During last night’s #langchat, several teachers mentioned their desire to engage in more regular and more formal self-reflection next year, and to help their students do the same. Here I share a simple tool, PlusDelta, that my students and I have found tremendously useful for reflection. It works for people learning on their own, too.
I first learned of PlusDelta by participating in and conducting workshops with Evan Gardner of Where Are Your Keys and have since gotten many more ideas for it from other teachers. I’ll share the basic version first, then some comments and variations.
PlusDelta: basic version
Near the end of any given class period, invite two students to the front of the class. One becomes the moderator; the other becomes the scribe. The scribe draws a line down the middle of the board, creating two columns, and labels one column with a plus sign, the other with a triangle. The triangle is the Greek letter delta, which is used in math to signify “change.”
The moderator now invites the class to comment briefly on what things about that class session were especially helpful. The scribe writes these comments word for word in the Plus column. If a comment is longer than 10 words, the moderator asks the commenter to sum up in 10 words or fewer. This is to avoid the scribe’s having to come up with a summary that may miscommunicate the commenter’s actual point.
After several Pluses have been collected, the moderator gives a last call for Pluses, then invites classmates to share “Deltas”–things about that class session that could be changed to be more useful. The scribe again writes the exact words of commenters in the Delta column. After issuing a last call for Deltas, the moderator thanks the class for its thoughtful contributions and thanks the scribe for writing. The teacher takes a picture of the board, then thanks and dismisses the class.
Comments and variations
1. If students see you take a picture of their PlusDelta and realize from the way you plan and conduct subsequent class sessions that you take their comments seriously, PlusDelta can become a powerful source not only of improved sessions, but also of mutual respect.
2. PlusDelta has become one of the most sacred components of my classes. To stay true to this, I need to make sure to bring whatever else we’re doing to a close in time for PlusDelta.
3. The teacher’s professional expertise is still the final factor in determining how to act on PlusDelta. We need to take students’ comments seriously while also pointing out that the usefulness of a given practice may become clear only over time.
4. I like to leave the room during my classes’ PlusDelta time. Not every class can handle this; if a class can’t, I stay at the back of the room. No matter what, I don’t explain, justify, or otherwise interrupt PlusDelta time unless students act disrespectfully. The combination of my staying out of PlusDelta time and then actually acting on students’ comments is one of the biggest trust-building practices in my classes.
5. You can switch things up, and elicit more comments from reticent students, by having students complete a personal PlusDelta on a note card instead of using a class scribe and moderator. If you wish, you can use PlusDelta note cards as exit tickets.
6. If you can do so without things getting too ridiculous, you can let Pluses and Deltas include things that are outside of your or students’ control, such as the weather. Naming uncontrollable pros or cons can contribute to class camaraderie. In some of my classes, it’s become a tradition to include things like the return of a sick student among the Pluses for a certain day.
7. If a class is inclined to reduce Deltas to complaints, you can redefine Deltas as suggestions for positive change.
8. Teachers can do their own PlusDelta based on how they think a given session went.
9. PlusDelta can also be used to reflect on a single task, to evaluate a resource, assessment, or assignment, or to reflect on longer divisions of time, such as a week, a unit, or a semester.
PlusDelta isn’t meant to replace more detailed reflection or self-evaluation of language proficiency. There are lots of instruments for such reflection and evaluation. PlusDelta is simply an easy tool to use daily with surprisingly high payoff in terms of rapport and increased joy and success!