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I have been giving my class help-sheets, recently. This have lead them to me more independent. They are also filling in a S.N.O.T form, this is a form where they tick off tasks, to show if they did it by there Self, with a Neighbour, with the help of an Other, or the Teacher. I have been using these sheets, to give feedback and improve the help-sheets (If to many ask for teacher help, then improve the help-sheet).

A consequence of this is that the help-sheets improve over the week ( I teach this lesson 11 times a week). This results in lesson latter in the week being better than at the start.

The problem

The improvement over each week, creates a bias. The students that have the lesson at the end of the week receive a much better lesson than those at the beginning.

After a few weeks this will settle-down, as I will learn what I am doing wrong, and produce better work-sheets from the start. However there will always be some improvements, and thus some bias.

How can a reduce/remove this bias?

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  • $\begingroup$ If your students are HS males, I'd guess they love the name you give the forms. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Dec 23 '17 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ You are, in effect, creating capital investment that improves your instruction (permanently) over time. The fact that it's a fast enough process that you can see the results in almost real-time should be celebrated. There is no way to prevent this kind of inequity; this is the natural result of you learning to teach a lesson better. $\endgroup$ – Ben I. Dec 23 '17 at 19:52
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I would encourage a different way of thinking about this. For context, I teach in a place where I instruct many different courses at the same time (currently 7), but I have the benefit of being able to teach the same course for multiple years.

This situation has created a need to prepare my courses so thoroughly that, in future years, large chunks of material can simply be run with very little prep time. I sometimes call this hyper-development. It is absolutely worth my while to spend 20 hours to develop 2 hours of class time if I end up with materials strong enough that I can use them for many years.

Of course, I do see things from time to time that I wish to change, but these are often relatively small adjustments.

This situation has forced me to think about lesson prep somewhat differently than I used to, as I no longer feel like I am preparing for the next day's lesson. Instead, I feel like I am preparing a lesson for multiple generations of students for I have not even met yet. And if something doesn't work well, I can adjust it immediately after the lesson so that it goes better the next time. I don't assume that I will have prep time next year to change the lesson; I just do it right away, while it is still fresh in my mind.

This is a form of capital investment that has served me very well. If I am busy, then my worst case scenario is that I get to run a lesson that worked well last year, and was already improved at that time. If I have some extra time on my hands, I can further tinker to my heart's delight. This has resulted in pretty steady improvement to my instruction.

Just as we need to encourage a growth mindset in our students, we should embrace the same in ourselves. When you describe a pace of adaptation so fast that you can see the results of the change across the span of a single week, that's a remarkable thing, and it should be celebrated. Remember that the work you do fixing his lessons improves not only the educational outcomes for your current students, but for students you'll have in the future as well.

The only way to reduce the inequality that you describe is to stop improving your lessons, which only serves to hurt the later students and our educational mission. This is the natural result of you learning to teach a lesson better.

I do have one small practical tip: give your improved worksheets to the early students during the following week so that they also receive the benefits of this labor, and point out to the early sections that, even though they aren't getting the cleanest version at the start, in some ways they are still getting the better end of the deal, because the later versions are really tailored to their needs. Things that work well for them tend to stick around, and things that don't get changed.

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  • $\begingroup$ The one problem that remains, is the selfish one. The lessons get very out of sync. Any advice on that. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Dec 24 '17 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ @ctrl-alt-delor I wish that I did. $\endgroup$ – Ben I. Dec 24 '17 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ I hope as I do this more, that I get better at getting it correct first time. $\endgroup$ – ctrl-alt-delor Dec 24 '17 at 18:58
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tl;dr: My best guess is that your process is fine and you aren't inducing preventable bias (unless the students are in competition with each other)

It may be that you cannot. It may be that your analysis is incorrect. It may be that a solution would be worse than the status quo. It may be that you need not make changes.

One solution would simply be to not improve this week's lesson but use the knowledge about the class to improve next week's lesson or worksheet and hold it fixed until the week following that one. Suboptimal, surely, but "fair" by some definition of "fair.

Your assumption that your sheets improve as you go is only your assumption. It may not, in fact, be accurate. Each of your groups is different and will interpret things in different ways. It may be that your improvement is a distraction or impediment to the next group (see below). It is hard to know until you interact with that group. Every student is different and all are different from you.

If you have thousands of students you can do a statistical analysis, of course, to determine if there is an bias effect.

You don't say whether your students are in some way in competition with each other (a generally poor practice). If they are, you need to worry about "bias", but if they are not then you just need to do the best thing you can for each student.

However, if you really suspect that bias is an issue and that some students are being advantaged and others disadvantaged by your scheme then you need to change, or at least adapt, it. You may need to set some time aside at the start of a lecture to get each group on the "same page" about the current state of things as you understand it. A few minutes of "warm up" at the start of the class can be helpful in any case. I often opened a lecture asking for questions that might have arisen, but you can also use it to make corrections/apologies/give encouragement/add emphasis...

A technical solution, of course, would be to provide some communication channel to all the students so that all can see any updated materials in a timely manner. You could even provide the lecture materials prior to the week's start and warn that they may be updated as the week progresses. Students could then, for example, print them out before class and use them to help follow the lecture. If you have a way to highlight changes to the base document, all the better.


I once taught the same course to three groups in back-to-back periods of about an hour each. I would take questions and use the questions from each group to improve the lecture for the following group so that the same questions needn't be asked. However, I learned (eventually) that the following group might not have the same questions and might have seen the concept clearly already, so I was proactively answering a question that needn't be asked or answered. This accumulated into the third section of course and I found it hard (impossible) to complete the lecture in the third section. Let each group be itself, but if you make a mistake, fix it of course. If you say something dumb early on, you don't need to repeat it to avoid "bias."


A follow up:

While I believe that you need to work to teach every student in every interaction (i.e. each class period for this discussion) it is probably beyond our ability to give each student precisely what he or she needs most at that time. If I am Socrates, teaching one student at a time, or if I'm an Oxford Don, teaching 5 student tutorials, I can probably do that, but with twenty to two-hundred students in front of me all I can hope to do is to make sure that each student can learn something that will advance their learning. Even that is a difficult task with mass education, but it can be achieved. Some students will learn more, because they are primed to do so, and some less, due to factors of their own making or otherwise. Teaching everyone precisely the same thing is not an achievable goal unless the everyones are just robots. Help every student advance. Don't favor anyone arbitrarily.

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