Monday, April 29, 2013

Take the time to do it right...

As a little girl, my Momma always tried to instill in me the work ethic of taking the time to do the job right the first time and it would save me time in the long run. Throughout my life, I'm tried to follow this advice, or at least I thought I did. Then comes along Chapter 4 of Embedded Formative Assessment and yet again, I'm knocked flat on my backside!

... grading can be seen as the punishment given to teachers for failing to find out that they did not achieve the intended learning when the students were in front of them.

See if this scenario is familiar to you...
You give an assessment (quiz, test, whatever) and sit down to grade it, only to find yourself writing the same comment over and over and over on student papers.

If you are like me, that scenario has played itself out many times in your career. However, in the past, I've never really analyzed what it was that went wrong... until now. None of us have tons of spare time on our hands - we have families, lessons to plan, papers to grade, other responsibilities. We've heard the old adage "work smarter, not harder", but how does that play out in the classroom? Answer: Formative Assessment! By taking the time to do things right, we can find out whether our students have understood something while they are still sitting in front of us, rather than playing catch-up once the assessment has been given. By taking the time to craft good probing questions during the learning, we save ourselves the time of writing the same comment repeatedly on the quiz. Such a simple idea, why did it take me so many years to figure it out???

Guess my Momma is always right after all!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Possible AP Exam Review Idea...

This is based on the book Embedded Formative Assessment..

Reading Chapter 3, I ran across this gem of an idea...

Some teachers wonder why a class should spend time looking at other students' work when they could be doing their own work, but as many teachers have discovered, students are much better at spotting errors and weaknesses in the work of others than they are in their own. Once students have pointed out such errors or weaknesses, they are more likely to avoid repeating them in their own work.

On the page prior to this quote, there was an example of a middle school science teacher teaching about writing lab reports. The teacher provided each group of students a set of 5 sample lab reports of varying quality and asked the students to rank them in order of quality. Neat idea, but I don't teach science.

I didn't really think much about it until I turned the page and read the quote above, which made me think about AP Exam Review. I know the College Board posts student samples, but those tend to be mostly high scoring papers, not a variety of papers. When we are training to grade a question, we are given a packet of 30 or so student papers so that we can see a variety of scores (0 through 4). Those training papers are not allowed to be posted, but I am thinking we could develop our own database of student examples throughout the year to be used during AP review. Even if it was just part of a question, like the cereal comparison problem, part a from 2008, having our students read and rank the responses in order of quality might be a worthwhile exercise.

But I taught that!!!

I'm currently reading Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan William in an effort to get back to the place that I need to be as a professional.

I just finished Chapter 2 and I'm sure I've driven my friends and hubby nuts by posting many quotes from Chapter 2, but this one really hit me...

Teaching is a *contingent* activity. We cannot predict what students will learn as a result of any particular sequence of instruction. Formative assessment involves getting the best possible evidence about what students have learned and then using this information to decide what to do next.

In today's world of high stakes testing, how many of us think of teaching as a "contingent activity"? I know that I'm often stressed about pacing and getting everything done that needs to be done before the End of Course test or the AP exam or etc, etc, etc that I lose focus on that contingency part. My lesson tomorrow should be contingent on what happened today and what my students learned today. It's important that we don't miss the fact that our teaching should be contingent on *what students learned*, not on *what we taught*.

Another quote from this chapter...

Students do not learn what we teach. If they did, we would not need to keep gradebooks. We could, instead, simply record what we have taught. But anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows that what students learn as a result of our instruction is unpredictable.

I love when a book gives me the "kick in the pants" that I needed! Recently, during the End of Course exam review and AP review, I've been guilty of this type of thinking. I have gotten irritated that students don't remember how to do long division, etc because I taught that! I need to remember that yes, I taught that topic/concept, but that does NOT mean that the students *learned* that topic/concept.

Teaching != Learning

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Embedded Formative Assessment

As part of my goal to find my mojo again, I'm reading the book Embedded Formative Assessment. I'm currently in Chapter 2 and just found a paragraph that I had to share...

Even the best teachers fail. Talk to these teachers, and no matter how well the lesson went, they always can think of things that didn't go as well as they would have liked, things that they will do differently next time. But things get much, much worse when we collect the students' notebooks and look at what they thought we said. That's why Doug Lemov (2010) says that, for teachers, no amount of success is enough. They only teachers who think they are successful are those who have low expectations of their students. They are the sort of teachers who say, "What can you expect from these kids?" The answer is, of course, a lot more than the students are achieving with those teachers. The best teachers fail all the time because they have such high aspirations for what their students can achieve (generally much higher than the students themselves have).

I'm not sharing this because I think I'm a "best teacher". I'm sharing this because of the 2nd sentence. No matter how well things have gone, there are always things I can improve, things that could have gone better. This is one of the shared qualities that I see among my twitter/blog-o-sphere friends. The math blog-o-sphere is full of rock stars, but if you were to ask them, most of those teachers would never describe themselves that way.

This might just be what I needed to read right now... :)

Springtime blues...

Confession time....

Have you ever noticed that the longer that you go without doing something, the harder it is to get back into it? That's how I'm feeling right now about blogging. It's been 2 months since I last wrote something and every day I think, "Gee, I should try to blog today!" and everyday I put it off for just another day because I don't feel like I have much to say...

But that's not really true. I have a lot to say, just feeling bad about saying it. This year has been tough. And it's not just me - look around the blog-o-sphere and you'll see other bloggers saying the same thing. Now that the year is almost over and there are less than 4 weeks left of school, I'm in a reflective mood. Where did I go wrong this year? I know I had some great things happening, so how can I keep that joy throughout the year and not let the little things keep me down?

I'm also starting to think about next year... I have my teaching assignment and I'm really pumped about it. I'll be teaching two new courses and have some freedom to create the curriculum. In addition to developing the curriculum, I'd really like to take this opportunity to break away from the traditional teaching model if I can. I always start with that goal, but then the mid-year blues hit and I lapse into that traditional lecture style. I know why I do it - when the stress and blues hit me, it's "comfortable" to go back to the 'sage on the stage' mode, similar to slipping on the ratty sweatpants that you just can't bear to throw away. I want to really spend time working on rich tasks, problem based learning, whiteboarding, etc. I want my classroom to be a safe place where kids don't realize how hard they've been working because their engagement is so high. I want to get back into my online PLN and really stealing learning from the wealth of resources that I've accumulated.

What resources have you found that really kick-start your professional learning? That really sparks your love of teaching and learning? I need to get rejuvenated. That's what I think was the biggest problem this year - I wasn't feeling the passion of loving what I do. I need to find my mojo again... my teaching groove....

I guess that's the start of my #summerlist :)
  1. Find mojo :)
  2. Find a good professional book to read/discuss (FYI: I really miss our twitter book club!)
  3. ...