Friday, July 20, 2018

More Thoughts on HW

Y'all - I know I posted last week about Grading Smarter, Not Harder, but to be honest, you can expect several more posts before it's all said and done!  This book might just end up on my Top 10 favorites list because every chapter so far has produced some really deep thoughts for me about grading and assessment.

I've had this book sitting on my Kindle for a while now but just hadn't gotten around to reading it.  I've read so many books on assessment and grading and didn't know that one more would make a difference.

But, this book is different.  It's not about Standards Based Grading so much as it is about what do you believe a grade means and how can we communicate that to our students?  It's about opening up lines of communication between the stakeholders (teachers, students, and parents) and being very transparent by letting our students know what they know.  It's about documentation of learning and helping students make the connections between the day to day classroom activities and the resultant assessment scores.  All in all, it's what I really needed to read this year to help me figure out some of the difficulties I've had in really helping my students self-analyze where they are, where they are going, and how to bridge that gap.

In last week's blog post, I was brainstorming a homework check sheet and here was my thought at the time:

Today, I finally sat down to start trying to piece this together and here's what I've come up with so far:

It's a half-sheet horizontal and because I see my students 4 times a week, it has 2 days on front and 2 days on back, split into the HW/Reflection and Exit Ticket areas.  The Exit Ticket should be self-explanatory, so here's what I'm thinking on the top part...

First off, I had already planned to limit my homework to no more than 10 practice problems per night, with at least 2 or 3 of those being from previous knowledge.  At the beginning of class, students will mark which problems they fully attempted and as we "grade" the HW, they will code the boxes (see Pam's blog post here) to indicate which problems they got correct, incorrect, struggled on, etc.  In the space below, I can either ask a reflection question over the HW or this can be the space for students to ask me private questions regarding the HW.  This is also the space that I can use to "stamp" the HW if needed.  Since these forms stay in their table folders, I'll be able to look at them and monitor them for any potential issues.

If you want a copy of the file or want to play around with it, you can download it here.
Fonts used:  KG Love Somebody and KG Second Chance Solid

So help me, MTBoS.... what needs to be changed?  How can I make it better?  What are your thoughts?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Teacher Planner - 2018-19

For the past several years, I have shared my teacher planner and to be honest, this year, I was really struggling with how (or even if) I wanted to make my binder.

Here's a look at the weekly layout from the past few years:

While I liked having a combination of lesson plans and personal planner, I did not like the two page layout and having it open on my desk all the time in order to see the various parts of the day.  I knew I wanted a paper planner because that's just better for me in general, but I had almost talked myself out of having a personalized one and just finding a pre-made one that would work for me.

Last year, I found myself wanting a weekly at-a-glance form as my "messy" copy and my official plan book above as my "neat" copy, so I created a quick one that you can see below:

I liked the clean lines of this form and if it weren't for the landscape orientation and the lack of area to write the other stuff that goes with teaching (meetings, etc), I probably would have figured out a way to use this as my lesson planner.

Part of the reason I like having a personalized planner is that I like having my gradebook and planner in one notebook.  Because I use the ARC system, I can easily add / subtract pages and customize it to fit my needs.

After a morning of trying to figure out what I wanted, here's the new weekly layout page for 18-19:

What I (think I will) like about this layout is that it gives me space for before / after school commitments, plus I can choose to have it open to one-page or two-pages and still be able to view the full day.

As always, I've created a generic one in PPT if you would like to download it. - Download Planner

You will need the Shadows Into Light font - Download font here

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ramblings on Homework and Grading

There are a lot of thoughts rumbling about in my head today and a lot of them have to do with my latest summer #EduRead - Grading Smarter, Not Harder.

A few weeks ago, prior to the AP Reading, @mathteacher24 posted something about this book on Twitter and it reminded me that I had it in my to-be read pile, so why not add it to my summer reading list? :)

Many years ago, I was unhappy with how my class was structured grading wise and started exploring Standards Based Grading (SBG).  For the past 8 years, I've used SBG and been fairly happy with it, but throughout the years, I've become more and more frustrated with some of its shortcomings, so I knew I wanted to do some thinking about assessment this summer.

Last night was our first chat session over Chapter 1 and I really don't have a ton of insights from that chapter because I agreed with almost everything the author said.  I completely agree that grades should be a reflection of the learning objectives and not student behavior.  One part that struck me though was the idea regarding a zero for missing work.  I've never been one to penalize late work but what do you do with students who haven't turned in missing assignments or taken a quiz when the time comes to turn in semester grades?  In the past, I've always changed those to zeros but according to the author, that's the same as a late work penalty because had the student turned in that assignment, the likelihood of earning a zero is probably small and therefore the grade is not an accurate measure of student learning.  One strategy the author suggests is a policy I remember from years ago called ZAP - Zeros Aren't Permitted.  I haven't thought of that strategy in years, so I need to go back and do some refresher research on it.

BUT - then, this morning, I decided to go ahead and read Chapter 2 on Homework.  Oh wow... I definitely need to do some thinking on this one!

I'm pretty sure that Homework is the bane of my existence.  I've tried something new pretty much every year and I'm never fully happy with it.  I haven't graded homework in years, because I believe that homework should be about practice.  Add in other equity issues such as the outside of class difficulties and the fact that not every student needs the same amount of practice and I am still firmly in the "no grade" category.

However - I do feel that there should be an accountability system in place and I've been battling how to handle this all summer.  Over the past few years with SBG, I've noticed fewer and fewer students are doing the assigned practice problems and I take a lot of responsibility for that.  I have done a poor job of connecting practice and assessment and helping students build the necessary study skills to help them find success.  I take it for granted that students know that doing their HW should help them to be more successful on the assessments.  Because I don't grade the HW, nor do I hold students accountable for doing the HW, I think many students have taken that to mean that I don't value the HW as a learning tool, which is far from the truth. 

So while reading Chapter 2, I run across Strategy #1 of In-Class Quizzing, which has several bullet points talking about students tracking their own progress and teachers using homework-completion data as formative assessment, which led me to throw down this tweet:

Here's my current thought...
  • In my table folders, students already have a weekly exit ticket sheet that they are used to.  Sometimes this is a question to be worked for feedback, sometimes it is a written response, etc.  What if I modified this form to have 2 spots per day - a HW reflection and an exit ticket area?
  • The HW reflection would be part of their warmup time and students would self-assess on a Likert scale how much of the HW they had attempted and a couple of short reflection questions, something to potentially open up a personal discussion about problems they attempted, where they struggled, etc. If they didn't do it, they could put in why as well - it's not punitive, just for documentation
  • Off to the side of the paper, I would have an area to write comments or go around to spot-check / stamp their self-assessment, etc.  

Anything else that you can think of???

As I mentioned above, I've not done a great job of connecting practice and assessment and the next strategy in Ch 2 talks about a Homework Profile.  (You can read more about it over at ASCD)

Pretty much I envision a test / quiz reflection form that looks something like this:

Corresponding to each box would be the descriptors from the ASCD link.  I'm thinking this might be a great post-quiz reflection tool to help my students really see the value of WHY they should do the practice.  Also on this form might be an error analysis to help them make a study plan which leads into the reassessments. 

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading :)  I just had to get some thoughts down on "paper" and as always, I value your comments.  Please feel free to push back in the comments here or catch me on Twitter.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Learning, Thinking, Doing

For me, one of the best parts of summer is the time I have to read.  I know I will never get to all of the books on my "to-be-read pile", but I make an effort each summer to at least put a dent in the stack.  Of course, this is more difficult when I keep adding to the stack....

But I digress. :)

One of this year's book choices is Why Don't Students Like School by Daniel Willingham and while I'm less than halfway through the book, it already has the potential to be a game changer in my classroom.  Willingham is a cognitive psychologist and the style of the book is very similar to Make It Stick, another book that I highly recommend.  One thing I really like about WDSLS is that each chapter ends in an "Implications for the Classroom" section, which provides practical tips for the classroom.

In my post yesterday, I was processing various discussions from the AP Stat reading and how I had changed as a teacher over the years.  Part of that post was spawned by this tweet by my dear friend, Julie:

During the week, I would often start a conversation with a "Question of the Day" and one of Julie's answers was about having a more student-centered classroom.  I fully agree with a student-centered classroom but over the years, I have gotten away from it and turned to more traditional methods, much to my dismay.

But today, while reading and taking notes on Ch 3 of WDSLS, I think I have some answers...

The key question of Ch 3 is this... "What makes some things stick in memory and what is likely to slip away?"

And Willingham's answer is pretty simple.... "Memory is the residue of thought.  Whatever students think about is what they will remember."


I've heard this quote from him several times while listening to podcasts, etc, but until now, I did not have a full picture of what was meant because I hadn't read his book. :)

In Ch 3, Willingham spends some time talking about lesson planning and how we, as teachers, really need to pay attention to our lessons / assignments and use the anticipation method of planning to help us figure out what students will actually think about in our lesson vs what we hope they think about.  This is a throwback to the '5 Practices' book where we anticipate student responses to help us plan good questions.  But do I actually *do* this?  Nope.  Or at least, not often enough.

This is where I need to focus my energies.  How can I create engaging lessons that get students to think about the deeper meaning?  How can I structure my lessons so that "the person doing the most thinking is the person doing the most learning"?

In Chapter 3's Implications for Learning, Willingham does caution against a few strategies that might create a barrier to thinking & learning.  One barrier he mentions are "Attention Grabbers" because often students might focus on (and therefore start thinking about) the 'cool-ness' factor and totally miss the bigger idea that followed.

The other barrier mentioned is the one that really grabbed my attention - Discovery Learning - and this section was where I really had my a-ha moment of the chapter.  As I've already said, I love the idea of a student-centered classroom and for many years, my classroom was filled with activity upon activity, with the idea of using an activity to introduce content and formalize it later.  I gravitated toward this approach mainly because of the "sticky-ness" of activities in giving the background knowledge for the later formalization.  From Willingham:
"Discovery learning has much to recommend it, especially when it comes to the level of student engagement. If students have a strong voice in deciding which problems they want to work on, they will likely be engaged in the problems they select, and will likely think deeply about the material, with attendant benefits.  An important downside, however, is that what students will think about is less predictable.  ... If memory is the residue of thought, then students will remember incorrect "discoveries" as much as they will remember the correct ones."
And this is my a-ha moment.  This is really the crux of the reason why I have changed over the years.  While activities and discovery definitely created the "sticky-ness" I desired, the resultant outcomes were less predictable and students did not always catch the nuances of the material that I wanted them to get out of the lesson.

Added to this problem is the core question from Ch 2 - "Do students have the necessary background knowledge  to carry out a critical thinking task?"

Too often, I would throw out a task, without making sure that students had the necessary background knowledge nor adequately preparing my lessons to ensure that students would actually be thinking about what I wanted them to think about.  Without these two elements in place, I set myself up to fail, which resulted in a regression toward a teacher-centered classroom.

I don't have all of the answers, or even most of the answers.  But at least I now know what I need to watch for while planning my lessons this year.  I want to get back to that student-centered classroom, but with an intentional focus on background knowledge and deep thinking.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Raw Emotions

I'm a day late for #MTBoSBlog18, but considering that yesterday was the AP Reading Travel Day and I struggled to keep my eyes open, I am still counting this :)

I am feeling raw today. I don't know how else to explain it. I just spent a week with some of my dearest AP Stat friends, reflecting on the year, thinking of new strategies to use, and learning from each other, and to be honest, it made me wonder what has happened to me over the years.

This year's AP Stat test was a "math-y" test and I really didn't know what to expect going into the Reading. I know that in general, my students are not "math-y" students and over the years, I have de-emphasized a lot of the computations in favor of more conceptual understandings and this year that might come back to bite me. And then I started thinking back over the years...

Eighteen years ago, in the summer of 2000, I received a phone call the week before school started asking me if I would be willing to teach AP Stat. I had taught for 2 years, but nothing higher than Geometry and while I had taken a couple of stat classes in college, I wasn't sure about teaching the class. What a whirlwind of emotions I had that year! The AP Stat program was in its infancy and there was only one textbook out there at the time. I was clueless and lost. I stumbled my way through the year, many nights falling asleep with the textbook on my lap and gave "free days" more often than I'd like to admit because I did not know the material well enough to teach it. I diligently took notes on a legal pad, then transcribed them each day on an overhead projector for my students. I remember attending a 2 day training in early November 2000 and one of the sessions was on Type I/II Errors & Power and cried most of the way through the session because I was so lost. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow I made it through the year and even had some kids pass the exam! I spent the summer diving into every resource I could find, scouring used book stores for Statistics books, printing off idea after idea from the internet, and determined that year 2 would be better.

And it was. I fell in love with the course and attended every workshop I could find in order to deepen my own knowledge of the material.

Over the next few years, I focused more and more on having a student-centered classroom. I believed in the "sticky-ness" of activities, I used online applications to integrate technology, and the program continued to grow and thrive.

But this week, as I listened to the amazing teachers around me, I realized how much I had changed. I don't know exactly when this change occurred, but it did. I realized that while I still believe in the student-centered classroom, I don't know that my daily classroom practice illustrates that belief. I have regressed back to more lecture and more handouts and less activities. It's easy to find reasons excuses why this change has happened - larger class sizes, larger program, new preps, student changes - but ultimately, the responsibility lands on my shoulders. I allowed it to happen.

This realization about how much I have changed really bothers me. I was the young whipper-snapper, eager to change the world. I was the one that ran several teacher resource websites to share teaching ideas with the community. I was the progressive, student-centered, engaging teacher. But today, I just feel old and tired.

I'm not quite sure (yet) how to deal with this. I know that a good chunk of it is in my head. I know that I am a MUCH better teacher than I was at the beginning. I know that I have (way too many) resources at my fingertips. I know that I have some amazing pedagogical tools in my teacher tool-belt.

This year, we are adopting new textbooks. This change is somewhat scary because I have used my current textbook / author for at least 14 years, but I'm hoping the change will be the shock to the system that I need.

I still love teaching the course, but this summer I need to focus on how to channel that "inner me" that I know is still there.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Summertime Fun with Books :)

One of my favorite things about summer is that it is a time of professional growth for me.  Most days, you will find me on the back patio with a book in hand and cold lemonade nearby. :)

Here's what is on my summer book list:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by [Gladwell, Malcolm]

I started the summer by reading Tracy Zagar's book based on several recommendations from the #MTBoS and quickly fell in love. However, as I read more of the book, I realized that I really needed the support of a book chat to help me process some of the ideas floating in my head. I put out the all-call on Twitter and starting on June 21st at 8pm Central, we will be chatting this book on Twitter if you want to join in. Until then, I've put this book on hold :)

After putting #BecomingMath on hold, I picked up Daniel Willingham's book, which has been on my "to-be-read" pile for awhile. Recently, this book has been referenced a lot in various blog posts, podcasts, etc and as I've been reading it, I know WHY people keep referencing it - this book is a game changer in the same way as "Make It Stick" was a few years ago. I have been on a cognitive psychology kick for a while and I love that each chapter ends with an "Implications for the Classroom" section.

My dear friend and fellow bookaholic, Pam, suggested Tipping Point as a summer read. I've read several of Malcolm Gladwell's books and had this one sitting in my Kindle library for a few years. Gladwell is another author that writes in a very conversational style but with a huge impact. If you've never read his work, I highly recommend it! :)

Finally, I checked out John Hattie's Visible Learning from our school professional center, so I'm hoping to get to this one soon too :)

In addition to these books, I plan to spend part of my summer with my new textbooks in preparation for the new year. :) It's going to be a busy summer but definitely a good year of learning!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer has (finally) arrived!

It's the first day of summer break after the longest school year in history.  Seriously.  In my 20 years of teaching and 17 years of being a student, I never recall going to school in June until this year.  But it's over, grades are submitted, my room is packed up, and Year 20 is done.

For some reason, I get really sad about saying goodbye to my room over the summer.  I mean, we are pretty lucky that we can leave stuff hanging up and in our cabinets, but it's like the building knows it is empty and lifeless, that laughter will not be heard in the hallways, and a sterile feeling that takes over the classrooms.

All in all, it was a year of ups and downs.  In a big school, you expect some of that, but we had a year with a lot of loss from accidents, the retirement of our beloved football coach, and a 2-week walkout.  No matter what happened though, our community rallied around us and together, we strove onward.

This summer will be a time of rest and rejuvenation, a time to spend with loved ones, a time to reflect and grow, and next year we will be stronger.