Student Engagement

A Simple Strategy to Encourage Student Reflection and Improvement

Middle school teachers can guide students to analyze a learning experience by asking about what went well and what could be improved.

May 25, 2022
PeopleImages / iStock

As educators, we’re always striving to grow our abilities as teachers. As we continually try new strategies in our classrooms, it’s important to take time to reflect on successful ones and those that need adjusting so that we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves and our students. In my experience, I’ve found that the plus delta is an effective tool for educators to use in their classrooms.

A plus delta is a simple tool that teachers can use to help their class reflect on things that are going well and things that need improvement. (The delta sign means “change” in math.) This provides students with an opportunity to reflect upon their progress in learning and for the teacher to reflect on their teaching. Incorporating this tool in classrooms supports student agency and students’ ownership over their own learning and encourages a growth mindset. When students and teachers take time to reflect, positive change occurs. Adding plus deltas into your classroom is a simple strategy that creates improved learning outcomes.

How to Complete a Plus Delta T-Chart

Here’s how to use a plus delta in your classroom. After a learning activity takes place in your classroom, draw a T-chart on your whiteboard or a poster paper. At the top of one side of the chart, draw a plus sign. At the top of the other side of the chart, draw a triangle (delta sign). Then, ask your students, “What went well in this activity?” and write their answers under the plus sign. The pluses help the class identify positive aspects of the activity and things that should be continued in the future.

After a few minutes of reflection about what went well, ask students, “What could we change about this activity in the future?” List student answers under the delta sign in your T-chart, and encourage the students to give specific answers. Specific answers will help you to target the exact things that you can do better in the future. After making the lists of pluses and deltas, work with your class to decide on a couple of specific deltas that can be improved upon. These deltas leave you with a plan for specifically addressing areas of improvement for the near future.

When you make class goals directly after the plus delta activity, the information is fresh in the students’ minds, and they are more likely to act on them. Also keep in mind that it’s more effective to set realistic goals and not overwhelm your class. So, focus on only one or maybe two things at a time.

My students have always been very eager to participate in this activity because they know that their input is valued. If you find that your students are a bit hesitant to speak up, you can emphasize that their ideas and opinions matter because the class goals that are going to be made are based upon what they share during the plus delta chart activity.

Identify the Positives

In my social studies class, we use plus deltas to continually make our classroom a better place for learning. In my sixth-grade social studies class, we recently completed a mapping project about the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan empires, and directly after the students turned in their mapping projects, I had my class complete a plus delta. I taped a poster paper to our classroom whiteboard with a T-chart drawn on it. I asked students, “What went well during our mapping project?” As students shared ideas celebrating things that went well, I wrote them under the plus on the poster.

Students listed several things that they enjoyed:

  • “I liked being able to be creative.”
  • “I learned more about Mexico’s geography where my grandparents are from.”
  • “After this project, I know a lot more about Central and South America.”
  • “The project was fun.”
  • “I understand the empire sizes after the project.”
  • “I am really proud of how good my map turned out.”
  • “I liked being able to share my map with my classmates during peer feedback time.”

Recognize Areas for Improvement

After a few minutes of students sharing about what went well with the mapping project, I asked them to share some deltas, or opportunities for things that could be improved. I wrote these things under the delta on the poster paper.

Students pointed out specific things that could be improved, including the following: 

  • “The colors on the reference map did not match the map key, which was confusing.”
  • “Our class talked too much and it was hard to focus.”
  • “The project was too easy.”
  • “I needed extra help remembering how to make a map key.”
  • “Some students kept forgetting their supplies—like colored pencils.”

Set a Goal for the Future

After making the list, our class picked a specific delta that we could work to improve upon. We decided to focus on the delta about our class talking too much. Then, we made a specific and focused goal based on this delta in which we agreed to try to lower the classroom volume during work time for the next week to support everyone’s ability to focus. We wrote down this goal and made a plan to track our classroom volume over the next week during class work time to track our progress toward achieving this goal.

As a teacher, I also used the list of deltas to make a plan to improve my teaching practice by deciding to focus on the deltas about the colors on the reference map and students needing extra instruction on map keys. I went back into the assignment instructions and rewrote the directions to make it easier for future students to understand. I also put together a mini-lesson and gathered the small group of students who struggled with map keys on the project and retaught this skill to this group during work time the next day.

Through reflection on the plus delta chart, my students made a behavior goal that positively impacted focused learning time, and I had an opportunity to make this mapping project clearer for future students and to reteach students who weren’t yet proficient in a geography skill. The plus delta creates a great opportunity for teachers and students to reflect upon learning together.

While the goals created through plus deltas don’t guarantee success, they do create a very attainable way to identify areas needing improvement and make goals to help these areas improve. If the goals created from a plus delta don’t work, teachers and students can always look at the goals again together and adjust the goal or create a new strategy for reaching the goal.

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  • Student Engagement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Social Studies/History
  • 6-8 Middle School

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