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Transforming classrooms by introducing the 'Definition of Done'​

What is the Definition of Done and Why is it important? 


The definition of done (DoD) is when all conditions, or acceptance criteria, that a software product must satisfy are met and ready to be accepted by a user, customer, team, or consuming system. It is a comprehensive checklist of necessary, value-added activities that assert the quality of a feature and not the functionality of that feature.


Usually, at the beginning of a sprint or a project, a team gets together to discuss what criteria each deliverable/feature should meet to be considered as 'Done.' This simple step not only avoids confusion within teams and product owners on what it means to accept a feature, but it also gives all of the team members a blueprint of the steps they need to follow to complete a feature in a software product. Thus breaking down a seemingly complex and time-consuming task, into small, incremental and manageable steps. 


We believe that this practice would not only help students on their learning journey, but it will also help teachers assess the quality of learning happening in the classroom. 


We need to define exactly what it means when we say that a Grade 1, K-12 classroom is done with a mathematical concept or a class project.


We need to define concrete steps that a student needs to take to master a particular concept or lesson. 


Once that is done, not only do we show the student that there is a clear path to master any concept, but we also establish a system that makes it easy for them to track their progress and creates transparency in the classroom.


Currently, in traditional classrooms, what does it mean when we say the students are done working on a lesson? 


Usually, it means that the concept has been introduced in the classroom, we have done some worksheets around the concept, homework has been assigned, and after a few weeks or months, the children are all required to do a standardized test, where their abilities and understanding of that concept is assessed. 


Then the papers are graded, and some - students get an A, and then they are branded the class front-runners. Others might get a B, and are referred to as the "average" students and so on. 


Once that is done, the class moves on to the next concept, and the previous one is seldom revisited, if at all. What we do not do is address the gap in the learning of the students, who did not get a perfect score on their tests. And we teach them more concepts, to build on this already shaky foundation, and this goes on for months, that turn into years. 


How do we know if every individual student has mastered the objectives of a lesson plan? Measuring educational quality by the standardized test is the wrong yardstick

Instead of grading children's tests and moving on, each classroom must come up with a Definition of Done for each concept that the students pick up. 


A blueprint, of exactly the steps that they would need to take, in order to master, not just learn, a concept. You are 'done' with a concept, only when you are done with all the steps to master it. 


And every single student in the classroom needs to master a lesson before she can move on to the next lesson. 


Different students have a different pace of learning, and some students may be 'Done' with a concept, much faster than the others. This is where the classroom culture becomes important. 


How to implement the Definition of Done checklists in your classroom to create a culture of independent learning and mastery


A group of students collaborating with their teachers on the following: 


  • Come up with a checklist of things that each student needs to do to master the concept. Any concept. 

  • Note this down, and have it prominently visible somewhere in the classroom, so that students are reminded of it every day. 

  • Track their progress using this checklist, daily. 

  • Hold each other accountable and encourage each other to make progress on the checklist regularly. 

  • Help those that are facing blockers

  • Set goals on a weekly and even daily basis for the goals they would like to hit. 

All of the above will ensure that over some time, students will learn that it is the little progress that they make, every single day, that can contribute to long term results over a period of time. 


It also teaches them that if they can break a large goal into smaller, manageable tasks, and put in the conscious, sustained effort to get each task done, that they can achieve that goal. 


But the most significant impact for me would be that students will realize that they no longer need to be alone on this journey. That everyone struggles in some aspect of their learning, and that is where growth happens. They can collaborate with their friends and classmates, as a team, to tackle a difficult problem, or create beautiful work. 


Now that we have established the power of using the Definition of Done checklist, let's take an example of how we can create such a checklist for mastering a simple mathematical concept - addition: 


  1. The student understands the concept of addition.

  2. Addition using manipulatives test passed.

  3. Level 1 of the Dream box app passed.

  4. Level 2 of the Dream box app passed.

  5. Dice math game done.

  6. Worksheet X passed.

  7. Supermarket scenario done.

So, as you can see above, the work starts with an introduction of a concept, then moving on to using tangible items to add things, next you could introduce apps within the classroom to master that concept or introduce fun games. 


Next is moving on to more abstract ways of counting and addition on a pencil and paper, and then the last is using a real-world scenario for that concept. 


I am not an expert at teaching mathematics, but I do know that we could use a similar strategy for students to be able to master more complex concepts and class projects as well. 


In this way, we can ensure that students are making definite, sustained progress every day, instead of cramming all of their learning, two days before a big test, or falling through the cracks. 


It is also important to note that students must be encouraged to fail and try again at each step here. The underlying lesson being, repetition and daily effort are essential to get good at anything and to progress on to the next step. 

I hope you have found this helpful.

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