While attending a PD session years ago I saw a video in which a math teacher had students using Red, Yellow and Green cards on their table tops to indicate how they felt about the day's learning target as a formative assessment. Each day most students would start with a red card on the top right corner of their desk, and as the lesson progressed, students would take cards from their binder and switch them to yellow to indicate they were gaining understanding, but not quite ready to run alone with the content. When a student felt like they understood it enough to help someone else, they would place their green card on their desk indicating they were good to go.
The simplicity of the colored cards was intriguing but I had so many questions. Are the students being honest, or do they change their cards so they are not the only red in the room? Are middle school students organized enough to keep these cards with them for the year? What do I gain from seeing a lot of yellows? How does this impact the students' math self-esteem? A student's math self-esteem can be one of the biggest barriers to success in my experience. I try to create a WE learning community in my class. Our goal is not that YOU do well, it's that WE do well. This takes a little pressure off of individuals and helps to create a safe place when asking for help.
Attempting to use the simplicity of Red, Yellow, Green but also address my questions, I first tried using the idea with colored pencils and a unit review. My 7th grade class was approaching the end of a unit on Linear Relationships and we were gearing up for the final assessment. Two days before the assessment I passed out the unit review and asked the students to have red, yellow and green colored pencils on their desks. I also asked that they not speak to each other and not to begin working on any of the problems. I told them that before we begin working, we are going to have some private think time about each problem. I asked them to follow along as I read each problem aloud.
After reading the first problem I asked them to color over the problem number with the red, yellow or green colored pencil with these thoughts in mind. If you color the number ________ that means if you see a problem like this, or similar to this on the assessment:
Green: You are going to dominate this problem. If your grade were based on this one problem, you'd have an A. You are saying, "I can demonstrate understanding of this problem with math work and a written explanation. I am good to go!"
Yellow: You have a pretty good idea of how to attempt this problem. Sometimes you do well on these problems, but sometimes you don't do well. You will need to slow down and really think to make sure you are not missing something. You are saying, "I see this problem as a challenge but I am willing to take on that challenge."
Red: You are not yet ready to take this challenge on and would like to have more conversation, practice, instruction or think-time. You are saying, "I will be able to take this problem on, but I need some help before I can rise to this challenge."
I repeated these descriptions for each of the first five problems that I read aloud. Once they got the idea, I let them finish coloring each problem number. Then I asked anyone that has at least one red or yellow to raise their hands. This gets just about every hand in the air, and students see that even the "A-Kids" have red and yellow. It's important for the students with a lot of red and yellow to see that everyone struggles from time to time.
Next I asked students who colored #1 green to raise his or her hands and keep them up. Then I asked students who colored #1 as red or yellow to find a green person and have a conversation. Students began teaching students while I floated around the room collecting data which problems had a significant amount of reds and yellows. I also began jumping in to help the "greens." We continued this process through all of the review problems. Students were using the colored pencils to change their colors after each conversation. Reds became yellow, yellow to green and some greens found out they were really yellow. After the dust cleared, students knew exactly what they understood and could demonstrate, and they made a plan for the next two days to get themselves where they needed. I used the red and yellow data to plan for the next day, and the learning was more purposeful and targeted than just passing out the review and saying we got two days to be ready.
Since that first time, I have adjusted the process slightly from year to year, and class to class. I have used my group roles (see early post on group roles) to guide groups through red, yellow, green conversations, and I have had students make posters of what they feel is demonstrating red, yellow, green level of understanding. The students will ask me for a red, yellow, green activities when they feel like the levels of learning in the room are out of balance because they understand that until everyone is green, we have not met our goal that WE will do well. Each time I try something new, the basic idea stays the same, but it's the subtle differences that keep the students digging my red, yellow, green chili.