Note taking, no textbooks & ISN’s, how does it all fit together?

*WARNING* This is a longer than planned post and involved…I am asking for ideas and help…proceed with caution! 🙂

At the end of each quarter since I started teaching 14 years ago, I have had my students complete a survey/reflection on the quarter. It’s evolved and improved over the years, but the idea was the same…I wanted to know what they thought about my teaching, our classroom, the activities we did and anything else they wanted to share.  I used to just read them and reflect on my own; I would come in the next quarter with ideas, some changes based upon the survey and some that I already knew I wanted to do. I would clarify misconceptions and provide more reasons and examples as to why certain things were done.  I always found them valuable, sometimes in a kick in my backside type of way and sometimes reassurance that what I was doing was working.  I found students to be honest, sometimes more than I expected, but I grew as a teacher from it.  In the last handful of years after I have given the survey, I crunch the data, toss some in graphical format and share it WITH the students.  I have asked them to review the graphs, the information shared and to tell me what it means. I share the comments they write and we talk about it together as a class.  I want them to know that I value their opinions, that I take them seriously and I am always striving to make our classroom better.  It has been within this type of situation that students have mentioned they feel heard, valued and that they have a say in the classroom.  Do I change everything? No, but we have honest discussions about it; I consider it and I might even poll them again on a specific topic to help make a decision.  I still toss in a few changes that I knew I wanted to make, but overall it comes from them.

It is in this situation where I am stuck currently.  I gave the quarter 1 survey (google doc this time around), I knew they completed it because I had looked at a few of the responses.  Today’s class was the day we were going to talk about the results, so last night I finally opened them up and read through them.  I will skip over the love they have for the class and the way we do things, their love for SBG and their love/hate relationship with cooperative learning for this post and yet focus on another aspect dear to my heart, the Interactive Notebook.

I had a section about the notebook asking questions about it, but it was in the very last box titled “Anything else you want to share?” where some *unprompted* shared their extreme love and/or hate of the interactive notebook.  The dislike for it took me by surprise, not one peep from my lovelies about them in a bad way since day 1, NOT ONE. Yet here they were (to clarify THEY = the 15 students who dislike the ISN or parts of it out of the 114 students that I use them with), sharing without any fear or filter, which is what I was looking for.

Here are the negative comments: (only sharing these because I want to focus on how to make this better)

  • I would rather work in a class where some students teach others than tape things into our notebook.
  • isn is really bad. its a waste of time. parents will agree
  • I really think we shouldn’t grade ISNs because nobody really graded our notes in past grades. Previous teachers have graded what comes out of our notes and understanding such as tests and quizzes. At first, I was really enthusiastic about having everything organized in the ISN… but as I thought about it, i realized that I wasn’t learning much from the foldables and coloring. I’m just a type of person that really likes to take my own notes in my own method. I don’t think we should have to worry about decorating our notebooks and having things taped in and secured on top of so much other work that we have to do. This has nothing to do with your teaching because I feel like I’m able to understand what you teach me better than I have with other teachers in the past but I just feel like we shouldn’t have our ISNs graded. Again, this is just my opinion and you don’t have to listen to this by any means, but I just wanted to let you know! Thank you, and I can’t wait for a great rest of the year!
  • I really dont prefer the ISN and really like using my own notebook that is not so strictly scheduled and my own notebook helps me alot more for studying
  • I find it completely ridiculous that the ISN requires you to color the left hand side pages.
  • I really don’t think the ISN is helping me.
  • I enjoy class, but sometimes the ISN can be a lot to keep track of.
  • I like working with groups but also on my own. I am not a huge fan over the ISN-when notes are not my own, I find them more difficult to understand. It also takes away time that we could use to practice concepts and understand them well. I like the traditional way of taking notes.
  • I think that to learn material well, the ISN isnt totally helping bc it is very easy to slack off. a better way would be to use a textbook and do worksheets.
  • I would like to bring up the topic that the ISN wastes valuable time where we could be learning but instead we are taping I know many who agree and I don’t know how many were willing to say it on the survey but I would prefer to use an actual textbook to help me with practice problems, and I do know I can get practice problems in other places but i prefer to get them in a textbook.
  • I like taking my own notes instead of taping in notes in the ISN because I understand the lesson more if i write my own notes. I don’t like the ISN at all. The ISN doesn’t help me with anything because everybody’s notes are the same. I study better with the notes I write and I think the ISN is useless. I would rather have my own notebook than the ISN.
  • I don’t really like the ISN because its a lot of gluing and cutting. Also, I have to pay more attention to the ISN then learning material because I know its a grade.
  • I don’t enjoy using the ISN. It is not really my style.
  • I don’t think the ISN is very helpful
  • I enjoy math class a lot, but I wish to use the textbook more.  the ISN is a helpful study tool, but sometimes feels as if the ISN is like a scrapbook! 🙂 but overall, I am very happy as to how math class is going and I am looking forward to the rest of a wonderful school year!

I do find it cute that they share their dislike for the ISN and their excitement over the rest of the year within two sentences…I love middle school!

Before I went crazy with things spinning in my own mind, I turned to twitter to share it with other minds to help me:

My mind was racing and I knew that I wanted to use the student comments to clarify a few things, but that more importantly I had students that wanted a different way to take notes.  What was I going to do? And my online PLN responded with ideas and questions of their own.  It was Megan (@mgolding) who suggested a blog post and discussion, so blame her for this long post! 🙂

Things to note:

  • This is a small amount of students who do not like the interactive notebook, the rest love it and have said so in the survey, in person and even after today’s in class discussion.
  • We DO NOT have textbooks, so learning from a textbook and just doing worksheets, isn’t going to happen.  We have an online version and a handful of books in the classroom, but our curriculum jumps around the “book” anyways.  It is not a useful resource for the students or myself. This is a HUGE change from last year for the students.
  • These students really do prefer “traditional” teaching and learning. This is what they have known, this might be all they have known and I have hit them with cooperative grouping, open ended tasks, SBG and Interactive notebooks.
  • These students are good students, many have their own way of organizing and taking notes already, which is different from any of my previous classes of students.
  • These students are used to learning FROM a textbook, like “read this, look at the examples and figure out the 20 homework problems”. Not much in regards to shared notes or class discussion. They are used to creating their own notes from going through the material on their own.
  • The cutting & taping (which seems to be a big issue) takes 5 minutes, maybe 10 on a long day…BUT it happens while they are doing their warm-up or something else.
  • Every parent that I have spoken with or heard from loves the class and the notebooks. The parent reflections on the notebooks for quarter 1 back this up.
  • This year my goal was to improve the left side of the ISN, which has happened, but that is where the “coloring” comes in…working on the creative side of the brain.
  • I have told them the ISN is their textbook, their reference.  It contains notes, examples and practice problems.  And it contains their reflection on their notes.
  • I have dabbled in the flipped classroom where they take notes at home while watching a short video and we practice all day the next day in class.

The issues

  • I am dealing with “traditional” learning students. The ISN might not be the whole issue, I think some of it is the way I am asking them to learn and how it is so different from what they know. How do I make it easier?  Example: they told me today they want me to create powerpoints with screen shots of the book and go through the examples in the book with them. 🙂 Ummm….no that sounds awful, there has to be a better way.
  • Some students want to take their own notes (which again I find interesting because they currently take their own notes, just happens to be in foldable format provided by me). How do I incorporate this desire into the classroom?

What I am considering:

  • Giving up on the coloring.  All classes asked for this, easy to give up…no big deal. But I can still ask them to reflect.
  • Allowing students who want to take their own notes to do so, but I might ask them to conference with me about it first so we can be on the same page with our expectations.  Rather than let them jump into a whole new format, I think I am going to ask that they take them in the ISN, but can do so however they want.
  • Teaching students how to use notes to study, this seems to be an issue this year, not knowing HOW to prepare for math tests and how to use their notes. Is it different because it is Geometry? Last year my students loved their ISN’s  in Algebra and 8th CCSS and used them all of the time. The students above claim it isn’t useful, is that because they don’t know how to use it, how to find things within their notes? This discussion also came up during our Twitter conversation.

I need your help, your suggestions, your ideas.  I want to improve my classroom for second quarter and I want to help my students understand the importance of notes in any format.  Is the current trend to change  classroom dynamics to being student centered removing the aspect of notetaking? How do you disseminate important information to your students?  Do your students keep a notebook? binder? etc? As we move to classrooms without hard copy textbooks, what does that mean for notetaking? How do you help the “traditional” students become comfortable in a student centered classroom?

If you made it this far, WAY TO GO! Thanks for hanging with me!


Why do I blog?

Kate (@k8nowak), who blogs at Function of Time (Check it out, it’s awesome!) wrote a blog post and mentioned it on Twitter last night, since I do SO much better at blogging when I have a reason or need of my own, I told her I would write a post and help her out, as many others did too.

Here are the questions she posed:

1. What hooked you on reading the blogs? Was it a particular post or person? Was it an initiative by the nice MTBoS folks? A colleague in your building got you into it? Desperation?
2. What keeps you coming back? What’s the biggest thing you get out of reading and/or commenting?
3. If you write, why do you write? What’s the biggest thing you get out of it?
4. If you chose to enter a room where I was going to talk about blogging for an hour (or however long you could stand it), what would you hope to be hearing from me? MTBoS cheerleading and/or tourism? How-to’s? Stories?

And my responses:

1. I got hooked on blogs back in 2006 during a hiatus between masters degrees and looking to expand my knowledge. I knew what blogs were, but definitely didn’t know the knowledge they held or could hold. I know I initially followed Dan Meyer because I came across his post on How Math Must Assess. I was hooked with that post, the idea behind it and started researching Standards Based Grading right then. I didn’t implement SBG until 2008-2009ish, but that started my love of blogs and trying to find more. I didn’t know what a reader was back then, so I had (& still have) a folder of blog I followed in my IE Favorites that I would check every once in a while.

2. Resources, ideas, problems, solutions, challenges, good things, bad things, collaboration…it all keeps me coming back. I get ideas from reading blogs, things I can use in the classroom the next day…it’s like a daily PD session where you walk away with something useful. Actually, I don’t read daily, but when I do catch up on blog reading I walk away with so much more to help my students, to improve my teaching, to think about and mull over and to reflect on.  I also like the math problems that are posed; I like doing math on my own just to do math, so I find that fun as well. I enjoy commenting to solidify a point or to ask a question because I didn’t understand something and it then becomes a conversation where all who are reading and/or commenting benefit from the comments and questions from others.

3. I started a little over a year ago because after lurking for SO long, I finally felt like I wanted to give back.  I also wanted to reflect more on my teaching and the things I do. The MTBoS Blogger Initiation was what got me started finally.  I like blogging because I like the feedback I get from others…ways to change and improve things I have come up with, that’s what I enjoy the most, taking something I’ve done and having others help me make it better. I also like knowing that I am freely proving something other teachers may find useful. And I like reading blogs and knowing that I am not the only one to feel a certain way because sometimes teaching does feel very independent.

2 & 3 combined. I am the only Geometry teacher in my school, so the blogs I follow and the people I follow on Twitter have become my online Personal Learning Network (PLN). I like being able to bounced ideas off of someone and I know that no matter when I blog or when I send a Tweet, someone will respond to offer me help, share ideas and help me become a more effective teacher.

4. Hmmm…good question. As a current blogger, I would like to hear stories about how bloggers have created something together that was awesome. Something that might not have been created if not for the connections made across state lines, across countries, across the globe.  I am selfish and I want MORE math teachers to blog…why? Because I want more ideas to read from them and I want them to help me become a better teacher by helping me reflect on my own work. So anything that would involve more teachers to get involved would be cool.

Side note: I am going to NOLA in April and look forward to seeing Tweeps in person (#TMC13 & #MTBoS) and I will be attending Kate’s session for sure!

Assessment Reflection & End of Quarter Reflection

I had planned to blog about my End of Quarter Student Reflection, since they just completed them and I have been reading through them. Then yesterday I jumped in a Twitter conversation between David (@delta_dc) and Julie (@jreulbach) that started with David’s question “Is it okay if a student is surprised by his or her grade on an assessment?”. There were a lot of ideas shared and when I jumped in I mentioned my during assessment reflection that I have used in the past.  So now this post will cover both reflections. 🙂

Assessment Reflection
I have used this in the past (not yet this year) to help students slow down a bit during assessments and to help identify where they went wrong and why.  I’ve had it for years and created it with teachers at my school, but don’t know if it originally came from somewhere online (if it’s similar to something of yours, please let me know so I can properly cite!).

I’ve tried to upload the Word Doc file instead of the PDF to Scribd for you. However, it then formats funny and doesn’t use my fun/cute fonts.  🙂 I am sure you can figure it out.

End of Quarter Reflection
I had the students respond to a survey on Quarter 1, which included questions about my teaching, our activities, the ISN, SBG, etc.  I have compiled those results for an in class discussion on Tuesday so we can make changes, clarify misconceptions and move forward in our planning for Quarter 2.  I want my students to feel a part of the decisions I made and the things we do in the classroom.

However, the reflection I am talking about here wasn’t that one, instead I created a reflection for students to reflect on themselves as a student for Quarter 1.  I asked them to reflect on their mastery of skills, their participation as a group member and then write their own comment about themselves as a student for first quarter; similar to what a teacher might write about them.  This was a GREAT reflection to share during parent teacher conferences this week and students were honest, open and striving to improve in their performance during second quarter.

Overall, we did a lot of reflection at the end of the quarter. Students even reflected on the ISN AND I had parents reflect on the ISN; that was awesome to read, the good and the bad about the ISN. 🙂 I like taking the time for students to reflect AND taking the time on my end to read and respond to all of it.  It helps me become a better teacher, to reach the students I have THIS YEAR and it helps them learn that reflection is important, especially when you take something from it and work to improve or change.