Friday, September 11, 2015

A Checklist Manifesto for Teachers

Have you read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande?  He proposes that the simple checklist will help streamline complex tasks and reduce errors.
The primary focus and anecdotes of his book deal with the medical field, but the take away is that in the midst of a complicated, multi-step process, a checklist helps us avoid mistakes and omissions.

When I finished reading this book, I cheered.  I felt validated!  Yay!  I am not crazy for loving my checklists!
In this back-to-school post, I want to share my own "checklist manifesto" ... middle-school style.

When to use a checklist

  • I use checklists whenever students are working on a multi-step task:  writing assignments, projects, book talks, or project-based learning.  Using the checklist helps me know that students are progressing in their work. 
  • I also use a checklist to quickly mark daily homework that is completed, but might not be taken for a grade.  Since I don't always collect homework, the checklist helps me see who has completed the work and who has not.  
  • A checklist helps me track when and how often I conference with a student during workshop time.  
  • I can use it to record participation grades.
My clipboard, my friend

  • I keep my checklist on a clipboard that I can easily use as I wander around the room monitoring students at work.  I use a simple shorthand to make quick notes.
  • Be sure to keep a cover sheet over your clipboard to ensure students privacy, and always return your clipboard to a safe place!  I keep mine in the same place on my desk.  That way, I never have to worry about losing it.
Other benefits

  • When using a checklist for a project, you are really creating all the steps required to complete the project and you're creating a gradebook page.  This is a wonderful resource for student or parent conferences when you want to talk about work habits.
  • A checklist is really a formative assessment.  You can see what areas need to be retaught -- even if you're just using a - or + notation on your checklist.
  • Anecdotal evidence at your fingertips.  Your checklist can show behavior patterns that need to be addressed with your students.  Often, students don't realize they've been unprepared for class three times in a week, or they have missed turning in assignments on a regular basis.  The checklist gives you the data you need to conference with students to help them adjust their behavior.
  • Checklists help you stay on track for a project.  You'll be able to see what the next steps are in completing a writing assignment or group project.  This will help you adjust the pacing of your class.  

Thank goodness my classroom isn't a (medical) operating room!
Obviously my checklists are academic rather than medical in nature.  But the outcome of using a checklist helps simplify my life.  As you're organizing projects for this school year, consider trying a checklist to help you organize and gather data -- stat!

Interested in more checklist goodness?
Check out the product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:  Teacher-Checklists:  Making formative assessments easier.  You can download it for FREE for a the next week.  If you do download it, please leave me feedback!


  1. I'm a checklist gal too!! My students sometimes laught about my number of clipboards, but I can't count on my memory. Every checklist holds real evidence of student work, bahavior, and habits!

  2. I am totally into checklist and clipboards! Thank you for these! :)


  3. Some great ideas! I used to walk around the room with a hole punch in y hand and when I saw students off task, I would make a hole in the corner of their paper. I never explained what I was doing but the students always wondered what it meant. As for me, when I graded their paper the hole would explain why I might not be seeing their best work. Sometimes I would add in a different shape hole punch for noticing something like a great question or a random act of kindness. There is something about letting the students "wonder" what you are up to. They tend to act their best when they see me walking around with my "hole punch". I'm guessing the clipboard would do the same.

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