Saturday, September 29, 2012

Make Sure You Include Your Students in the #sbar Process

A few weeks ago I shared my "vision" of what I imagine my classroom to look like and how standards based grading would drive that vision Check it out here!  I wanted to share what I have done so far this year to establish the atmosphere I so long for, and how standards based grading has driven what I have done.

My mantra this year is: TAKE YOUR TIME which is so difficult for me!  Last year I implemented standards based grading swiftly and even though it was better, if I had taken a bit more time, it would have been much better.  So, this year, I went back to the good old days when I was an elementary teacher and concentrated on taking time to establish procedures.  Not that I had not done that with my middle schoolers, but I had become a bit complacent since I only had my kiddos for 47 minutes.  What I realized is that procedures are as important or even more so because of my limited time.  I want to utilize each and every minute and make sure I provide meaningful learning experiences for my students.  I also want to make sure that I am gleaning valuable information on student understanding or lack there of during this time.

The overall instructional goal for my math classroom this year is: Authentic Literacy - purposeful reading, writing, and discussion as the primary modes of learning content, thinking, and problem solving skills.  This is driven by the fact that my district uses College Prepatory Mathematics as our Algebra 1 - Calculus math programs.  CPM as we call it is extremely reading intensive, there are many pages in the book that have fewer numbers than words.  So, I began my year using Marcy Cook's book - Numbers Please! Questions Please! and  Lane County 7th Grade Problem Solving and Lane County 8th Grade Problem Solving.  All three of these resources provide an opportunity for me to introduce reading to understand mathematics and to begin the process of teaching students to translate words into mathematical representations.  It also allows me to establish a thinking environment that allows students to take chances and make mistakes.  Thanks for hanging in so far... Now for some nuts and bolts!

  • Head Problems - My quiet signal
    • When I want students to focus on me, I use a head problem to pull them out of whatever they are doing.  "Start with the number 10, double it, divide by 5, triple it, add the digits, show me on your fingers...  This is a mental math activity that makes the students stop what they are doing and focus on what I am saying.  At the end when they show me the answer, I tel just so the students who werew so focused on tl the students who got lost to copy what they see the other students showing.  We go over the problem quickly.  I can use these problems to introduce upcoming skills or reinforce mental calculations.  
  • Standards Tracking Sheets - The tool that I wish I had used last year
    • Pre-Algebra Standard Tracking Sheet Chapters 1 and 2 this tool has taken standards based grading to a new level in my classroom.  It has the standards listed (gotta love California - God I wish I could move to Canada) then the concepts, and then the variety of assessment columns.
    • I give the students a pre-test at the beginning of each unit.  The student record their scores I have given them according to Kristen Beck's Grading Rubric
    • The students know that they have to prove understanding and this sheet allows them to track where they are in their understanding of each standard.
    • The beautiful part of this process is in the formative assessments.  Any time there is some sort of formative assessment in class, the students record the skill/standard that was assessed.  I included many columns because not everything is assessed each time...
What has resulted is so incredible.  The combination of the grading rubric and the standards tracking sheet has produced a shift in the dialogue in my classroom that I would not believe could happen in the first six weeks of school.  Here is what has happened:

  • The students are actively using the grading rubric to understand their standard scores on the pre-test and weekly formative assessments.  
  • Instead of "trashing" their quizzes, they are voluntarily correcting them and writing explanations about where they messed up.
  • They are taking responsibility for their understanding or lack there of and telling me "I know how I messed up, or where I messed up, or I don't understand this standard" knowing that they will not be punished for not knowing and that I will be there to provide the guidance they need to learn and prove they understand the math standards. 
There is still much to do in this process, but I feel much better about the start of my year. For those of you who are on year one of standards based grading, be patient with yourself and your students.  We have an incredible group of teachers at #sbar to help and support, however, learning from your own mistakes will be just as rewarding.  It is such a difficult path to take #sbar on, but it will be the most positive shift in the learning of your students and you owe it to them!

Will be writing more about the purposeful writing and discussions very soon!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

According to the state of California, I Suck as a Teacher

Warning:  This is a total venting post, read with caution! (It is more for me than an audience)

On Tuesday I began my 22nd year of teaching.  The fact that I have been in the classroom this long is ironic.  I had a different path picked out, even though I had been encouraged to become an educator by friends and people in the profession.  When I finally caved to the idea, it was because I wanted a job in my major out of college.  The other driving force was the fact that I could work anywhere (I have, and that is a whole post in itself).  When I started teaching, I gave myself 7 - 10 years in the classroom.  After that, I saw myself in some sort of "official leadership" role.  So, here I am still in the classroom, not because I couldn't move upward, but because I chose to stay.  After this week, my first week of school, my heart and head know my place is in the classroom, yet according to how some of my students did on our state tests, I should not be.  Okay, I am being a bit dramatic, but I was in my principal's office crying after the test scores came out.  Thankfully, my principal is a very centered, understanding man who can calmly and effectively deal with his emotional female staff members.  So, what happened?
  • for the first time in the 9 years I had been at my school, my test scores dropped significantly (every other year, my students showed improvement).
  • I had 2 Algebra 1 classes for the first time in four years and they were the ones whose scores had dropped from advanced or proficient to basic or below basic.
  • Apparently teaching students how to problem-solve and think does not translate to improved test scores in mathematics
Okay, let's calm down for a second.  I teach in a state that is over-obsessed with test scores.  They factor into real-estate transactions!?  I have to consider the following facts:
  • I implemented standards based grading for the first time
  • I had not taught the algebra 1 curriculum in a number of years
  • I challenged myself by trying new strategies... too many to write
None of any of this matters, I am broken-hearted because I let my algebra students down.
Stop. Take a breath. Lets think about who I am as an educator.
  • I am someone who does not pull out last year's lesson plans and adjusts the dates.
  • I am someone who takes time to build relationships with her students.
  • I am someone who even after 21 years believes in the good of my students and will work to make learning meaningful for them
I could go on and on, but as I think about my list I realize that there is a higher power at work.  When I question what the heck I am still doing in the classroom, it comes down to this...

Deep down in the core of my being, I am doing what I love to do... Spending 5+ hours a day with the most incredible people - my students - and working my rear off to make learning meaningful for them. 

I promise:
  • To  believe in the good of my students and teachers I work with
  • To find ways to make mathematics meaningful 
  • To include "Authentic Literacy" (Schmoker) and promote purposeful reading, writing, and discussions.
So, what the heck am I going to do?
  • Use standards based grading to drive learning
  • Use Authentic Literacy - purposeful reading, writing, and discussion as the primary learning of content and skills
  • Integrate technology to support learning standards
Stay tuned, I have some good stuff coming up on how my first two weeks of school went!