Saved by the Bell

How Bell Work helps get class started

Permalink by:Bethany Kelly May 1st, 2011 View Comments

As I'm nearing the end of my second year, I'm reflecting on the changes I've made that have made a big difference. Two aspects of my class that I wanted to revise were (1) how to get kids started working sooner and (2) how to get conversation time with a kid after an absence. Bell Work has been recommended to me in the past, but this year, I was able to find a system that works for me.

I have my sophomore classes set up so that students come in, sit down, and copy the short question that's written on the board as soon as the bell rings. The question is usually a literary term that I want to review or introduce, or it's a grammar or punctuation question. Students write the question on a chart with five boxes on it (for Monday through Friday), and it's printed on both sides. I collect the completed charts at the end of two weeks. There is a tray in the classroom with extra blank copies, and students grab a new sheet whenever they need one.

This has turned into a really easy process for both me and the students. Not only do students expect to get started right away, they race to figure out the answers for review questions. It also gives me just enough time to speak to kids after their absences and make arrangements with them if they need to make up a quiz or just to find out if they are feeling better.

An added benefit this year has been that I am using bell work for formative assessment. I put vocabulary terms in the bell work that I think will be new for the students, and I use their responses to determine if I need to give a quick mini lesson before starting into a unit.

I've also done some systematic work in areas that are weak. For example, I've asked students to label each part of speech in a sentence, and each day the sentence gets tougher. Sometimes I point out why I used certain punctuation or I provide a mnemonic device. I can just watch the reaction among the students to see who gets what I'm talking about and who needs more practice.

There are some changes I'm considering for next year: (1) Setting up a bin where kids can grab their own past bell work. I honestly hadn't expected it to be such a useful tool, and I hadn't intended to hand back their work. Kids can gauge themselves if they are understanding the skills, and if they want their work, they can flip through the bin. (2) Giving regular quizzes on bell work material. Since this is proving to be a low-stress way of teaching small bits of grammar, I think I will set it up next year to be THE way I teach grammar. I'm considering making Monday through Thursday skill practice, and then the Friday box will be a question they answer without my help. I'm undecided though because right now, kids are willing to take guesses at whatever I put on the board since grades are not tied to correctness.

Have you tried Bell Work? How did it work for you?

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