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Just-in-Time Teaching Strategies

Jordan Catapano

If you’re like me, then when you first heard about Just-in-Time teaching strategies you probably thought it referred to those moments when you thought of your lesson right before class began. “I made today’s lesson just in time!”  That’s not what it means. In fact, Just-In-Time Teaching strategies (usually abbreviated as JiTT) are much the opposite of coming up with your plans at the last moment. Here’s how Gregor Novak, one of the original developers of these teaching strategies, defines it: “Just-in-Time Teaching is a teaching and learning strategy based on the interaction between web-based study assignments and an active learner classroom.”

Basically, Novak says that JiTT has two parts. The first part happens before class and is the “Web-based study assignment” students complete. The second part is what happens during class, when the teacher takes the results of the pre-class assignment and uses them to design the day’s activity. The “Just-in-time” part is named for the ways teachers get the feedback from the pre-class student assignment and apply it just in time for class to start.

Let’s look a little more closely at these two parts of JiTT.

The Before-Class Assignment

Cynthia Brame from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching says about JiTT, “Students prepare for class by reading from the textbook or using other resources posted to the web and by completing assignments online … students’ work outside class serves as preparation for more complete work in class.”

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Most courses require students to do work prior to class, but the two typical approaches to out-of-class work are not the same as what JiTT aims for.

  1. Students do work as a response to previous lessons. Students have been taught the content first, then they are asked to engage with it. JiTT reverses this.
  2. Students do pre-class preparation work, but do not complete any sort of feedback the teacher can utilize to plan appropriate instruction.

The purpose of pre-class web-based assignments is for teachers to establish a feedback loop and to engage students in the material they are about to focus more deeply on. Students prepare for class by studying resources or completing tasks that introduce them – at a simple level – to the concepts that will be covered in the forthcoming class. Not only are they studying and preparing prior to class, but they complete some variation of a web-based feedback form that allows teachers to see where they need to focus their instruction.

Novak tells us there are several types of pre-class web assignments teachers can use. The best, he says, are warmups and puzzles, “Prompting the student to think about the upcoming lesson and answer a few simple questions prior to class.” These can be as simple as a few questions that students must answer or figure out, and then plug their responses onto an online form or quiz application where instructors can view the results.

Another web component teachers can use is a short answer or essay-like form. Here, students engage in their preparatory work and then put down in their own language their understanding of the content. Like with the quizzes, teachers can see what students understand prior to class beginning.

JiTT During Class

JiTT is not the same as distance learning, computer-aided instruction, or the flipped classroom, though its use of web-based tools for supplementing classroom instruction certainly overlaps with these other methods.

What makes JiTT unique is that it empowers the educator with information about their students prior to a given class day. The teacher doesn’t have to make assumptions about what students know or don’t know. The JiTT information provides concrete data on student readiness right before they come into the classroom. As Novak says, the teacher “Is informed by an analysis of various student responses.”

The Center for Teaching points out how JiTT is like an ongoing formative assessment, “Occurring during essentially every class meeting through instructor responses to the warmups that student submit in preparation for the class.” The students complete a task, then the instructors designs class as a form of feedback that helps students revise their inputs.

With JiTT, students are more prepared to learn after having completed a pre-class task, and teachers are more equipped to teach by structuring class as a feedback loop for that learning.

This Is How I Would Use JiTT

JiTT seems to bring together the best elements of technology, flipped teaching, formative assessment, and student engagement. Sounds like something I need to do! If I were going to take some practical steps toward using this in my classroom, here’s what I would do:

  1. Determine and design the pre-class task.
  2. Show students in class the day before what I wanted them to do.
  3. Students complete the pre-class task sometime before class the next day.
  4. A few hours before class begins, I look at the data from the students’ task.
  5. I design my instructional activities based off of what the data shows me.

My pre-class task would include both a reading and some kind of electronic assessment. I envision the assessment would be on something like Google Forms or our school’s learning management system (Schoology). This gives students some background training prior to class and primes them to learn the material and correct any misconceptions they may have about the content.

The most critical element on this would by my review of student results prior to class. JiTT is about preparing students and equipping teachers, so it I don’t look at their data results then I’m missing an entire half of the whole point.

JiTT is meant to be a cycle, which means that after these five steps, the next thing to do is use class time feedback to start the process over. After seeing what students understand and what they need next, I would design the next day’s pre-class task and start the JiTT feedback loop over again.

JiTT offers numerous benefits and inverts the traditional I-teach-then-you-do-homework structure. By asking students to complete work prior to class learning rather than after, both the teacher and student become better equipped to make the most of their class time learning.

What do you think of JiTT? Think you’re ready to try this out? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.