Sunday, October 24, 2010

I *heart* Fall Break! :)

Whoever decided that teachers and students needed a break in October should be declared a Saint! I love teaching, but after a while, you need some down-time to relax, catch up on sleep, veg on the couch, clean your house, etc. We had parent/teacher conferences on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and then had the rest of the week free - yay!!! Of course, as with every break, I started the week with such great plans to catch up, etc and instead it turned into several days of relaxation and in general, not being very productive at all!

Wednesday after conferences, Partner Teacher and I went to one of the local watering holes and spent the afternoon mapping out the rest of the semester. What a great feeling to know that we have a plan! We've had a lot of success this year, but also some set-backs, specifically in terms of long-term retention. A great example of this was this past week's test :(

Last week, when both of us were gone on Friday, we had assigned this "Partner Problems" Worksheet. The idea was that students could work with a partner and check their answers, but they had to work independently on each problem since the problems themselves are different. On Monday, they had additional time to study in class and then they took a cumulative 9-weeks test on Tuesday. Overall, we were NOT pleased with the scores! Some students did well, some not so well, so both Partner Teacher and I were pretty bummed. After grading the tests, we both realize that we have to work on the retention factor of skills.

Tomorrow, students will be getting a couple of new papers to add to their binders. First will be a test analysis sheet, where they will go through their test, see what skills they really need to work on and see if there's a pattern in their weaknesses. Students will be able to come in to make test-corrections for partial credit, but as always they will need to show evidence of remediation first. This idea came from this week's chapter of #sbarbook on how to give feedback to students. Sadly, I wish I had caught these issues before hand, but I knew that some major issues would be absolute value and parallel/perpendicular lines and tried to warn them ahead of time :( Sigh!

Next, to address the issue of retention, we've decided that the quizzes will have a previous knowledge section that will contain one previous LT skill. We will not tell the students which skill it is, but plan to tell them which quiz it was originally from. This previous knowledge skill will start everyone everyone with a fresh slate for that skill and will be able to be remediated/reassessed like any other skill. I'm still struggling with how to keep up with this in my paper gradebook, but I'm hoping to figure it out soon :)

I would love to hear your ideas on how to increase long-term retention and how you give students feedback on their weaknesses on a test.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking a Me Day :)

For the first time in my 13-year career, I took a personal day to sleep in, clean house, read, and relax. It has been simply amazing :) At the moment, I'm taking a break from reading Monday's chapter in #sbarbook - "Never Work Harder Than Your Students" by Robyn Jackson. The section I just finished was about "Demystify the Process" in terms of clearing up student confusion and anticipating problems before they start. I had to take a break to jot down a few ideas and process it myself.

This chapter's principle is about providing proper support to students BEFORE they fail instead of waiting until AFTER they fail to provide remediation. One of the keys in providing this support is to anticipate student errors, misconceptions, and confusing topics/instructions. In the section I just finished it says we often assume students know how to do things like study, read a textbook, etc, but that we rarely take the time to teach them how to do these things, to break down the process into clear, concrete terms. This got me to thinking about how this same principle applies to teaching. (While there are many examples I could come up with, I will pick on a current issue in many districts.) A common buzzword around here is "using data to drive instruction", and the upper admin that expects this to happen just assumes that we know how to do it, but has never provided explicit, clear, concrete instructions on what/how they expect us to do this. While I have a vague idea of what they mean, no instruction has been provided to allow me to clearly understand their expectations.

Another point that is made in this section is that we rarely sit down with our students and explain the "why" of doing something. Students have become adept at many academic processes, such as writing a lab report, etc, but how many of them really get the "why" of the lab report? Do they really understand what they are doing, why they are being asked to do it, and how it can ultimately help their learning process? Again, I related this to being a teacher. Teachers are often given top-down directives to do this program or to implement this process, and they do it because for the most part, teachers are rule-followers. But how many of us really understand the "why" of these programs and processes? Are we provided the information that really gets us on board with how these programs can help our students and ultimately help us become a better teacher? I recently commented to Partner Teacher that while we had experienced a lot of good things from implementing SBG, a key part of it was that it was "grass-roots". We took the time to do the research, read books/blogs, really understand the "why" of how it would help us and our students. If SBG had been a top-down mandate without the "why" provided by the research, would we be experiencing this success or would it be yet another program that we felt forced to implement?

Finally, this section also brings up the "Yes, but...." I have to admit, I really like this feature of the book. You can tell that the author truly spent time trying to figure out the common comebacks and excuses and gives her best shot at counteracting them. This "Yes, but.." asks if being so explicit, hand-holding our kiddos through the process, explaining every nuance of an assignment, is that the equivalent of "dumbing down our curriculum"? Her response is a great one - that being concrete as you introduce a process allows students better understanding and provides the foundation for abstract thought as they progress through the material. In my classes, both at the high school and at the university, I often start a chapter or lesson with a hands-on lab activity that walks the students through the thought process of that objective. Then as they gain more competence, I ease off the step-by-step instructions and provide them opportunities to stretch their brain. This concrete to abstract process provides them the support to be independent learners.

Now off to finish the chapter and take a nap :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale....

It's been a while since I posted and each day I think "ya know, I should really post about how things are going", but then I get busy grading or planning or I'm just not feeling it for whatever reason and it gets pushed off my radar for another day...

But today it feels right... Two years ago today, my step-daddy passed away and this was one of the places I turned to share his story. That was probably the start of my realization that I actually had a few readers out in the blog-o-sphere and someone really cared to read my random posts. While I still miss him greatly and always look for him when I go to my momma's house, that's not the tale I came here to share today...

Today's tale is about my school year so far. I am having probably the best professional year of my career and that simply feels amazing. But then, I walk outside of my classroom and the weight of the demands from the outside world crushes me. So instead, I stay within my little comfort zone that is my room and Partner Teacher's room and figure I'll stay as under the radar as much as I can :)

After school today, Partner Teacher makes a comment that we need to start making a list of the good and the bad of this year, so here goes...

  • At first, I was concerned with the time it seemed to take to grade the SBG quizzes, but now that I have my system down, I *heart* that I grade about once a week and have more free time for planning cool lessons.
  • I adore how easy SBG makes parent contact. When a parent emails to ask what Junior needs to work on, it's so simple to put the responsibility back on Junior's shoulders, where it needs to be.
  • My students and parents like that they know detailed information about where they are.
  • It only takes a kid one reassessment to really see the benefit of coming in. Last week, we had a quiz on transformations and 2-variable inequalties. One young man really struggled and did rather poorly on it, he asked to stay after on Tuesday, we worked for about 20 minutes, I sent him home with some practice problems and today he asked to reassess. Each of those objectives he raised from 0.5 to a 3 or a 4 - HOORAY!!!
  • A system that seemed very strange to the kids just two months ago, now seems totally normal and they wish other teachers used this method.
  • While I can easily see how SBG works in a process oriented class like Alg2, I struggle with how to implement it in an application class like Stat. I still have no idea where to even start to set up SBG in there.
  • I do worry about concept retention, but I think that was an issue in the traditional system as well. With the new 9 weeks, we are going to have a "Previous Knowledge" standard that is from a previous assessment - haven't worked out all the details yet, but we'll get there :)
  • I'm constantly amazed at how much my kids are willing do, even when there's not a grade attached to it. Today we did the graphing inequalities worksheet from Dan Greene and they loved it!
  • Even with all of the great things happening, it's been an insanely busy year. New textbooks, 3 preps, wrapping my head around SBG, night class, all combines to make me feel absolutely exhausted on a daily basis.
  • I also worry about their ability to work with more than a couple of concepts and/or their ability to work when the problems are all mixed together and not labeled with their Learning Target ID. I'm still working on that one....

Overall, I do have to declare our foray into SBG a tentative success. I really appreciate the support that I've gotten both on this blog and via twitter as we've gone through this journey. I <3 my PLN :)