Most Maths teachers (and many other subject teachers) will have tried to use an exam topic tracker before. Often, these are created using a simple time-consuming spreadsheet into which the teacher has to manually enter the marks gained – by each student – for each question. This then allows the teacher to analyse the results and target areas of weakness.
This seems to miss the point a little. Our students need to be more independent and responsible than this ‘teacher reliance’. If they are aware of their own weaknesses then they can act responsibly to correct these. Surely students need to have their own version of an exam topic tracker if they are to analyse their results themselves?
Using Google Docs, each student can have a copy of their own tracker, which they can then share with the class teacher. Upon receiving exam papers back, each student then updates their tracker with the marks they obtained for each question. Depending on the marks obtained, each cell is turned either green, yellow or red. This information can then be used by both the student and the teacher to drive progress (and the teacher hasn’t even had to lift a finger yet – marking aside). Feel free to have a play with the spreadsheet by clicking on the image below.
Utilising videos of exam answers
The updated spreadsheet contains a hyperlinked video solution to each question. I encourage my students to watch the videos to the questions they have got incorrect. I find the videos to be a helpful tool in my students’ assessment of their own knowledge; by watching the short video explanation they can usually gauge their level of understanding of a topic.
Unfortunately, all of the video answers are Youtube clips, which means they are still not accessible within the majority of schools. Until we all have access to YoutubeEDU, this means the videos can only be accessed outside of school by students. Of course this isn’t a problem, since students can access their Google Docs anywhere via any web browser.
Using Google Docs to enter into a dialogue with students about their progress
Getting students to reflect on their learning and target their own areas for improvement can be difficult to achieve. I didn’t want my students taking the time to complete the spreadsheet and watching the videos without any reflection at all. After completing the spreadsheet and watching the videos, I usually get my students to set 3 targets for themselves to work on before their next exam, which can be written on the spreadsheet as a reminder.
Sadly the ‘Comments’ function of Google Spreadsheets are not quite up to the standard of Documents. However, they still provide a nice way of communicating with students. Once the students have used the spreadsheet and completed their targets, the teacher can then right-click on the appropriate cell and choose ‘Insert Comment’. The comments can be used in lots of ways, such as directing students to resources to further their knowledge, or suggesting targets the student may have missed. Comments appear as small orange triangles in the top right hand corner of cells.
Sharing your Google Doc tracker with your students
There are lots of different options for sharing a Google Doc tracker with your students, but here is my method – and you only have to do this once.
- Keep a master copy of the spreadsheet (you can have a copy for yourself by going to ‘File’ > ’Make a Copy’) and don’t use it for anything, except any necessary updates. You can then use this copy to send any updates to your students’ spreadsheets. I have a master version and also a copied version that I share with students.
- Make sure each of your students is logged in to Google Docs (signing up just a few seconds) and provide them with a link to the copied version of the tracker – via wiki, VLE link, email etc.
- The Google Doc will then open, students click on ‘File’ > ‘Make a Copy’ > Tick the box ‘Also copy document collaborators’ > Rename the file containing the students name/initials.
- The teacher will then automatically have access to each student’s spreadsheet (without even sharing email addresses). I recommend creating a ‘collection’ for each class and moving your classes’ spreadsheets into one collection.
Using a Google Doc tracker with your students over a longer period of time
Of course, you may not want to share a giant spreadsheet with your students containing video answers to every paper they might sit in the next two years. By making another copy of your master version, you can reduce the spreadsheet so it contains only the exam papers relevant to you, and slowly add more papers to your students’ spreadsheets. Here is an example of how:
- As your students sit an exam at the beginning of Year 10, you can go through the process above but share with them only the exam papers they have completed.
- Next time your class complete an exam paper, return to your ‘master version’ and find the exam paper you would now like to share with your students.
- On the sheet you would like your students to now have access to, click on the sheet name at the bottom and click ‘Copy to’.
- Tick the box next to each student’s spreadsheet to add your new sheet to their tracker. You are done!
I recognise this post is almost disturbingly focused on improving students’ exam scores. However, it is also primarily about encouraging students to reflect and take responsibility for their learning. If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet, use the same ‘Make a copy’ trick mentioned above and give it a go. Thanks to Tim Buckton (@mrbuckton4maths) and Carl Roberts (@carledgar86) for providing some of the videos. If you have any questions or recommendations please leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@riley_ed).