SMARTS Strategy Highlight: Top 3 Hits (Part 1)

Black chalkboard with four lines and four checkboxes

Addressing recurring mistakes in assignments is a challenge many students face. How can we teach students to analyze their work and develop personalized checklists for frequent errors? Enter Top 3 Hits, a SMARTS strategy that leverages past errors as stepping stones toward future success.

In this three-part blog, we’ll take a close look at Top 3 Hits, a strategy that empowers students to identify, understand, and rectify their most frequent errors, thereby transforming these missteps into catalysts for academic growth. To begin, let’s define the areas that Top 3 Hits targets: self-monitoring, self-checking, and focus correction areas.


Self-monitoring refers to the ongoing process of reflecting and using strategies to track performance and outcomes. Students can use self-monitoring to check the effectiveness of their strategy use, evaluate and revise their strategy use, and continually adjust their use of strategies according to the task demands.


Self-checking occurs either during an academic task or after an academic task has been completed. Students must carefully review and check assignments using their knowledge of the common errors they often make.

Focus Correction Areas

Teachers often provide students with broad focus correction areas (FCAs) to attend to when writing or completing assignments (e.g., paragraph structure, spelling, and grammar).

Although FCAs provide students with general guidance, they are not necessarily specific to each student’s unique weaknesses. To make FCAs more meaningful, you can help students personalize their lists by asking them to:

  • Identify common errors within a unit: At the end of a unit and before a unit test, ask students to review all of their work from the unit and identify the areas they have struggled with the most.
  • Identify common errors on tests: After you return a test, ask students to analyze their answers to the test questions and identify the most common errors they made on the test.
  • Review schoolwork for common errors: Ask students to collect several writing samples. Have students review comments that were made frequently by teachers and make a list of their most common mistakes. Alternatively, you could begin collecting a portfolio of students’ work at the beginning of the year and help students find their most frequent errors as the year progresses.

Stay tuned for part two of this post where we’ll examine the complete Top 3 Hits strategy.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

About the Author

Caitlin Vanderberg, Ed.M., is a SMARTS Associate and an Educational Specialist. She leads the development and piloting of the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and provides academic support to elementary and middle school students with learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Before joining ResearchILD in 2020, Caitlin worked as an assistant elementary school teacher and with many arts education programs. Caitlin holds an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.