The Agile Educator: Start-Stop-Continue

It’s no secret that I’m a huge proponent of bringing agile processes into education. In the past, I’ve blogged about how Scrum can empower students to do work that matters through long-term, real world, team projects. Incorporating agile into the classroom makes content more accessible through meaningful work and also gives students practice with actual collaboration, prioritization, and project management. These skills translate into nearly every field, and can be used for the rest of their lives.

Educators, too, have a responsibility to be agile. Teaching should be a highly iterative job, with educators regularly assessing both their process (how did I teach the material?) and product (what did my students learn? Are they moving closer to mastery?). Masterful educators do this multiple times a day – even multiple times a class period! – and often without realizing they’re doing it.

While student performance on assessments and observational data are excellent tools for assessing our product, assessing the process requires a little more effort, because it’s nearly impossible to evaluate our teaching without involving the primary stakeholders — our students.

Fortunately, agile gives us a tool for process reflection: the retrospective. A well run retrospective allows us to explore what went well and what we could have done better and to create actionable commitments for our next iteration. When exploring our teaching practices, our focus should be on what’s working for our students, what’s causing confusion, and what else could we do to further improve learning.

My favorite template to use is Start-Stop-Continue. I ran this with my 100 person lecture class on the first day of week 4 (so three weeks into class), and it took fifteen minutes to get a wealth of information.

Start-Stop-Continue is really easy, and requires very little prep. You’ll need enough post-its for all students, and designated areas labeled “Start,” “Stop,” and “Continue.” I used sticky chart paper, with three separate sheets (for each category) on both walls of the room. You can click here to access the slides I used, or – of course – make your own.

I start by asking students to group themselves into groups of 2-4. They’re – of course – welcome to work on their own, but many students like having this time to talk. I introduce the activity, sharing that one of my core values as an educator is continuous improvement. I share that I want to make sure that this class is working for them, and that in order to do that, we have to regularly assess the learning process. I also tell them that Start-Stop-Continue is a version of a retrospective, which is an agile process that’s used in teams around the world.

I tell students that I am going to show them a series of prompts, and that I want them to write ideas on post-its, with each idea getting its own post-it. All of these are broadcast on the board, but I also read them out to serve as mind-joggers:

Start: What activities or actions should our class or the instructor begin doing to move us closer to our goal of mastery? I ask them to consider:

  • Actions or things they do in other classes that are really helpful
  • New ideas they have that we could implement as a full class
  • Resources they wish they had to help them learn better

Stop: What activities or actions should our class or the instructor stop doing? I ask them to consider:

  • Actions or things we/I currently do that are not having the intended outcome
  • Actions or things that are making the class more confusing
  • Resources that are not working for them, and why

Continue: What activities or actions should our class or the instructor continue doing? I ask them to consider:

  • Activities or resources are helpful and/or having their intended outcome
  • Structures or supports that are the most helpful
  • Resources, feelings, activities, class format

When they’ve finished writing ideas, they place their post-its on the corresponding chart paper, taking the time to group like post-its so it’s easier to review.

The final – and arguably most important – step in the retrospective is creating actionable commitments and actually following through. If we ask students their opinion, we have to be more than just open to change – we have to do it.

Our first retrospective yielded some important and immediately implementable changes to our class… so we made them. I now include live coding with every lecture, with direction comments built into the HTML and CSS I share with students so they can follow along. Students love in class exercises, and want more outside of class groups, so we’re coordinating meeting times – some of which are held by TAs in lieu of individual office hours – for students who want to meet together. They suggested a new format for my Slides, requested a master tag resource, and asked if I could post guided notes before each lecture so they knew what to focus on. You can read all of my commitments to my students, compiled from their feedback, here.

We’ll continue to use this method every three weeks so our team can continuously improve and ensure we’re meeting a wide variety of student needs through teaching strategies, offerings outside of class, and resources. It takes fifteen minutes, but leads to a more effective course, while also building student-educator trust.

If you haven’t tried a retrospective, it’s a must do. It’s an easy and effective way to ensure that our teaching strategies and resources are meeting the needs of our students, and challenges us to commit to continuous growth and improvement… exactly what we would expect from our students.

Published by Jen

A political science major turned computer science teacher, I am passionate about inspiring a love for learning through authentic, real world experiences. I blog about education: ways we can help students succeed, how to innovate within the classroom, and my own quest to never stop learning.

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