“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.” - James Clear

You ever wonder what students are actually doing when they are supposed to be working on a long-term project? Many students get stuck in a cycle of motion: planning, replanning, and then planning some more. As an educator, I struggled to move students from motion to action because I had little visibility into their progress and process. This lack of transparency created silos, where students struggled to collaborate with both me and their classmates. And when I did meet one on one with a student, we would just be going over their plans, stuck in that cycle of motion. That time would have been better used to determine the next steps rather than reviewing their plans. To address these challenges in my project-based classes, I turned to a micro check-in framework. Frequent micro check-ins do two things: create a high level of transparency and foster a culture of accountability. In this article I will break down the how-to of creating micro check-ins in your classroom.

What is a micro check-in?

In a basic micro check-in, learners and teachers meet for 5 minutes each week. This should be a show-not-tell meeting where learners present evidence of their progress and discuss their plan for the upcoming week. Three quick prompts: 

  • What have you done?
  • What is your plan for the upcoming week?
  • What are some blockers I can help get out of your way?

What happens when you don’t do micro check-ins?

  • Learners spin their wheels when a problem or blocker emerges
  • Learners allow dependencies (waiting to hear back via emails, waiting for parts, building out a website or logo to get in the way of progress) to block other potential paths 
  • Teachers miss opportunities to connect learners with each other and mentors

Check-ins Build Culture

Check-ins morph the culture of your classroom into an environment where learning is relevant, worth sharing, and documentable. They build a sense of accountability and visibility amongst learners, creating a communal learning atmosphere. They give each learner a window into everyone’s process and outcomes.

  1. Go visible: Start each week with a “Do now exercise”. Use a learner check-in as a case study and have the class act as consultants and give advice. In our Social Entrepreneurship class, Maia was working on a digital literary magazine where each issue featured a different aspect of Hawaiian culture. On a Monday, she walked up to the TV monitor and briefly showcased her first issue. She asked for feedback on the layout, typography, and images. We went around the room providing actionable critique and heaps of praise. 
  2. Document everything: Learners should document their work, interactions, and project progress, and they can use all kinds of media: video, audio, photo, slides and written reflections. When they can see, firsthand, their projects' growth, documentation creates a culture of worthiness and confidence.  And, on the flip side, a lack of documentation can be an accountability tool for learners who have not made progress. 

Advanced micro check-ins

Go asynchronous: Even with weekly 5 minute check-ins, learners can get stuck for an entire week, flustered by an obstacle that a teacher could quickly help them surmount.  Asynchronous check-ins mimic a real-world workflow, and help speed up the mentoring process.

Find a digital platform (your LMS’s discussion board, Asana, Trello, Unrulr) for learners to post check-ins. Check-ins should be shared with not only teachers, but peers as well. Use those check-ins to drive the conversation at the beginning of each class – some of the most powerful learning can occur between peers. Regular, asynchronous sharing creates a culture of transparency, allowing learners to be taught and inspired by their fellow learners (ZOPED for the win!!).

Micro check-ins offer agency

My goal in education is to create a classroom environment where students feel the content and skills they are gaining are relevant to their personal and professional growth. To do this I put learners in the driver's seat. Micro check-ins are a key part of giving students agency: they allow learners to own their process and product creation. In my biased opinion, Unrulr allows this to be more authentic, transparent, and purposeful. Later in this series I’ll show you how.