Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 27: Reassessments

After a week of students looking at their skill scores and practicing various problems, today was reassessment.  Any student who earned less than 4 on a skill on the quiz last week was able to reassess that skill, if they chose to.

I went around the room, asking who wished to reassess which skill and handed out the papers accordingly.

In one class, the scores all came up and I was incredibly impressed.  In another, every reassessment score was either the same as previous demonstrated, or lower.

I will be interested to see what happens with the rest of the classes.  I won't be doing reassessments every week.  After speaking with some other teachers, I've decided it will probably be two more times by the end of the marking period and maybe once every three weeks after that.

I'm ready to move on.  I need to make a conscious effort to spiral back and cover the material that many of the kids still need to work on.

Yesterday, I presented to the faculty of the whole district about what I'm doing with the Standards-Based Grading and reassessments.  I feel as though I rambled a bit, but several other faculty members told me that they enjoyed it and would like to speak to me about it further.

This week has been odd, with assemblies, fire drills, meetings and trainings.  I'm tired.

I'm thankful that I was able to spend some quality time with my department today. I am working with a truly fantastic faculty.

I wish you all a great weekend!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day 26: A Lunchtime Anecdote

The following conversation was relayed by a colleague of mine, having overheard it in her class.

"Mr. Aion doesn't teach!"
"He TOTALLY does! He just doesn't teach like other teachers.  He makes you think for yourself."
"Yeah, but I don't want to think!"

I think this is what I want.  I don't want students talking about me as much as talking about education.  I want my students thinking about the best way to learn.  I know that my teaching style and the fact that I lean heavily on inquiry-based lessons and these are VERY much outside of the experience of most students and parents.

"You're supposed to be teaching us" is often code for "you're supposed to be standing in front of the room and lecturing."  Education research clearly demonstrates that lectures are not the most effective form of knowledge acquisition.  Lecture does well enough if your goal is to know facts, but that's not my goal.  I want my students to have skills and to be able to think.

I want my students to be able to think.

The biggest complaint that teachers get when they are working through a new type of pedagogy is "he's/she's not teaching us."

Another interesting aspect of this is how students are trained to think about the call and response nature of education.  They think they know what I'm going to ask before I ask it.  They are almost always wrong.  This is leading to some extensive frustration from me as I have to repeatedly say "Stop. Listen to the question I'm asking."

We have been talking about the language of multiplication and division in Math 7.  I've been working with framing multiplication as "5 times 3 means 3 groups of 5."  This was a deliberate choice so that talking about division can be framed as "15 divided by 3 asks us how many groups of 3 are there in 15."

So I wrote 15 divided by 3 on the board and immediately hands went up.

"Put your hands down, please. I haven't asked my question yet."
**hands go down**
"I appreciate your enthusiasm, but that's not what I'm asking.  How would we read this question, using the specific language that we've been talking about?"
"That isn't what I asked. I know that you know the answer. Listen to my question. How do we read this in terms of the language of groups?"
"15 divided by 3 is 5!"

I love that I have some students who understand what I'm doing and are able to explain it to their classmates.  I have great hope that more will come around.

It's a process, for them and for me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 25: "YOU Should Wear It!"

I'm starting to create my reassessment quizzes for my students.  I've never been great at either organization or planning ahead, so this is a new experience for me.  My plan is to have a separate page for each skill so kids can take only what they plan to reassess.

I'm discovering that finding, or writing questions for specific skills can be a bit tricky.  I'm having difficulty with the wording and struggling with how to determine proficiency in several cases.

I don't want to be checking calculation, but rather conceptual understanding, which is tricky.

I'm also not sure what to be doing with my Integrated Math class.  They've been working on statistics and surveys over the last few weeks, but now that chapter is at an end.  Our culminating activity was that students designed, distributed and analyzed their own surveys.  There was an interesting variety of topics and presentations.

One group surveyed the students and asked their opinions and experiences on the school dress code.

The juxtaposition between the last two graphs was, by far, the most interesting to me and not at all surprising.

"Yeah, uniforms are a GREAT idea...for someone else!"

Other topics included video game preference, animal preference and correlation between favorite music and favorite medium of art.

The population of this class is an interesting mix of kids who have not traditionally done well in math and those who have, but didn't want to take Calculus this year...

The next chapter in the book is about properties of real numbers.  The same topic that I'm covering with my 7th graders.  It's WAY too basic a topic for this class, but without a curriculum, I'm not sure what to do.

There's incredible freedom knowing that I can do whatever I want, but it's also pretty terrifying.  I could run it like a genius hour class, but I'm not sure how.  I could use it as a math refresher course, picking interesting topics from the book, but I'm not sure how that would work either.  I'm going to have them do programming for the next week or two until I figure out a more encompassing theme.

I need to figure it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Day 24: Vinculum

I think that the low scores on the quiz on Friday, combined with progress reports yesterday and the long conversation about reassessing skills were all strongly correlated with the student's willingness to pay attention today.

In any event, they were very attentive and we had some pretty great discussions.  In Math 7, we started the section on multiplication of integers and framing in terms of repeated addition.  Standard of Mathematical Practice 2 asks students to think about numbers in many ways.  So we did.

We came up with 10 ways to represent multiplication.

I spent the entire period on 2 examples because I wanted to emphasize the language that we will be using going forward.

Being able to think about multiplication as "3 groups of 2" makes the transition to division much easier, especially division of fractions, using phrases such as "How many groups of 1/2 are there in 3?"

In Pre-Algebra, we looked at specific examples from the quiz and talked about the common mistakes that I saw in assessing.  The two major problems with long division were putting the decimal in the wrong place and having the vinculum (the repeater bar) cover either too much, or not enough.
I know fancy words!

When we discussed converting repeating decimals back into fractions, I showed the algebraic method, but we talked more about strategies that we could use to estimate and then find the answer.

It's a process, but I can feel that we're moving in the right direction.  I had a parent contact our superintendent in a fury over what was happening in my class.  After writing directly to the parent, she thanked me for my thoughts and expressed appreciation for my methods.

It was a good day.

I hope to put a vinculum over this feeling.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Day 23: "I Got A 77%!"

Standards-Based Grading is new to my students as well as to me.  After their first SBG quiz on Friday, I spent considerable amount of time putting the data into a nice spreadsheet, adding features and making it easy to understand.

Before I handed the quizzes back today, I went over the sheet and explained what we were looking at.  I asked them to tell me what stood out to them.

This version automatically converts the various skill scores into the 100% scale for easy transfer to our traditional report cards.  It also, through the chart on the side, gives us an easier way to quickly see which skills are weak in all of the sections of a class.

Through trial and error, I discovered that it was better to go over this chart before I gave the quizzes back.

I reminded them that this is merely a snapshot of one moment in time.  Any skill can be reassessed as many times as necessary.  I also expressed my pleasure that no one earned a 4 on every skill.  Everyone has some growing to do and that's fantastic!

Now we have this information. What do we do with it?

Today was #MistakeMonday and I incorporated that into our task.  Instead of having students write about a mistake they made last week, I had them write about their quizzes.

I had them take out a clean piece of paper and make 3 columns.  The first column was labeled "Skill #" with the second labeled "What Kind Of Mistake" and the labeled "Plan for Reassessment."

For each skill, the students were asked to identify whether the mistake they made was a careless error, a conceptual misunderstanding, or something else.  I explained the differences between these by putting the following two equations up on the board:



We had a brief discussion about why each one was wrong and, most likely, why that mistake was made.

In the last column, the student was asked to lay out a plan to improve on the skill before they reassessed.  That plan could include staying for extra help, doing more practice problems, working with friends, watching online videos, etc..

My plan is to offer reassessment on Fridays.  After a student has shown me that they have made an effort to improve their ability, they can reassess whatever skill they want, replacing the old score with the new.  I showed them an example in the spreadsheet of how the new score changes the overall average and leaves no record of the first score.

In one class, I had to field the same questions over and over from students who are used to getting straight A's and were not used to being able to correct their mistakes.

Another reason I love SBG as much as I do is because it allows students to make mistakes with no penalty and encourages them to learn and grow from those mistakes.

So I handed back the quizzes and students were both confused and upset.  On a quiz with 4 skills, there were 4 scores.  One student looked very sad and I asked her what was wrong.

"I got a 77%. That's really bad!"

I looked at her quiz.  Her scores were 3, 3, 3, 1.

This means that she knew what she was doing on 3 of the 4 sections and completed them VERY well.  None of that mattered, however, as she was focused on the 1 and the converted percentage.  I spoke with her about her strengths and celebrating those before focusing on weaknesses.

It didn't seem to sink in.

I know this will take a while, but I think it's worthwhile.

Some of my nerdier colleagues are SUPER excited and keep coming to my room to ogle my spreadsheets. I hope they buy me dinner first.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Day 22: Spreadsheet Geek

As I've stated previously, I'm diving into Standards-Based Grading this year.  Several other teachers in my building have expressed interest in it as well and have asked me to talk to them about my process.

We have a new superintendent.  In the next two months, we will have a new elementary principal and next year, will have a new high school principal.  To me, this appears to be an ideal situation to make some monumental changes.  I spoke with a few of the other teachers and they agreed.

I went to put the bug in my superintendents ear and she was very amenable to the idea and has asked me to speak to the faculty at our meeting next week.  I'm VERY excited.

Since this was the first time that my students had experienced an SBG-style quiz, I put up a few tips for them.

I read over these and emphasized that none of the grades were permanent, as long as they were willing to reassess those skills.

I had lots of pushback from one of my classes, who flew into a panic about not knowing what was on the quiz, that we were even having a quiz, or that the quiz would be graded.  I tried to have patience with them since many in this group are the "accelerated" students and have grade pressure on them.

The harm that we do to our students by making them think they not only have to get everything perfect, but do so the first time, is staggering.

I know this process will take a while, but I believe in it and the research backs it up.  With administrative support and other teachers getting involved, I believe it will be alright.

I am a HUGE nerd for spreadsheets!

I'm not great with making them look all fancy schmancy, but I love adding functionality and color-coding!

Standards-based grading provides such and incredible wealth of information and an excellent opportunity to play around with spreadsheets!  So I made one!

This is the spreadsheet that I'll be presenting to the faculty next week in an effort to sell the idea of
SBG.  So what does all of this stuff mean?

I have taken all of the standards and put them into simple "I can" statements, such as "I can describe situations where opposite quantities combine to make 0. (Standard 7.NS.A.1A)" and given them specific numbers.  That standard is Skill 2.

Each section on the quiz covered a specific standard and students received a score for each.  This quiz covered 6 standards, so it had 6 sections and students earned 6 scores, as listed above.

There are a ton of ways to describe what each number means and I use a Star Wars-based poster, which is fantastic!

It boils down to:

4: WOW! YEAH!!
3: Well done.
2: Almost
0: Not assessed

I used conditional formatting to set up color gradients. 3 and 4 are green, indicating that the student is good to move on. 0, 1 and 2 show some (or lots) of work to do.

Above the skill, I have the sheet add the number of students who have earned each score.  This allows me a quick glance to see which skills need to be readdressed as a group, instead of individually.

For example, the above graph shows me that my students are doing pretty well on Skills 1-4, but that we could still do some work together on Skills 5 and 6.

With individual students, I'm able to look across the row and see what their strengths are and on which skills I should work with them.

One of my favorite aspects of this sheet is the ability to sort. When we are looking at what topics to cover next, I can sort the list by skill score and group together students accordingly, either struggling students together so I can work more closely with them, or heterogeneously so they can help each other.

In terms of Skill 6,  I may have the students with 3's and 4's teach the others in pairs, or I may put all of the 2's and 1's together, work with them myself while giving the rest a different task.


I like data, but most of the student data that we collect is not done in a way that makes it easy to address.  This timely and brilliantly color-coded feedback will allow me to create more data-driven instruction.

I'm pretty pumped.

Now, to spread the good word!

I was a bit distressed, however, at the number of students later in the day who looked at the test and immediately gave up. Several students were crying about how difficult it was and how they were failures and going to fail.

There is a TON of work for me to do in terms of mindset.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Day 21: Tears: A Guest Post

I've been encouraging fellow teachers to write and reflect and have offered to host their voices whenever they would like.
The following post was written by a special education teacher who works with high-risk youth. The names have been changed, but I have made no edits.

I cried today. In front of a room full of Juniors in High School- I cried.
When he walked into my classroom this afternoon, I’d let my heart hope that the Gods of Special Education had found a way to give this young man just one more chance… after all, how many times do we hear him will the pleas? “C’Mon- Miss.… gimmie one more chance?”
How many times do we rebuff them? Scoff a little bit and walk away?
And here I am--- hoping this kid who has terrorized every school he’s been at for the past 6 years will get that mythical “one more chance?” I must be nuts.
He and I had talked about this last week… I’d heard, through the teacher grapevine, that the powers at be were sending him back to the Alternative program… this time with no hope of returning to our building.
I love that program for the reprieve it provides the colleagues I see everyday from the students who just can’t handle a typical school. Those individuals who are overwhelmed by the sheer size and magnitude of our building and decide to make it their playground (rather than their educational haven) get sent to “that place” and become somebody else’s problem.
Joe had been bounced in and out of the Alternative building for the better part of 3 years. He’s probably spent an equal amount of time in the high school and that other place. During his most recent return trip last year, he promised me that he would never go back there. He’d told me he was sick of not being challenged and that he wanted to EARN his diploma. He had goals. He was back on track. I vowed to help keep him on the straight and narrow.
Then his mom died.
At the funeral, he clung to me and told me he’d failed her as a son. In those same breaths he renewed his promises to “make it”- to graduate from the high school and help make his mom’s (and his) dreams come true. We had one year to make it happen.
Over the summer, Joe continued to work at KFC (now using his wages to help support his estranged father who had moved into his mom’s house in an effort to act as a parent for the first time in 17 years). He’d lost so much in a few months, but his drive remained intact- be good. Learn. Graduate.
Be good. Learn. Graduate.
Please understand, Joe has never been innocent- he tolerates little that doesn’t meet his standards of perfection, cannot be talked into doing something he doesn’t want to do, and makes his presence very well known. He will never allow himself to be overlooked and stands up for what he believes in. Joe is a fighter- and a damn good one at that. He’s earned 99% of the negative connotations that come before his name. Hell- he’s proud of them. Most teachers can’t stand him. I’ve heard teachers fight to get him out of their classes. Despite this (ah- let’s be honest- it’s probably because of this), Joe is one of my favorite students.
Be good. Learn. Graduate.
He was provided with an opportunity from the district- early release every day. As long as he successfully completed his core classes- he’d earn the credits to graduate, but, if he only attended a half a day, he’d have less opportunity to get himself into trouble. Getting out early meant he could take on more shifts at work. It was a win/win for everyone.
Be good. Learn. Graduate.
Joe’s plan: Work every shift he could at KFC. Save the money. Go to trade school after graduation. Become an electrician. Make something out of his life.
Be good. Learn. Graduate.
He was on his way until his father invited his daughter into the picture. A daughter whom Joe barely knew and who had believed in all the terrible things she’d heard about her little “brother.”
According to Joe: she thought his job at KFC was trivial. She didn’t care about his plans and decided he would amount to nothing. She had no faith in him and managed to convince their dad that Joe would fail.
Joe began to rebel at school, and, well- earned himself his final, one-way ticket back to the alternative school. A year-long sentence to a building that requires little of its students and lumps those with bad attitudes into the same room as those who will be arrested before long.
He got kicked out a few days ago… we’d had a conversation the day before where Joe bared his soul to me. He told me we’d have one more class together and that I’d better make it good.
He never made it to our last class.
But today, Joe showed up at my door (with a security escort) and I’d thought that maybe, just maybe, we’d found one more chance.
He walked into the middle of my classroom with his arms open wide and pulled me into a hug that he wouldn’t let me out of. When he finally let me breathe, he grabbed me up in another huge hug and told me not to worry about him anymore. That he would be fine. That he wouldn’t let this beat him. That there were other kids I should worry about now. He told me he was sorry.
Before he turned to leave (not even the ghost of a last smile on his face), I threw him the bag of cough drops that I illegally kept in my (just for him). He chuckled, ate one, pocketed the bag, and said, “Bye Ms. Kane.”
His stoic resolve broke my heart. Who WAS this man standing in front of me? Where’s the rebellious teenager who would fight for anything he thought was fair? WHY did he have to deal with this?  We’d failed him. I’d failed him. His sister should be drawn and quartered. His mom would be devastated.

And as my door shut behind him, I wiped mascara-stained cheeks and realized- that I was crying in front of a room full of Juniors.
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