X. Cumulative Review

     Once every week or two, academy teachers should engage students in cumulative review of important content. Of course, within an academy, the important content is articulated as measurement topics. At a very general level cumulative review means that teachers continually review content in the proficiency scales for each measurement topic. This is not to say that every topic would be addressed during each review session. Rather, during a particular time set aside for review (let’s say a 45 minute period every Monday), the teacher would review the content of the measurement topic that is currently being addressed. In addition, the teacher would identify a previously addressed topic or topics to include in the review process.

     One critical aspect of the cumulative review process is an accessible archive of student notes about the content. This means that students should be taking notes during each review episode. Student notes can be archived online or in a traditional notebook. In either case, students should code their recorded thoughts by topic. A very straightforward way to do this is to have a section of the notebook for each measurement topic. If a physical notebook is archived in a three-ring binder then a tab could be devoted to each measurement topic. Of course this would take a great deal of room and make the notebooks quite thick. In contrast, students can record their notes serially—each set of notes is recorded immediately after the previous set of notes. In this case, each new set of notes should be labeled as to the measurement topic to which it refers. This is depicted in figure 10.1.

     Notice that each entry in this figure has the topic of rocks written in parenthesis. If each entry is labeled by a topic, then it is relatively easy for students to go back and review their previous thoughts about specific topics. 
     During each review session three different types of activities might be used: 1) recording, 2) reviewing, and 3) revising. That is, a review session might include one or all three of these activities. 


     During this phase of the cumulative review process students record what they have learned about the topic being considered. There are a number of ways this can be done.

Informal Outline

     In an informal outline, students us indentation to indicate the relative importance of ideas. The write big ideas at the left side of the paper, and indent and list details under the big idea to which they pertain. Students can also use numbering, bullets, or Roman numerals to organize information and display its relative importance. The following example shows an informal outline for information about different types of memory.


Working Memory

  • What we are paying attention to right now

  • May or may not be remembered later

  • Can only handle a small amount of information at one time


Short-Term Memory

  • Where we hold recent events and relatively new information

  • Larger storage space than the working memory

  • Not everything in the short-term memory will be permanently retained


Long-Term Memory

  • The largest part of the memory

  • Where all of our childhood memories are stored

  • Information in the long-term memory is always remembered


      The teacher asks students to summarize content. Summarizing requires that students record the critical content from a text or lesson. Summarizing techniques often require multiple complex cognitive processes and should be directly taught and modeled for students. Below are listed some activities that help students create summaries:

  • Use summary frames to structure students’ early attempts at summarization. A summary frame is a series of questions that focus on important elements of the content. Students answer the questions and then use their responses to generate a summary. For example, in a summary frame for a short story, the teacher might create a series of questions that ask students to list the setting, characters, main conflict, and resolution of the story.

  • Show students how supplementary information, such as headings, images, and graphs, in visual presentations of content and texts can help them decipher what the main idea and key details are.

  • Practice basic summarizing techniques by asking students to describe the plot of a familiar movie or story in one to two sentences. Remind students that it is not necessary to retell the whole plot; they should simply try to tell listeners the most important information in their own words. For extra support, ask students to list the who, what, where, when, and why of the plot before giving their summary.

  • Ask students to use a simple graphic organizer, like the following, to find the main idea and key details from a short presentation or text. Using this kind of organizer can help students understand what kind of information is important to highlight in a summary. For extra support, provide students with the main idea before the start of the lesson and have them fill in the key details.

  • When students begin summarizing content, ask them to think about what they would tell someone who had missed class to help them understand the important ideas from a lesson. Have them practice what they would say with a partner. To encourage students to condense their summaries to only the most critical details, have partners time each other to see if they can summarize ideas in thirty seconds or less.

Pictorial Notes and Pictographs

     The teacher asks students to use pictorial notes and pictographs to illustrate new content. Pictorial notes may serve as an accompaniment to written notes or, in some cases, as the primary note-taking form. Pictographs, like pictorial notes, may be accompanied by text for clarification. Pictographs are often used to represent data in mathematical charts. In place of numbers, images are drawn to indicate how much of a certain item each category has. Additionally, pictographs can be simple drawings that express words or phrases. Figure 10.2 is an example of a pictograph that compares the number of apples harvested from three orchards. Students could be asked to draw this kind of chart before completing a word problem that uses these data.

     Pictographs can use any kind of image for any amount, as long as there is a clear key that defines the symbols for the students and the teacher. Figure 10.3 is an example of pictorial notes that depict the water cycle.

Combination Notes, Pictures, and Summary

     Students record written notes about the content in the left-hand column of a chart, pictographs or pictorial representations of the content in the right-hand column, and a summary of the content in the lower section of the chart. Figure 10.4 depicts an example.

Student Activity Creation

     Students in Empower are able to create activities just like teachers do. The only difference is that whereas a teacher would assign the activity to a student, in this case, a student will choose a teacher to review their work and give them a score. 

     This video shows how to create an activity. 

     This video shows how students can complete and turn in activities whether created by the teacher or the student. Any kind of file or link can be uploaded as evidence to be reviewed by the teacher and stored in the student portfolio. 


     During the reviewing phase of the cumulative review process, student examine and/or test their understanding of the content within a specific topic. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished.


 The teacher asks questions that require students to recall, recognize, or apply previously learned information. These questions might also ask students to make inferences or decisions based on the previously learned information. Specifically, questions should be asked that require students to:

  • Recall and explain details about a specific topic

  • Describe and exemplify generalizations and principles about a specific topic

  • Generate and defend inferences about a specific topic.

Presented Problems

     The teacher presents students with a problem that requires them to use previously learned information in order to solve it. For example, the teacher might ask students to solve a math problem involving exponents that requires them to review previously learned multiplication and division skills.

Sample Items and Released Items

     The teacher asks students to complete an exercise that is based on released items by large testing companies like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Figure 10.5 depicts an example of how released items can be useful for a particular measurement topic.

Give One Get One

     After locating information on a specific topic in their academic notebooks, stand up and move to find a partner, carrying their notebooks with them. The pair compares what each student has recorded in his or her academic notebook. Students share at least one piece of information they recorded that the other student did not. Based on this information, students add or revise the entries in their notebooks. As time allows, students can find a different partner and repeat the process. The teacher leads a discussion afterward in which students share new information they collected or how they revised their notebooks to make them more accurate or complete. In addition to providing a review of the content, this strategy can also be used as a form of physical movement.

Assessments in Empower

     Using Empower's Quiz Tools may be a convenient way to review student knowledge. 

     Learn all about assessments in Empower in this tutorial:

Reviewing Student Work

     There are a few ways to access student work. One of the most convenient is the Scoring Inbox. Teachers will get alerts on their Empower homepage when there is anything new turned in. The Inbox is designed to make review and scoring very efficient.  Review, Score, Comment, Repeat...

     The Inbox is great for work that is freshly turned in, but what about work that has already been scored? What is the best way to review that? Two good suggestions, depending on the information you want to gather, are the Class Log and the True Score Estimator. Showing below:


     During the revising phase of cumulative review students make corrections in their notes. Again, there are a number of ways this might be accomplished.

Sentence Stems

     Sentence stems are sentence starter templates the teacher provides to students (for example, “I learned that ______” or “I used to think ______, but now I think _______”). Sentence stems can help students who have trouble starting or organizing their thoughts about a topic. They can be used in conjunction with other writing tools, and may also reveal gaps in students’ knowledge or understanding of the content.

Quick Writes

     Quick writes involve students writing in response to a short, open-ended prompt given by the teacher within a limited amount of time. For example, the following prompt might be presented to students to begin a quick-write: How is this information different from something we’ve learned previously? Quick writes can not only promote writing fluency, but also give students practice in quickly organizing and expressing their understanding of a topic.

Peer Feedback

     Students trade academic notebooks and respond in writing to each other’s entries. Students should ask questions about the content, quality, and thoroughness of their peers’ entries, and make suggestions for improvement. They should also look for ways to improve the entries in their own notebooks. Figure 10.6 contains a sample form students might use.

Revising Knowledge Using Five Basic Processes

     The teacher directs students in using five basic processes to revise their knowledge of the content. The five basic processes are (1) reviewing prior understanding of the content, (2) identifying and correcting mistakes, (3) identifying gaps in knowledge and filling them in, (4) deciding where to amend prior knowledge, and (5) explaining the reasoning behind the revisions. These processes are described in figure 10.7.

Revising Knowledge Using Visual Symbols

     Teachers direct students in the use of visual symbols to revise their knowledge of the content. Visual symbols are shorthand ways of highlighting information and changes in understanding when revising academic notes. Figure 10.8 is an example of visual symbols that can be used for revising notes.

©Robert J Marzano

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