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Use The 3-2-1 Tool for Anytime Student Engagement

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A colleague recently shared a teaching strategy he uses called the 3-2-1 method. He learned about the method in a lunch and learn style session with his university's center for teaching and learning. As we discussed the tool, I recognized immediately that it has a lot of potential uses.

What Is It?

The 3-2-1 method is a student engagement tool where you ask students to summarize readings, lectures, or a combination of other course material that they consume and/or participate in. According to The Teacher Toolkit, students share:

  • 3 things they learned

  • 2 things they found interesting

  • 1 question they have about the information

Who is it for?

Teacher Toolkit - the website referenced above which describes the 3-2-1- method - is aimed at primary and secondary teachers. The colleague who shared the method with me is using it very successfully in a college classroom. So, clearly this method has universal appeal.

Additionally, the Teacher Toolkit web site includes a few alternatives based on the method - and the possibilities seem endless. One I thought of just in reading those alternatives is to ask the students for three questions they had while reviewing the material for that week, two alternative sources they used to try to find answers to those questions, and one answer they found to one of their questions. This encourages students to engage their own curiosity and helps them build a resource bank of tools for research in your course.

How can it be used?

This is a tool that can flex in a variety of learning environments. You could use the 3-2-1 method in online and traditional classroom environments. Additionally, the tool can fill a quick need for engagement and feedback in a classroom when you as the instructor may be feeling a lesson didn't land as well as you had hoped. It requires no advance preparation on the part of the educator so it's also great as an on demand teaching resource. Here are two examples of how the tool could play out in teaching and learning environments.

An Alternative to Online Discussions

My colleague and I were discussing the 3-2-1 method it in the context of redesigning a 16 week synchronous course as an eight week asynchronous course. My colleague has used this 3-2-1 method as a prompt for discussion in other online courses. Using this tool as a discussion starter each week has many benefits. It creates opportunities for students to share their own unique perspectives in discussions rather than simply responding to one or two stock questions from the instructor. If you require other students to respond to one or more other students this can widen the scope of the conversation dramatically. Additionally, this gives the instructor valuable feedback about what students found interesting and what students are still struggling with. This can provide an easy segue into the announcements, learning material, and course updates for subsequent weeks as well as review material to help students prepare for upcoming assignments and exams.

As A Class Exit Ticket

In a traditional classroom or hands on laboratory experience, I would introduce 3-2-1 during the class opening as something students need to turn in when they exit the classroom that day. At breaks or appropriate times in the lecture/lab I would give students time to update their 3-2-1 encouraging students to take a moment and reflect on their own learning and write down the things that they learned or still are confused on as the class goes on. If students leave this piece of paper out on their work station as you walk around the room you could even pick up on the questions that seem to be bubbling to the top so that you can help reinforce material during class. This has the added benefit of getting even the quietest of class participants to give you feedback as the class is taking place.

Put it to use

I would love to hear if you use this tool. Did you create an derivative uses for it? Have you used it before? How did it go?


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