But I say, "Did you check your work?"
"Whoops," he says and takes back the test. He remains standing in front of me, and proceeds to give each page a quick glance, nodding.
10 seconds later, "Okay, I checked it. Here you go."
Oh, thank you, child. Thank you for your thoroughness. Thank you for NOT noticing the simple calculation error you made on number 5, and for forgetting to answer both parts of number 8, and for misreading the question on number 9.
And by the way, you skipped number 10. But don't worry, I will notice these silly mistakes for you tonight as I grade your test, wondering how much of this content you actually know or not.
After many of these interactions with students, or something similar, I decided to have another crack at teaching my students how to check their work. Simply reminding them to check their work was rarely helpful. Did students really know what I meant? Did I really know what I meant?
After some reflection, I broke the concept of "checking your work" into three levels. I modeled how to do each level, and then I taught students when each "level of checking" was best to use. This idea has worked well in math especially, but can be applied to other subjects too.
I consider a "level one check" to be the lowest level of checking your work (but better than nothing). After completing your test or assignment, you return to the beginning and check to be sure that you have answered every question. Basically, you are checking to see if you skipped anything. It is quick and takes little thought, but might be the right choice in certain situations, like if you are running out of time.
When you check your work at level two, you return to the beginning of your test or assignment and you reread the first question. You then look at your answer and see if it makes sense. If it does, you move on and do the same for the rest of the questions. If it doesn't, you work the problem again to try to find your error. With level two, you really keep your brain turned on. It helps eliminate those "silly" mistakes.
Level Three Checking
Checking your work at level three is like a full attack. This is when you read each question again and rework the problem. You then compare your answer to your first attempt to see if you got the same thing. This takes a lot of time and mental stamina, but might be appropriate for certain sections, like a problem with multi-digit addition or subtraction.
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Getting students to care about checking their work isn't easy. It takes a change of mindset that completing the last question is not "the end." It also takes the realization that we all are capable of making absent-minded mistakes. I've found that teaching students how to use these different levels of checking has helped give students more ownership and the ability to make wiser choices when it comes to checking their work. I hope the idea can help your students too!