Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bell Work Bliss Gone Bad

I am testing out a new bell work procedure this year, like so:

1.  Student picks up the bell work when she walks in the room. It's right by the door.
2.  Student works out bell work and raises a hand to check.
3.  I check the bell work and give out a green star. Student receives a green pen of her own.
4.  Student checks in with partner to assist as needed and gives the partner a green star.
5.  Student checks in with people sitting nearby to see if green stars/assistance are needed.
6.  I continue passing out green stars and green pens until pretty soon, the green pens and green stars have branched out through the whole room and bell work is done.

The first three or four weeks of this method were completely blissful. Students were self-starting.  Students who understood the problem were coaching the struggling students. I was super proud of myself for putting the responsibility of bell work completion into the hands of the students. Yay for me doing less while students do more!

Weeks 4-6 started going downhill a bit. There is a little lag time between the first and the last students who finish. Students started finishing and chatting. Loudly. Then they started chatting before they got started.

Now, at the 8th week I am frustrated and wondering where it all went wrong. What was different about the first few weeks compared to now? Is the honeymoon over? Or did something else change?

I realized that during the first few weeks I had an extra step at the end of the bell work . . . I directed students toward the few problems I'd put on that day's practice assignment that were review. These were problems they could work on right away without any instruction. So they were doing the bell work, coaching and starring their neighbors, and then moving on to those extra problems. Since it was part of the day's assignment, they were motivated to keep moving along and get that done.

The moral of the story is that if I want to continue to do bell work this way, I need to supply my students with something to do after they finish all the steps. Not busy work. Something worth the time. Something productive that will fill the short gap.

I am thinking I might start using some type of guided questions where they could go ahead and start thinking about the day's lesson, or some ACT practice questions, or maybe just continue with review like before. Maybe some extension or challenge problems for them to think about?

I am not sure which way I will go, but writing this post helped me identify the problem so that now I can figure out a solution.

Yay for blogging!


  1. What a great idea! I'm curious about more of the details. Is the bell work problem also review problems that the students can do on their own or is it meant to get them ready for the day's lesson? How long does the whole process take? I can imagine it dragging on if the students weren't efficient!

  2. I usually use problems from recent lessons so that I can check for misconceptions, but sometimes I am having them practice some type of pre-requisite skill that is needed for that day's lesson. If there are any major misconceptions, it is pretty easy to see that as you circle around and watch what they are doing. I would say this usually takes 5-8 minutes on a good day, but I am having trouble with the students being efficient. I don't want to give up on it yet, though. . . I am really liking the way it causes the students to be responsible for completing the solution -- they can't just wait for me to "go over" it and write it all down then.

  3. 1. Use a timer.
    2. Collect bell work weekly.

    The timer helps give them a definite start and stop time. I also ask them not to talk until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, we start discussing. I like that your idea requires them to be more responsible. A lot of mine just wait and write it down after me. Part of me doesn't care because if they are that lazy then they will just do badly and it's on them.

    I collect them weekly and they get a an extra stamp on their stamp sheet which contributes toward a no homework pass. Or you could just collect them and check or stamp them so that they think they are being graded on them.