Striving For Accuracy & Precision

Take a moment to reflect on your current students. Do some of them rush to get their work done? Is there an unwritten belief that being the first finished is better than doing their best? Do many of them put in the minimum effort instead of working towards excellence? Are you constantly seeing sloppy mistakes? If you answered yes to some or all of these questions you may wish to spend some time focusing on explicitly teaching students to strive for accuracy and precision in their work.

Professor Art Costa and Dr Bena Kallick have identified Striving for Accuracy and Precision as an important ‘Habit of Mind’ or disposition of people who know how to behave intelligently. It is about being about to check your work again, always doing your best and setting a high standard, whilst also constantly finding ways to improve.

Striving for accuracy and precision is important in the world of employment and business as sloppy mistakes can cause frustration, inconsistency, poor results and at it’s worst death. The artist needs to be neat in their work and the musician accurate with their timing, release and pitch. Mathematicians are required to be accurate with their calculations, whilst scientists precise with their observations and programmers accurate with their coding – we all know that one dot or space in the wrong place and the email will not send! Bridge builders are required to triple check their work as sloppy calculations or inaccurate maintenance can be life threatening. Rice farmers know the value of precision as too much or too little water will threaten their livelihood. Comedians, authors and lawyers know the importance of the precision of language and words.

This is about promoting the idea of craftsmanship; taking the time to check your work or product. It is not about perfectionism as this is unattainable. It is more about excellence and striving to be the best one can be. It is important to note the subtle difference between the words accuracy and precision. Accuracy is doing the action correctly whilst precision is being able to repeat the action and results over and over again. People who demonstrate this disposition develop a pride in their work and continuously rework and pursue ongoing learning to attain the highest possible standards. People who strive for accuracy and precision review the rules and directions and re check the criteria given.

I can recall my son, at age 11, completing some homework. I asked him if he had checked his work. He looked at me aghast and said, “That’s the teachers job!” As I travel around schools I have noticed many teachers have become the accuracy checkers of the twenty first century. While you are marking students work, they are… having a life! Switch roles and empower your students to develop the important life skill of craftsmanship.

Following are four strategies to promote and explicitly teach students to Strive for Accuracy and Precision.

This strategy is an oldie and a goodie. ‘See Three Before Me.” Before students hand work in, invite them to have it checked by three others. It might be three peers in their classroom, three buddies in the school, or mother, father, brother, sister etc. This often results in great learning for the students as both the checkee and the checker learn from each other. Create a system for the students to have the checkers sign off the work at the bottom. This adds some accountability for the checkers.

Bump It Up
This is a great idea from Teachers at Wynnum Primary School in Brisbane, Australia. They created simple rubrics for students to see the stages of development and what accuracy looks like in many areas of the curriculum. Pictured are two examples from the junior level; colouring and writing. The examples give clear stages and outcomes. Students can self-assess and strive to the next level.

Striving For Accuracy Sunglasses
Again another great idea from a teacher, Michelle Bunder in NSW, Australia. She purchased a class set of cheap plastic novelty sunglasses. When students have completed their work they were encouraged to pop on a pair of glasses to ‘check’ their work. The comments from the children are priceless. One said, referring to the sunglasses, “They really helped me reread.” Another said, “The glasses helped me see that striving for accuracy is important because I could see some of my numbers were backwards.”

Scan Marking
As I mentioned earlier, teachers have become the accuracy checkers of the twenty first century. Consider your purpose for marking or grading students work. Occasionally it is purely so you can enter a grade in your records. If so do that and then scan mark it for the students. More often than not marking work is so more learning can happen. You want students to learn from their mistakes. When you hand back students work with a mark or grade on it, for example, 7/10, what is your expectation of your students? Most teachers tell me they would like their students to learn the 3 that they got wrong. Do they? Most students look at that mark and think “I passed!” and file the work away. No new learning actually takes place. Scan marking turns this process around, saving you time and causing the students to go back and do some learning. Here is how it works.

  • Students hand in their work to the teacher
  • The teacher quickly scans the work for errors
  • If there are 3 errors on the page write “There are 3 errors on the page – please find them.”
  • Hand back the papers and ask students to find their errors.

A couple of points to consider with this technique: Firstly, if a student does not know how to do the action or know the information they got wrong, they will not be able to find the mistake. This is a great indicator to you as the teacher that you need to teach or reteach that content. Not to the whole class – just to a small group who did not get this correct. Secondly, if a student gets all or most of the work incorrect, avoid writing 10/10 errors on this page. This makes them feel like a failure. Instead, write they have three errors, and when they find four, they will feel smarter. You know there are another six, and they have a least found and learned four. You can schedule a time to reteach the missing information at a later time.

There are times when accuracy is important and times when it is not. The key to this Habit is the ‘striving for’. Constantly improving and being better than before.

As famed basketball coach John Wooden use to say, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over.”

This article is part of a series of practical ways to implement the Habits of Mind in the classroom.


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Published on Thursday, February 6th, 2020, under Habits of Mind, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

One Response to “Striving For Accuracy & Precision”

  1. JAMES YWAYA says:

    I have learnt a lot from this article.

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