Monday, April 5, 2010

Checklist Manifesto v1.0

A couple of months ago I read all of Atul Gawande's books. I highly recommend them. He's the kind of reflective practitioner I wish I was.

My personal favorite was Better, the section on Cystic Fibrosis had me pacing my room. It hit so close to home when I think about the weaknesses of my school and my teaching.

Just as I finished Checklist Manifesto, a post by the Science Goddess on checklists in education got me thinking about how I could use one.

In Checklist Manifesto, Gawande cites three different reasons for failure: the task is beyond our capacity, ignorance, and ineptitude. The first reason means we just can't do it. For example, telling me to fly by flapping my arms. The second reason means our knowledge is incomplete or missing for some reason. We just don't know how. If you told me to rebuild an engine, I would fail due to ignorance. The third reason is where checklists come in. We fail because we don't do what we know we are supposed to do. In the book, washing hands before interacting with patients is a primary example.

I've been working on a checklist to help me overcome my ineptitude.

Step one: Identify my own failures

I did this fairly informally. A few things I had in mind from the start and then I took 30 seconds at the end of each day to jot down whatever it was I forgot to do. I also did that at the end of the week and at the end of the unit I was working on. During lunch time, I asked a few teachers what were some things they knew they should do but sometimes forgot.

Step two: Prioritize

Turns out I'm pretty inept. I had a big list. I had to get it down to a manageable level. I'm not going through 30 things every day. The first thing I considered was bang for the buck. On my list, I wanted things that I felt would make a difference. I used a combination of research on hand and my gut. If I occasionally forgot to have my students turn in their notebooks on Friday, it wasn't the end of the world. On the other hand, I had to make sure I allowed for an extended writing period at least weekly.
The second thing I considered was my ability to execute the item. Again, I'm trying to solve my ineptitude, not my ignorance. I could have said something like,"Integrate one of the six writing traits into a lesson," However, I'd have to google the six traits to be able to even list them. There's no way I can execute that item. I also understand the awesome power of socratic seminar, but I have no idea how to do that either.

I also think it's unlikely that I'd do something 100% of the time if right now I'm only doing it occasionally. What I want out of this checklist is to move certain behaviors from 80% to 100%. Most doctors washed their hands most of the time. The checklist helped shift that behavior to all of the doctors washing their hands all of the time.

Step three: Build it

Gawande says there are Do-Confirm checklists and Read-Do checklists. Did I want to stop and check or do the checks as I go? I'm not going to carry around a checklist with me and checking items off. I decided to use it as a Do-Confirm checklist. I broke it into three sections: Topic, Weekly, Daily. The way it works is I plan my topic and then stop and confirm that I've included the items in my unit checklist. My weekly planning works the same way. My daily checklist has become more of a Read-Do. In the two weeks I've tried this, I've found that I've had the best success if I leave it by my laptop. Before class I take a quick glance to remind me. I often go to my laptop during class and I can take a peak throughout the day.

Step four: Evaluate and revise

Here's my list so far:

It's actually version 1.1. I made a revision already. My first checklist said Check for Understanding in place of Pause. Check for Understanding wasn't quite what I wanted. I wanted to make sure I stopped and quickly assessed how things were going, rather than just checking to make sure my students were understanding what was going on. Certainly Pause and Check for Understanding are related but I felt the latter made me focus too much on whether students were getting what I was doing, rather than whether what I was doing was at all valid. It's the difference between looking out of your window while driving and knowing where you are versus knowing you're on the right path to get to your destination. Pause reminds me to stop somewhere and make sure we're heading in the right direction.

My list also trends away from specific pedagogy and towards the non-academic. I'm good at science teacher stuff. I'm less good at teacher stuff. I've never been Harry Wong or Fred Jones or Rick Smith or whoever else I had to read when I was a new teacher. I can't even remember my own procedures, much less enforce them. I'm not a community builder either. This is one of my glaring weaknesses as a teacher. Being a single-subject teacher at a middle school makes this all the more obvious. Probably 80% of the teachers have a multiple-subject credential and about 50% have taught a self-contained class before. They're really good at the non-content specific stuff. I used to think they were wasting time with get-to-know you stuff and ice breakers. I was wrong.

The items that might need elaboration:
Tell a Story could be anything. It could a historical narrative on the development of the atomic theory but usually it's something like, "Two atoms walk into a bar....." I included this because of the stickiness of stories.
Extended writing or free response refers more to quickwrite type activities rather than lab reports or research papers.
Talk with Partner actually refers to the science teacher next door. Perhaps it shouldn't go on this list but I need reminding to do it. It falls into the category,"Stuff I know I should do but don't always do," so it went on the list.
Set Goals refers to my students setting a weekly academic goal (Learn how to differentiate between an acid and base) and a non-academic goal (Raise my hand to ask a question at least once). It's something new I've tried this year but I've been really bad about remembering it on Monday.
Names is squarely in non-academic territory. In the beginning of the year I'm really good about greeting my kids at the door, shaking hands, talking to them, and all that. By mid-year I'm scrambling to get the labs setup again and they get a good morning. At this point in the year I'm down to head nods. I want to say each kid's name every day. It doesn't have to be right away but by the end of the period, I want to have acknowledged every kid by name.
Closure is something I'm painfully bad at. I'm sure it relates to my procedure weakness but I often get caught by the bell.
Reflection and Feedback are both Friday things. Reflection relates to how well they've done at accomplishing the goals they set on Monday. Feedback is from the students on how the week went and what we should focus on next week.

As of now it's been 3 weeks of checklisting it. Except for closure, I'm pretty close to 100% on everything. It's a short time but I've caught myself a couple of times already. I'm not really sure what to do about closure since it's so dependent on other things going well. Perhaps I should concentrate more on quickening my transitions instead and that will give me the time I need for closure. On the other hand, the goal is still closure so maybe I should just leave it on there to remind me what I need to work on.

I'm looking for feedback on my checklist. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of stuff.  

How can I improve on my checklist format/execution/content? What would you include on your checklist?

1 comment:

  1. One of your goals is to help your students set their own goals each week. By setting your own goals, you're modeling the behavior you want to see in them! I'm amazed whenever I hear educators talk about the expectations they have for students...trying to train them for the "real world"...yet they themselves do not live up to their own lofty expectations. Jason, you're walking the walk AND talking the talk, just by writing this post. Keep your head up.