This trimester, I have an hour with such a range of abilities as I have never seen. So in the interest of trying not to let anyone become seriously lost, I am experimenting with a couple strategies.
First off, I have done away with turning in papers to be graded. We start a unit with a notesheet (we do not have textbooks in my classes), usually coincided with a lab type activity and some sort of worksheet. They may work in groups if they want. Each paper is graded in front of the student. If #3 is wrong, it gets corrected. Right there. The assignment is not recorded until it is completely correct. I cannot tell you the number of time I have had a student ask me if he could "just miss that question" and move on.
That is not an option. There is a reason I asked that question. It is vital that you know the answer to that question. I want you to know the answer to that question, and if I just grade it and hand back the paper, you will never look at it and figure out on your own why you missed it.
That is what learning is all about, isn't it? Finding out stuff you didn't know before. If you just skip a question because you didn't already know the answer, aren't you wasting your time (and mine)?
Not surprisingly, the kids hated this. It took a good half of the grading period before they finally started taking me seriously. But persistence paid off. I love this method. It takes more time in class, but I have eliminated grading papers after school. The only thing I ever have to grade are tests. Although I have no scientific data to prove it, I believe test scores have improved, especially on the short answer/essay type questions. The answers are more complete and more coherent and more correct.
Our last trimester is coming up and I am going to start doing this in my Astronomy class as well. This class tends to bring in older kids, so we will see if we can't teach the old dogs some new tricks. Who knows, they might even learn something.