01 May

Reflect on the School Year With Students Using Paint Swatches

Paint-SwatchesFrom field trips and field days in some places to state-level or Advanced Placement (AP) testing in others, May is a time for us to culminate the school year and reflect on what we learned.

It’s springtime, and that means another school year is coming to a close. For some, the time flew by while for others the wrap-up couldn’t come soon enough. What did you learn? What were the best parts? What challenges did you face, and how did you respond to them?

Whether this was the best year ever, just an okay one, or a school year that challenged you in ways you couldn’t imagine, reflecting on what took places is key to moving forward and improving as educators. Come to think of it, it’s not just important for educators to reflect, it can be quite valuable for students to look back on all that happened as well.

paint swatch 2With so many different ways and opportunities to reflect, what can give you the best feedback as an educator and also help students celebrate what was memorable about the school year? Chances are, you reflect regularly throughout the year on how things are going, but In addition to the quiet internal conversations or journaling you might do, engaging students in an open discussion about the school year can benefit everyone and provide you key ideas to inform your preparations for the next year.

That’s why we recommend the paint swatch feedback loop. It’s fun, easy, organized, and generates great conversations! As a bonus, it provides an artifact for teachers to use student feedback to develop action steps going forward.

Here’s how it works:

Get some four-color paint swatches from your local painting supply store. The samples are free from the paint companies, but it can feel funny grabbing enough for all your students; so, if you let them know you’re a teacher using them for class, they typically won’t call security on you when you take several of each color!

Distribute the paint swatches to students, either randomly, or let them choose their own colors. Provide your students with a template (modeled after the one below) for reflecting on the school year. As they look back on class, It asks them to write a little about four different aspects of what they recall:

  • Oooh! – something that was interesting or stood out to them about class
  • Aaah! – something that cemented in their understanding about the class
  • Hmmm… – something that left them thinking or sparked a lingering curiosity
  • Huh? – a question that remains for them or something they are still wondering

Paint Swatch Reflection

Note: You can choose to focus this on the content of your class, the way your class was organized or run, or some combination of process and content.

After students write down their ideas, have them form groups with other students whose swatches are in the same color family, e.g., all the reddish swatches together, and discuss their responses. Bring the activity home with a whole class discussion that summarizes some of the most stand-out comments that arose during the activity. You can collect the swatches (anonymously created, of course) to review more thoroughly on your own later to inform your own further reflection on the year.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the things that students notice about your class and the conversation that stems from this activity. We all want to reflect, and this is a great way to close the school year and help everyone look back in a productive manner on class.

01 May

Get to the Root Cause of an Issue With The 5 Why Method


Have you ever been totally stumped by a persistent problem or issue that you couldn’t resolve? Besides overcoming the fixed mindset that it will never be solved, getting at the heart of the matter is critical to moving past these kinds of barriers in our work and lives.

Think, think, and think some more. When an issue presents itself in the form of an immediate or persistent problem, you might feel compelled to ask “why is this happening?” But how often do you get an answer to that question? Sometimes, the “why” question doesn’t produce results for solving problems. It can leave us periled with uncertainty and frustration.

A single why question is often insufficient for solving big problems, especially those that take place within systems or organizations. However, when at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Or, in this case, “why” and “why” again.

Why Logo White copy

That’s right, if the answer to your first “why” question didn’t produce results, it’s likely because it hasn’t reached a sufficient enough level of depth to find a root cause, or at least an underlying situation that will leverage a solution to the problem.

Here’s where the Six Sigma Method of Asking 5 Why Questions can come to the rescue:

Once you reach an answer to your first “why” question, or at least some speculation at an answer, you then ask “why” that answer is the case. The resulting second “why” question should get its own answer, which digs deeper into the underlying cause behind the surface-level problem. That answer, in turn, gets questioned with “why is this the case?” and subsequently answered. This problem-solving method continues until you get to five why questions asked and five resulting responses to them.

At the fifth level, you might just find the underlying cause of the main issue at hand. And, if this cause is something within your control, you target addressing that cause in order to effect change with the initial problem.

"WHY" 3D text surrounded by question marks. Part of a series.It kind of reminds you of the idea of six degrees of separation. You know, the notion that everyone in the world is connected somehow about six relationships away? The 5 Why approach gets at the relational connection between issues and their causes to about the fifth degree. Some issues don’t go all the way to the fifth why before the root cause is identified, and some land on an underlying issue that is out of the sphere of control of the questioner. In either case, you can always scour through all of your “whys” in order to find something that’s within your control to address.

Okay, you’d probably like a better example now. So, here goes:

Brittney, an adolescent female, is passing tests in class but failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student. They want to know how to fix the situation, so they ask this question: “Why is Brittney failing?” Thus begins the 5 Why process.

  • Why is Brittney failing U.S. History as a grade 7 student?
    • Because Brittney’s course grade is a 52%
  • Why is Brittney’s course grade a 52%?
    • Because Brittney has passed some tests, but has done no homework all year.
  • Why has Brittney passed some tests, but done no homework all year?
    • Because Brittney engages in classroom learning activities, but prioritizes other outside-school activities over doing her U.S. History homework
  • Why does Brittney engage in learning in class, but prioritize other activities over homework?
    • Because Brittney doesn’t see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content
  • Why doesn’t Brittney see the value in doing homework assignments when she already understands the content?
    • Because she disagrees with the class policy that every student has to do homework, which has strong weight in the course grade, whether they need the extra practice or not

The conclusion of this example is that Brittney is failing the class because she disagrees with a class policy about homework. So, the intervention that might help Brittney here is outside of Brittney’s control and has everything to do with examining the class homework and grading policies. That is something in the sphere of control of the teacher and or school. Now, addressing that root cause can help resolve the issue identified with Brittney, and perhaps other students as well.

So, where will you apply the 5 Why Method to solving issues or problems in your work?