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The Benefits of Self-Checking Math Work

Four Ways That Self-Correcting Math Work
​Can Benefit Students

How does self-correcting in math class benefit students?

I have been teaching for more than 20 years. If you have been teaching for a long time, then like me,  you may have used a certain strategy or instructional tool for a period of time, and then for some reason, stopped using it….and then after another period of time you came back to it, and wondered WHY (or when!) you stopped in the first place!

That was me today. I had made 20 copies of my Footloose answer key and had the students correct their own papers (they had worked on the Footloose activity for part of yesterday’s class and then finished during today’s).

  • I was surprised by the thoughts that went through my brain as they were correcting – the main one being – “When did I stop doing this?!”

I do have students check their homework answers with the answers shown on the board (sometimes), but I don’t give them each a detailed answer sheet to use, and I rarely have them grade their own classwork.


Here are my re-discoveries related to students correcting their own math work. Some of these may be particular to the topic we worked on (writing algebraic expressions from phrases, phrases from expressions, and evaluating expressions given a value for the variable), and the fact that the answer keys were detailed (not just the answer), but I’m sure I’d observe the similar things when studying different topics as well:

1) Students asked me more questions when checking their work with my key. Since they were working at their own pace and checking individually, they seemed to be more comfortable with verifying whether or not their phrases were ok (I didn’t have every possible phrasing option on my key). Students who wouldn’t normally raise their hands to ask in front of the class did ask me questions during this time.

2) Correct work is modeled on the answer key. Because I had several options for phrases on my answer sheet, they had to read each one to see if theirs was on the sheet, giving them a little more exposure to correct options. I also had the steps for evaluating each expression, so they could go line by line and have those steps reinforced, as they compared the work to their own.

3) Students were finding their OWN mistakes, rather than me finding them.
I heard comments like:

  • “I copied the problem wrong,”
  • “I said 3 x 3 was 6!”
  • “Oh, I put division for product.”

And I realized, as I did years ago – it makes so much more sense to them when THEY see the difference between the correct work and the mistake they made, rather than ME finding it….do they really know why I circle a mistake that they made on their paper if they don’t take the time to ask me?

When they find the mistake, they know what happened. I don’t need to be they only one making those types of connections and observations. They need to make them too.

4) Students are engaged – they enjoy having the key!
It was fun to see them with their pens or colored pencils, pointing at their papers, question by question, making sure they were being accurate in their grading of themselves, and then being sure to write the correct answer accurately (I did make them write the correct answers, using pen or a colored pencil, so the change would stand out).

I don’t know what prompted me to copy the keys to use today, but I’m so glad I did!
​ It’s wonderful to be reminded of forgotten/lost practices that help students to think just a bit more.

Have you re-discovered any strategies/practices recently?


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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