Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Methods leading to Madness :)

**This was an email that I sent to one of the instructional coaches at my school for feedback and realized that it would be good here too - feel free to tell me what you really think in the comments :) **

Dear Instructional Coach,

I sent you a message a while back about how I would like to change my assessment practices. I am currently doing an online book study for Classroom Assessment and Grading that works by Marzano and next week we will start Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading, also by Marzano. I have a pretty good understanding on the big ideas, but some of the detail issues still are evading my grasp :)

Ultimately, I believe an overall grade should reflect what a student has learned over the year, NOT how successful they were at accumulating points. Current practices are broken in that a student that understands the concepts but refuses to jump through the paperwork hoops "fails" the course and a student that has no clue but turns things in on time "passes" the course - that is just wrong in so many ways :( Also, I want my grading practices to be able to tell me exactly what a student does or does not know, broken down *by topic*. So there's where I am right now :)

I am pretty much contemplating two methods as of now... both are 100% assessment models and I would appreciate your thoughts if you have the time :)

**Note** In neither of these models does "homework" or "assignments" count in the grade. Students would still be expected to do warmups, homework, classwork, etc, but these are all ungraded categories. Ungraded can still mean that I take it up, look at it, write feedback/suggestions/comments on it, it just won't be assigned a numerical value in my gradebook.

Method #1 (Hybrid model)
Quizzes = 35%, Chapter/Unit Tests = 50%, Semester Final = 15%

Method #2 (More of a pure model)
Quizzes/Tests = 80%, Semester Final = 20%

In both methods, students would be provided with a list of learning targets for a chapter. Lessons would be taught as usual, although many opportunities for formative assessment would be provided through partner work, exit tickets, checkpoints (aka HW quizzes), but these would be ungraded opportunities. After a few lessons, a quiz would be given over the previous learning targets, with the grade broken down per target. Each learning target would have 3 levels of questions on the quiz (similar to the 3 levels of questions by Costa). Instead of one lump sum score, as in traditional grading, the quiz would have multiple scores, one for each learning target. This provides detailed information about which targets the students fully grasps, which ones are a work in progress, and which ones the student is essentially clueless on. The scores would be reported similar to:

4 = student successfully completes all levels of questions independently
3.5 = student successfully completes both level 1 and 2 questions independently and some level 3 questions with help
3 = student successfully completes both level 1 and 2 questions independently
2.5 = student successfully completes level 1 questions independently and some level 2 questions with help
2 = student successfully completes level 1 questions independently
1 = student successfully completes level 1 questions with help
0 = student does not successfully complete any of the questions, even with help

Now I haven't quite figured out how to translate those into my gradebook yet because our gradebook reports a pure percentage, so a 3/4 would convert to a 75%, even though a student scoring a 3/4 would be considered "proficient" and in my opinion deserves a high B, potentially even a low A. (Of course the discussion of "What does an A really mean" is a whole 'nother ball of wax)

So let's say a quiz in Alg2 has 4 learning targets (the equivalent to 3 lessons or so) and you earn the following scores:
- Solve absolute value equations....................score: 3/4
- Solve and graph 1-variable inequalties............score: 3.5/4
- Solve and graph compound inequalities.............score: 2/4
- Solve and graph absolute value inequalities.......score: 1/4

It's clear to me as a teacher that you have a pretty decent grasp on the first two learning targets, but you need to work on the last two. You would have the opportunity to get some help on those learning targets (go to the peer tutoring lab, come in for tutoring, do the assigned practice problems, work out of your workbook, go to a tutor, do *something* to show that you have put forth effort in relearning the material), and then show me the evidence of your learning and earn the chance for a "re-test" of the deficient concepts. This new re-test would then replace the previous score in the gradebook as it is the most recent snapshot of your learning progression.

At the end of the chapter/unit, I had thought about having a traditional test, graded in a traditional manner, but that's the main part I'm really unsure of right now. I see the value in having a test that you can't re-assess, but then that assumes that everyone learns at the same rate, which I don't think is valid. However, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea they can continously reassess for 80% of the grade, nor am I sure of my ability to stay sane if allowing that much reassessment. This is really one of the last sticking points for me on deciding which model to pursue. In model #1, the test is treated traditionally (aka summative), but in model #2, the test is also reported based on learning targets, just a bigger "chunk" of learning targets at once and also allowed reassessment.

Anyway, if you've made it to here, thank you very much for reading! It helped me to get it "out on paper"

Me :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Paper Brain

Last post, I shared with you some of my favorite tools for keeping myself sane and organized. Now I'm going to share my favorite lesson planning tool.

Yup - it's a 3 prong folder - great isn't it? Beautiful color and it's plastic so it won't easily tear. It's kind of a bizarre choice for a lesson planning tool, but for me it works :) See, I consider myself on that line between digital immigrant and digital native. I grew up with computers (at least, if you consider the TRS-80 a computer heheh), and when I went to college, the internet was just starting to be a big thing. But there is something about writing on paper with a pen that writes really well that a computer just can't duplicate.

Now let's venture to the inside of my folder...

This is my statistics brain :) Along the side you will notice post-it tabs with tabs for Misc, BTS (Back to School), all of my chapters, and Review. The Misc tab is where I put my braindump of ideas to reflect on, to change, goals I have for myself, etc. This picture is actually last year's idea list because I'm still working on this year's :)

Now let's look at the best part of my brain :)

This is where the action happens. This is a chapter page (specifically for Sampling Designs). I write ideas from the internet, workshops, conversations, news articles, etc here. This is my "index". When I get home from a workshop, I go through and remind myself of activities we did, worksheets I liked, videos that I can use AND where they are stored on my bookcase or computer file.

Somedays I think - wow, I really should put that into a google doc or something, and believe me, I've tried! I love using google docs to copy/paste URLs or random ideas or what-have-you, but there's just something about my paper brain that I can't let go of yet.

One of the things I need to do in the last few weeks of summer is to make a paper brain for Algebra 2 - last year, I was struggling to keep my head above water, so I didn't get one made :(

Do you have a paper brain? Do you have a way to organize your ideas to help make lesson planning easier for you?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Organizing the Classroom

One interesting side effect of teaching is the feeling that you are a seasoned veteran when you are in your early 30s :) I don't feel like an "old" teacher, but am one of the most experienced teachers in my department. However, no matter how long I've taught, I still hope I feel like a first year teacher :) One of the joys of teaching is the fun of back to school shopping. For me, that not only includes fun new school supplies, but also looking at new ways to organize my classroom. I love finding ways to make my life more streamlined, so several of my favorite "teacher books" are actually ones aimed at new teachers and the chapter that I always love to read is the one on classroom forms. So I decided to share my favorite forms with you, the ones that truly make my life easier...

FYI - I did lose some formatting and almost all of my cool fonts when uploading these to google docs, but hopefully you get the idea :)

Weekly Planner
While I absolutely love digital toys, there is something about physically crossing items off a list that just makes me happy :) I print off 36 copies of this form and put it into a 3 brad folder w/ clear cover. This acts as my to-do list, lesson planner, appointments, etc. This is pretty much my brain during the school year. I cannot claim original ownership though - I did find this online several years ago and have adapted to fit my needs :)

Textbook Checkout Form and Book Roster
One of the issues that plagues most schools is keeping track of textbooks. For me, I've tried about everything from notecards to list making, etc. But finally I settled on this combination of forms that helps to simplify my life. When I hand out textbooks, students get the quarter sheet to fill out with their info, rating, and comments. My student aide then transcribes that info onto the Book Roster. I use the book roster throughout the year to do book checks for our holds list and then when a student turns in their textbook, I give them back their quarter sheet as a receipt. That way, if I accidently turn them into the office for an outstanding book, they have proof of having turned it in.

Cornell Notes Bookmark
A few years ago, I was at AVID training and our presenter had a bookmark that he made for his students. The bookmark can be customized with whatever information you want on it - grading policy, contact info, Costa's levels of questions, etc. I encourage all of my students to use Cornell Notes (and required w/ AVID students), but I hate the messiness of a hand drawn line. The idea here is for the students to put the bookmark in their notebook and use the right edge to draw a straight line down their paper. I copy this onto cardstock for my students and then while watching a great movie, spend a ton of time cutting them out :)

Attendance Sheet
Many moons ago, I used to keep track of my attendance in my paper gradebook. However, I didn't like the cluttered look, so instead, I use this instead. Since an entire quarter can fit on one page, I hole punch these and put into a 3 prong folder that stays on my podium. I put the seating chart for the class on the opposite page so that when I open my folder, I have the seating chart and attendance all facing me. Also, since it's a Word table, I can copy/paste my roster and don't have to write in the names!

Birthday Calendar
In the past, I've had students neatly write their name on this calendar and I've posted the monthly names on my birthday board. For this year, however, I read somewhere about a teacher that has the kids decorate an index card with their name, hour, and birthday and then she just posts the cards during that month instead. I really like this idea, so I will probably not use the calendar, but thought some of you might find it useful :) (Again, sorry about the formatting!)

Final Thoughts
What forms and organization tools do you find useful in the classroom?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moving Around + Talking w/ Partners = Learning

On my last post, MissCalcul8 asked me to expand on the idea of kids talking and working with their groups during class. I had actually already promised another teacher earlier in the same day that I would post some of the ideas I had found on Active Learning. So ladies, this one's for you :)

During the summer, I LOVE to read. There have been summers that I burned through novels at a rate of 1 per day. This year, however, it's all been about professional literature, which takes a bit more time to muddle through :) One of the books I picked up earlier in the summer was 'Why Didn't I Learn This in College'. I'm still working through it, but I really enjoyed the chapter on Active Learning strategies, which got me to researching some other strategies, etc.

Here's some of the favorites that I've found and my ideas of how I plan to implement them in my classroom.

Grouping Ideas
First off, let me say I <3 grouping my students randomly. I am always so impressed with the conversations that happen, how the kids work together to figure out a problem, etc. Most of the time, I just use a regular deck of cards, I stand in the hall and the kids draw a card, then sit at the correct cluster of desks in my room. However, I found this custom set of cards and I think it is SO cool :) Definitely going to make a set of these :)

Discussion with a Partner
According to the book linked above, 75% of our learners are extroverted thinkers and learning by talking. While this surprised me at first, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. While I personally am not an auditory learner, I find myself learning TONS through discussions via twitter and brainstorming with my "real-life" colleagues. When engaged in discussion, you are having to process, synthesize, respond, question, etc. In the classroom, it would be easy to have students paired up, project a problem or question, have the students discuss with their partner, work through the problem together, and share with the class their consensus. During this discussion period, the teacher could circulate the room, listening in, looking at papers, etc.

A consensogram is a graph of what students know/feel about a topic. This is a similar idea to @CarissaJuneK's barometer on the MSWiki Page. I like this idea especially for a quick view about a topic, such as "I can solve a quadratic equation by factoring" and getting a quick snapshot of student feelings with them putting a mark in the appropriate column (frowny face, straight face, smiley face or whatever). This could be done quickly with a piece of paper and some stickers from the dollar store or even using clickers for a bit more anonymity.

I had seen this listed before as a "Gallery Walk", but I can see Graffiti being used in lots of ways. I love using post-it chart paper in my classroom and here's a strategy that integrates it! :) Basically, separate your students into groups and each group gets their own colored marker and a piece of chart paper with a problem (I'm envisioning word problem, proofs, etc). The group works on their problem, and after a set amount of time, ring a bell for teh groups to rotate to the next station. The group then reads the new problem and the work that has already been done, makes corrections and continues working the problem until the bell rings again and the groups again rotate.

Self Assessment Exit Ticket
While reading Eric Townsley's blog, I ran across this post, which alluded to a self-assessment form that he has his students fill out at the end of a lesson. I really like this idea for an exit ticket, where the kids let me know how they felt (smiley faces again) and points of confusion. This allows me to see where they are in terms of their learning, but I've done journals of this sort before and quickly got bogged down in responding to them. I'm still working on how to implement this one without getting bogged down.

3-2-1 strategy
The 3-2-1 strategy is usually used as a reading strategy. I am thinking of it more as an informal check of learning prior to a chapter test. Instead of the traditional 3-2-1 questions, I am thinking of "3 concepts I am solid on, 2 concepts that I feel shaky about, and 1 concept that I feel totally clueless about". I'm not sure how well it will adapt, but I like the idea :)

Final Thoughts
Overall, I believe that engaged students are better than passive students. With the "sage on the stage" model of teaching, the teacher is really the only one that is fully engaged in the classroom. As teachers, we need to make an effort to engage all students in our lessons. I hope you find these strategies as interesting as I did while researching. And feel free to add on your own favorite 'Active Learning' strategies in the comments!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I've learned this summer...

School starts in 3 weeks and as I reflect back on my summer, I find it interesting how far I've come. At the beginning of the summer I thought this year would be focused on relaxing, spending time with family, and looking at my new textbooks. Instead, here we are, towards the end of summer, my boxes are still in my living room, and I've spent most of the summer focused on formative and summative assessments, SBG, reading professional literature, and interacting with my twitter PLN, proving me more and more great ideas for implementation in my classroom.

That brings me to the purpose of this post... I've been reading and pondering a lot, but it's time to finalize my thoughts and determine my path for the year.

Grading Learning Targets
I've already posted about SBG a few times. I was grateful this morning to find some other learning target lists that are also pretty long, so I'm confident that we are on the right track with our list. I've also decided to go with a 5 point scale for my concept quizzes, mainly inspired by @jazlen and @Mrs_Fuller.

Being my first year with SBG, my classroom will look pretty traditional, with the major difference being how the score is broken down by LT rather than a cumulative quiz score. I will still quiz over 2-3 sections at a time, which works out to 3-4 LTs per quiz. Each LT will have a mix of questions (basic, above basic, and advanced/application/writing).

For grading purposes:
5 = advanced/exceeded standards, meaning they were able to knock the LT out of the park and would do a great job explaining the LT to someone else.
4 = proficient/met the standard, they have a pretty good grasp on the LT, probably could explain it to someone else
3 = basic/approaching the standard, they have a basic idea of the LT and can probably hem-haw their way around an explanation, but toss in any kind of twist and they are back at square one.

Classroom Instruction
Throughout classtime, students will be working with partners, talking & writing about math, which will provide me some informal assessment. In addition, I will also give either exit slips or HW quizzes to help me continue to assess gaps in learning. Last year I did give "quick checks" as quick, graded assignments, but this year I am thinking they will be ungraded and only for purposes of communication, so I can give the kids feedback on where they are.

Warmups, Bell-ringers, Problem of the Day
For the past several years, I've done these as a weekly grade that is turned in on Friday. In Geometry, I liked them a lot, but in Algebra 2, I grew to hate them with a passion. Students ended up copying them or not turning them in, and it really became a punitive grade more than a helpful review assignment. This year, I plan to have the kids work in groups of 3-4 on their problem solving skills. I will pull the problems from the NCTM calendars, ACT problems, End of Course exam problems, etc. The only kink I haven't worked out is making sure the kids do the problems if they are ungraded. We've trained kids from an early age to only do things if it's worth "points", so I'm thinking I may have to bribe them with a jolly rancher or something :) heheh

The Rules of the Game
I want to encourage my students to reassess LT's but I will have some rules
1) Students can only reassess one LT per day - hopefully that will help with the end of term rush to raise their grades
2) Students must show "proof" before reassessing an LT - they must have done the assigned problems, gone to our peer-tutoring lab, tutored with me or another teacher, or something they design. But I don't want them coming in to reassess without doing some remediation.
3) Students cannot get help and reassess on the same day. I see this feeding into the short term memory issue and I don't want to encourage that at all.
4) Students will need to schedule a day in advance for reassessments. I'm thinking of having an appointment book that they write their name, hour, and LT so I can get the reassessment ready for them. I also thought of a google form, but I don't want them signing up at midnight and thinking that is "advance notice" for me :)

Minor issues to resolve
I'm still not sure what to do about quiz security for absent kids and reassessments. I don't want to return a quiz/reassessment only to have it passed around so other kids can memorize it. I'm still working that one out in my head :)

Final Thoughts
It's been a crazy summer, both personally and professionally. On a personal note, I lost my best friend in the world after a very couragous fight with cancer. I am so grateful I got to spend the last days with her, laying in bed, watching TV, talking about nothing and everything. On the professional side, I have become drunk on the SBG kool-aid, re-examined a lot of beliefs and emerged more confident on the other side. Now to tackle that growing to-do list before kids bombard me in August :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Nitty-Gritty Details

Ugh - I don't even know where to start! I've hit delete several times already and it's just the intro sentences!!!

I'm at an SBG roadblock. I am in complete agreement that SBG is where I want to be. I want my students and parents to be able to look at my gradebook and say "Oh man, I really need to study Learning Target (LT) #, #, and #, but check this out, I totally rocked LT # and #!"

But, then I run up against roadblocks... issues that I just can't figure out in my head and I end up wanting to just throw in the towel, but I know I can't - I believe in this system, I have confidence in how it can change my classroom. But I also know that I can't go into my admin and my only answer to his questions is "I don't know yet".

My current questions and issues:

1) Everyone has a different rubric and I'm not sure on which one is best. If you use SBG, could I beg you to post your rubric in the comments? I'm currently thinking of a 0-5 scale, but I'm not positive. My current favorite is @jazlen's Advanced/Proficient/Basic/Below Basic/Far below Basic and then add in 0 = doesn't have a clue in the world.

2) Speaking of rubrics, how do those translate to a traditional gradebook program? I don't have a choice about the program we use and it will automatically change a grade to a percentage scale. So if I use a 4 point rubric with 3 as "meeting standards", the computer will auto change that to a 75%. That really bothers me. I read the post on Edu-Ma-Ca-Tion on this same topic and I'm still not sure how to resolve.

3) How do you organize their concept checklists? Many use something like Dan Meyer's list and I like that too. I am thinking of giving them the list for the chapter along w/ their suggested practice (homework) and important terms sheet. They would need to keep a section in their notebook for each of these chapter sheets.

4) How do you keep track of the paperwork? I keep a papergradebook because of several issues - only have access to online GB at school, having backup in case of hackers (yes, it happened), etc. However, I struggle to visualize what an SBG paper gradebook would even look like!!! Ugh

5) What does a concept quiz look like to you? Some people give multiple quizzes w/ progressively more difficult questions, some give one quiz with various difficulty on that quiz, some do "traditional" quizzes with only difference being the score reporting.

6) Speaking of, how many times do you assess each concept? My current thought is quiz w/ various difficulty problems (which they can reassess), then see again on chapter/unit test. There will also be some ungraded assessments, maybe a "HW quiz" every so often, plus the possibility of showing up under the "previous knowledge" section on future tests.

7) I am a huge proponent of "previous knowledge" and "spiraling" and "not giving kids permission to forget" - so in that vein, should their grades be able to backslide? I know some SBG people allow grades to go down, some don't, I'm leaning toward the "grade needs to reflect current knowlege, so grade can go down" camp, what is your thought on it?

Sigh - I think that's it for now... I know it seems like a ton of questions, and believe me, I have spent time discussing with some of the best minds I know and yet I continue to feel clueless on these details. I have 4 weeks and counting to get these things figured out...

Thanks for reading - and taking the time to respond :)