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!

 

Starting my ISN off right

I have a list of blog posts to write, most importantly my reflection of #TMC13, but it seems so hard to put that into words right now, so I will procrastinate with another blog post. There has been a lot of discussion about ISN’s (interactive student notebooks) recently, especially at the #INBjamboree at #TMC13.  At the start of summer, I put together an entire binder for my planning purposes that I am pretty excited about.  I also took the time to outline my opening pages because I after reflecting on last year’s ISN, I need to improve a few things.  I have shared this list via email with a few of you and thought it would be easier to share as a post so you can help me start my ISN in the most effective manner.

What do you like about my list? What would you change? Am I wasting too many pages? (My #1 fear!)

Geometry ISN
Here is the start of my planning for my Geometry ISN. These beginning pages could be used for any class, I titled it Geometry because that Is what I am teaching. I am not sure this is what I will do exactly yet, but I started writing down ideas.

I am using the Planning pages from here: http://schooloffisher.blogspot.com/2012/09/interactive-notebook-planning.html. I printed enough for the entire composition book ISN and 3-hole punched them for a binder.  I DID NOT plan this way last year, so I am hoping this will help me avoid the last minute searching for a foldable or creating (a bad) one.

Important note: I print most pages two per page so they fit nicely in the composition books with minimal cutting.

Current Outline (Links to documents & places where I gathered ideas are provided where available)

Students decorate cover with Numbers About Me at home over the first weekend or so. I didn’t do this last year, but I like the personalization part to help make the notebook theirs. Suggestion is to use packing tape to protect the decorated covers…not sure how this will happen if I choose to decorate covers.

Inside Front Cover – Grading Rubric for ISN (I wanted it more visible, last year put it inside back cover.)

Page 1 – Title Page – http://www.doodle-art-alley.com/school-subject-coloring-pages.html (I did email the artist and ask if she would do one for Geometry, haven’t heard back yet) My students last year liked to color…a lot…so I incorporated coloring pages where I could. They can choose to color or not, but most did especially after a test or quiz is when I would see many coloring.

2 – Author Page – Describe themselves in pictures with color (doing it this way allows the first use of the true left side/right side aspect of the ISN)

3 – Author Page – Describe themselves in words – My Directions for both Author’s pages

4 – Study Buddy Page – Using this example & modifying a bit. Also considering to put Clock partners on this page (Good explanation here). Even as groups change every 6 weeks, the Clock partners would be the same all year, provides trust, comfort & consistency.  Especially if the groups are rough one quarter, could use these partners more, rather than dealing with switching groups. To hide student phone numbers shared on this page, the clock page would be a flap over the study buddy information, just taped at the top.

5 – TOC – Planning to do booklet style to save pages

6 – Class Policies & Expectations – Trace your hand on the page. In each one of the fingers write one of the most important things you should know about this class. (Can color, decorate, etc. the hand & page)

7 – Class Policies & Expectations – My syllabus goes here (I plan to create a larger version of this foldable using two sheets of paper because I like the idea of having the tabs for the main ideas in the syllabus.

8 – ISN information – On the page below, give some predictions you have for your ISN this year. Draw pictures (& can have captions)

9 – ISN information – 2-sided page explaining ISN (they have never seen or used an ISN before)

10 – Key Parts of the ISN – Reflection of page 13, need to include a drawing piece (Key Parts files from @cheesemonkeysf)

11 – Key Parts of the ISN – foldable with most important rules (my students liked this one last year as one of their first foldables)  –  Can follow up with a ISN quiz

*12 – Multiple Intelligences – Graph information from survey / Or True Colors profile?

*13 – Multiple Intelligences – survey would be on this page / Or True Colors Profile? (Sorter and Learning Temperaments)

*14 – Learning Styles – On the page below draw 5 picture of ways that you can use your learning style to help you study

*15 – Learning Styles – 2-sided survey & page of learning style suggestions

16 – Unit 1 – Coloring page – http://www.doodle-art-alley.com/number-coloring-pages.html

17 – Unit 1 – Standards/Skill List or “I Can” Statements (Vocab words just listed on bottom with page number reference to back of ISN?)

Pages 184-200 – Words Worth Knowing (WWK) – Basically a glossary of terms. – Using Frayer models from Sarah Hagan at Math = Love. I figured folded in half I can fit 7 frayer models per page, which is around 119 words.  Since I haven’t made my Geometry vocabulary list yet, I don’t know if that is the right amount of pages, but I thought I would start there until I finalize my vocabulary list. Anyone have one they want to share? 🙂

Inside back cover will be a formula/measurement reference sheet (like most books have & most composition books already have this as the inside of the back cover)

*Not sure I am sold on using any of these pages. I like the idea of the learning styles and how to use the learning styles to help study, but I don’t know if I will use these pages.

Random Ideas

I have these randomly written on a sheet of paper, so I thought it would be helpful to share.  I am literally copying them word for word, so it may be a little unorganized.

  • I want to include the 8 Math Practices, idea & foldable from here.
  • I also want to include Estimation180 as part of our warm-ups, each day? once a week? Not sure, but I love this handout and explanation.
  • Use QR codes (as3x10 labels?) to print and tape/put on ISN pages to link to internet resources (video/review lesson/practice/challenge) for the lesson.
  • Use 3×10 (or different size) label stickers for questions prompts on left side pages. Easy to make, distribute to students & no glue/tape necessary!
  • Test Day journal pages? – students grab and do as activity/HW after tests…gives them something to do and allows sharing and writing reflection in the ISN as well.  What would go on the opposite side page? I am in love with these FREE journal pages and I *think* they would be a fun writing addition to the ISN (& for when my students read their ISN in 20 years). 🙂 I only have 7 Unit Common Assessments, so it wouldn’t be too many pages….thoughts?
  • Collect & grade at end of each quarter? Or collect and quickly grade on test days? Big FAIL for me last year, only graded 1st quarter. Improvement is needed!
  • Use Color With a Purpose!!! – need to research more.  Ex. Use same color to highlight vocab all year.
  • Date stamp to check pages daily – makes grading easier – need self-inking date stamp. I have a stamp pad date stamp and stopped using it because it was messy.
  • Left hand side options, provide sheet with options, students can choose how to reflect, but can only use each format option twice a unit
  • Left hand side idea – pick 4 of the HW probs to write neatly & explain why chosen or explain how to do. (better as an entrance slip?)
  • At end of Quarter – 2 pages for reflection (student, parent, notebook plans/goals for next quarter & grading rubric)

Okay, there you go…my ideas for starting my ISN off right this year.  I asked before and will ask again, What do you like about my list? What would you change? Am I wasting too many pages? (My #1 fear!)

My Summer To Do List

Phew! What a whirlwind the end of the school year was! I’ve been out just about two weeks now and already it feels like it has been months…I love that feeling!

I wanted to document my summer to do list to help me accomplish more of the things on it.  Sadly, due to changing the classes I am teaching and a few other things, I will be doing a lot of work this summer! No summer off for this teacher! (Does any teacher ever really have the summer off?) 🙂

Books To Read

  • Making Thinking Visible  – started, just need to finish
  • Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess – somehow I missed joining the Twitter discussion about this, but I am looking forward to reading it!
  • Embedded Formative Assessment byDylan Wiliam
  • Measurement by Lockhart
  • There were a few other titles flying around the blogs and twitter, but I can’t remember them, so this is my list!

Curriculum to work on

  • Geometry – I need to look at the new Geometry Common Core Curriculum that my district put together and see how it lays out in the year. Geometry is brand new to me and because I will be teaching gifted students (2 years advanced in math), I am thinking the classes should be more like an Honors course, rather than the regular curriculum.  I want to go more in depth, more discussions, more discourse, more debates.  I want to find resources to add to my lessons, things like 3 Acts, Algebra Review Warm-ups, Estimation, Cooperative Learning, etc.  I want this class to be challenging, interesting and fun and I feel the more I can find and prepare now the better off I will be.
  • US History – I get to teach 2 sections next year, which I am fine with (I’ve been teaching one section for the past 11 years). But I’ve wanted to change a few things for a while…shorten the Colonies Unit maybe with a project (We start with Colonies and go through present day.), which gives more time for WWI or WWII.  I want to figure out how to incorporate Current events better…I’ve tried and failed miserably in the past.  I want to incorporate cooperative learning activities, debates and interesting/fun projects, etc.  We do sort of plan history as a grade level and as a team, but we all still do our own thing.
  • Advisory – Advisory is going to be different this year since it is at the beginning of the day instead of in the middle of core time.  I want to loosely lay out a few of the units we have done as a grade level in the past and weave in a few other things.

Classroom things to work on
I have a new room next year too and we share rooms, so I want to figure out how to organize all my stuff.

  • Go through my MOUNDS of stuff and PURGE! I know I have things I can get rid of…I just need to do it. Why is this so hard for teachers to do?
  • Update some of my signs and stuff to say Geometry and not Algebra

Interactive Notebooks
I started last year and can’t imagine not using them in Geometry. I just need to find resources! I need to get as far ahead of myself as I can.

  • Find or create foldables for Geometry topics
  • Left Side ideas – I STUNK with this last year, improvement is necessary.
  • Vocabulary – going to create a glossary in the back of the ISN using Frayer models folded in half. I think we can fit 6 per page. This means I need to know AHEAD of time how many vocab words we will have. **Need to create/find a list of Geometry terms
  • US History ISN foldables and resources…I kind of want to do them in History too, just not sure this will make it off the to do list.

Standards Based Grading
I have done this for 4 years now and I believe in it. I am nervous and scared to figure out how to apply this to Geometry in my first year teaching it.  I do not know anything about pacing of curriculum or levels of questions, etc.

  • Find SBG Geometry resources online
  • Look at district teacher’s chapter/unit tests from previous years
  • I want to use the Common Core standards when labeling skills/standards, so I need to figure that out.

Dang.  I thought my list was long, but didn’t realize just how long until I typed it all out.  It feels really ambitious right now, but it all has to get done at some point…I have more time this summer than I will when school starts.

Wish me luck!

 

Geometry – Looking at it from the right angle

Ha ha ha.  I crack myself up.  I love the title of this post.  🙂

Last week we found out our teams for next year (I teach in a middle school) and there were a lot of changes.  This is my 13th year of teaching with the last 11 of them being 8th grade Algebra and Pre-Algebra. I found out that I am moving to teach 8th grade Geometry.   I LOVE Algebra and I am very sad I will not be teaching it next year. (yes, yes I know there is Algebra in Geometry) The Geometry students are the best of the best; they are two years ahead in math and while I am excited for the change now, my initial reaction was not the most positive.  I did not like Geometry in high school, though I did enjoy it more in college…it was always something that I wasn’t too keen on and I struggled with it.  I do think that will help as I am learning to teach Geometry; I want to strive to make it meaningful to my students so they do not have the same opinion of it that I did.  My district is rewriting the curriculum this summer to become Common Core and I won’t get it until the institute day in August.  THAT freaks me out because I do not know anything about pacing or why certain topics have to come before others.  My Type-A personality wants more information.  So I turned to my Twitter peeps to ask for helpful resources.  I received a fantastic amount of responses and can’t wait to check them out!

Capture

I wanted to put together a blog post to document what was shared in case it would assist other teachers.  But in reality I am just blogging about it so I can have all of the links in one spot. 🙂

*Remember these are all just suggestions from the MathTwitterBlogosphere as well as my own findings and additions. And they will be updated as I find more! (Let me know if you have items to add!)

Twitter People (& their blogs) to Follow
Kate Nowak (@k8nowak) – function-of-time.blogspot.com
Tina C. (@crstn85) – drawingonmath.blogspot.com/
Nat Banting (@NatBanting) – musingmathematically.blogspot.com
Soph Germain (@sophgermain) – abrandnewline.wordpress.com
David Peterson (@calcdave) – Longtailsofinterest.blogspot.com
Marsha Foshee (@MarshaFoshee) – math-termind.blogspot.com
Mike Mathews (@mwmathews) – mwmathews.wordpress.com
Elissa Miller (@misscalcul8) – misscalculate.blogspot.com
Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeyst) – cheesemonkeysf.blogspot.com
Fawn Nguyen (@fawnpnguyen) – fawnnguyen.com

Book Resources
John A. Van De Walle (a la @pamjwilson)
Discovering Geometry by Michael Serra  (a la @pamjwilson & @zidaya & @Martianson)
Measurement by Paul Lockhart   (a la @j_lanier)
Symmetry, Shape and Space (@mathhombre & ‏@zidaya)
Geometry – Seeing, Doing, Understanding by Harold Jacobs  (@zidaya & @JJJsally)
CME Project Textbook  (a la @ ‏mathhombre)

Web/Curriculum Resources
Art of Problem Solving  (a la @j_lanier)
investigations1213.blogspot.com  (a la @j_lanier)
geometry.mrmeyer.com
Geometry Inquiry Based Curriculum Map
Geometry CCSS PrBL Curriculum Map
Dropbox filled with project ideas
A take on CCSS Geometry pacing
Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Math Tasks
Andrew Stadel 3-Act Math Tasks
Nathan Kraft’s 3-Act Math Tasks
Virtual Filing Cabinet (scroll down to get to Geometry) (@sandramiller_tx)
Virtual Filing Cabinet (scroll down to get to Geometry) (@samjshah)
Virtual Filing Cabinet (@nathankraft1)
Re-thinking Geometry Wiki (a la (@crstn85)

Technology Resources
GeoGebra
Geometer’s Sketchpad

Hands-on Resources
Patty Paper & Patty Paper Geometry by Michael Serra (a la @zidaya & @Martianson)
Geometry INB Ideas & foldables

Looking at all of the resources that are online, I am getting more and more excited to work with these special group of students next year.  And I hope to be able to contribute to all of the fantastic resources listed above!

My HUGE goal is to use ISN’s next year with both my Geometry classes and my US History classes.  This was my first year using them in Algebra and 8th CCSS and I loved them.  I can’t see myself going back, but it will be a struggle trying to stay ahead of the game enough to know what I want to go in the ISN! 🙂  But I am never one to walk away from a challenge, so bring on 2013-2014!

#MSSunFun: Teaching Students How to Study for Assessments

#msSunFunYeah! It’s #MSSunFun and I am actually participating! 🙂 It’s been a while since I’ve joined in the weekly blogging, but I wanted to share what I do with my students to teach them how to study AND I am procrastinating doing a few others things right now, so it fits perfectly! And it ties to my earlier post on Failure, read that here.

A while back there was a conversation on Twitter about stamps we want so we  could use them on student work, obviously they were tongue in cheek, but I still had fun creating the graphics for all of them.  This one below was one of the main ones we discussed.  It is SO obvious to us teachers when students study and when they don’t. Our frustration with this comes because we are always looking for our  students to succeed and we also know all of the work we have done in class to practice and help solidify their understanding.  Since I use SBG, reassessments are a real part of my classroom and grading, I dislike grading retakes when they clearly didn’t prepare.  This is why I have added some additional requirements this year in order for them to reassess.Didn't Study

Due to using SBG, I have a lot of small skill quizzes rather than long tests, however I start the beginning of the year teaching my students that the word “quiz” does not mean they don’t have to study because it will be easier.  The math department has used the following handout to help students with studying for math tests.  It provides a list of helpful study strategies.

Additionally, I share the App/website StudyBlue with my students. (www.studyblue.com) It is a tech way to create flashcards, study guides, etc.  Students can even share with their school and classmates.  It remembers which ones you get correct and incorrect and will continue to build study from there.  It’s pretty cool and my students LOVE it.  Check it out!

I have created two documents that I have used since 2010-ish, I have used each at different times and for different reasons.

This document below is what I hand to my students in preparation for their end of quarter final. While we take skill quizzes throughout the quarter, I also want to focus on retention and they take a quarter final that covers all of the skills from that quarter.  They take out their skill folder and skill checklist and use that to help fill out the top part.  They also use their ISN and/or textbook to complete the middle part and they can use old examples from their ISN in the third part.  I do reference a textbook, while they don’t get one to use during the year, they can access it online as necessary. I reference a lot of the online practice quizzes and tests as good study tools because they check automatically while the students take them.

I have used this study plan document a lot with my US History classes, but my math students like it as well.  I make it available on my class website and they can use it as necessary.  At the start of the year we do a study skills unit in Advisory that I put together and this document is part of that unit, which means that all students are familiar with it.

I remember coming across Julie’s Study Guide Kit for Math Tests at the start of this year, http://ispeakmath.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/study-guide-kit-for-math-tests/.  I made a note to try and incorporate that into my ISN’s this year because I liked that there would be a study guide for each Unit/Chapter within their ISN.  I felt that would be useful for the students when it came to studying for the quarter final.  Unfortunately I forgot about it and did not start it this year, but I will be doing something similar next year.  I could see the right side of the ISN page being the folded study guide and the left side of the page being a modified (shortened to fit) study plan….but these are just thoughts right now.  I really like Mary’s Evidence of Study worksheet that she shared for this week’s #MSSunFun, http://teacherleaders.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/preparing-for-assessments/.  I will probably try and work that into my ISN somehow as well.  I like the parent signature for my middle school students.  I was also thinking about adding a Time Spent section so students could note how long they spent studying each night.

I love the sharing of great ideas and I am happy to participate!! Have a great week!

When is failure okay?

Is failure even okay anymore?  Does it teach a lesson? Or does the non-failure teach a better lesson? Whose fault is failure…student? teacher? other outside forces? I have these questions and more swirling around in my head.  It’s Friday, it’s been a very long day and I am attempting to put together something that effectively gets my thoughts, questions and feelings across.  I won’t get into the nitty gritty behind why these questions are at the forefront of my mind, but I will just say it’s not a good reason and made me very sad this morning.  Bullies do still exist in the adult world and it’s not cool.

Background: I use SBG and have been doing it in Algebra for 4 years. I’ve used it in Pre-Algebra for 2 years, but with Common Core this year I’ve only been doing it here and there this year because I’ve been spending too much time figuring out new curriculum design.  With that being said, all of my students are comfortable with SBG and what it means.  I am the only one using it in my building, though an ELA teacher uses it for one aspect of her class.  While explaining the grading at the start of each year can be rough on parents and students, eventually they do understand the grading and why I do it this way.  I have used the Angry Birds comparison that I found online from one of you. (post link to that here).

I truly believe that SBG is the way to grade and will not go back.  I love the conversations that I can have with students about their understanding of a specific topic.  We can address that they understand the concept but are making small algebraic errors or we can discuss their lack of understanding of the concept and identify the areas of confusion to put together a way to reteach/practice the concept.  They know what they know and what they don’t.  They reflect on their learning and know the steps they need to do to more forward.  They get frustrated when they make those small errors, but push themselves to practice and reassess.  The students feel supported and know that I will do whatever it takes to support them.

What I do: Students are allowed to reassess any skills throughout the quarter as often as they want in order to show mastery.  However, they do have to sign-up to reassess and bring proof of further practice of the skill they want to reassess.  I have learned (the hard way) that this is the way to go.  I had students in the past reassess and reassess without any practice thinking that the continual retakes would help them learn and eventually they would pass.  Kind of like the book under the pillow to study. 🙂  It didn’t work (go figure), but was a huge strain on both students and myself. Having them bring the practice is great because I can look over it before they reassess to make sure they are on the right track.

In my class, students must master each skill twice (or two 4’s) in order to master the skill.  At that point the grade in the gradebook will equal a 100% for that skill.  I offer 6 assessments on each skill throughout the quarter in class; there are 10-12 skills per quarter.  Anything they want to reassess above and beyond that comes from them and will be before school, during lunch or after school.  Doing it this way I feel helps to promote student responsibility in two ways…either they will work to master it in class by practicing and studying for the skill quizzes or they will work to master it on their own time because they want to get a skill “done” or needed a little extra help.  I do not view the help or reassessments outside of the school day as being bad, I see it as a way for students to realize when they need additional help and find ways to get it.  I do, every once in a while, require students to meet with me during lunch because they fell into my Red Zone on a skill.

Homework is not a grade.  I always struggled with what to do with homework as a beginning teacher and now that it is not graded I love it.  And guess what? The students still do their homework! I do check it daily (or have a student check it daily)to keep track of who is doing it, but that is for my information to help stay on top of a student who is on the verge of struggling.  If a student misses 3 homework assignments in a week or in a short time span, I will talk to them about it and make a note in the gradebook notes section that students and parents can see.  If they continue to miss their homework, they have to meet with me during lunch to work on it.  I do this in advance of the skill quizzes in order to help them before they may struggle.  Keeping track of homework completion is also helpful when talking with students about their skills mastery and when talking to parents about their student.

My Frustrations: I wish my gradebook system didn’t require my skills to be graded numerically.  That is the most confusing part to students and parents because we don’t have a normal grading scale (it’s higher than most), so when students haven’t mastered a skill, their “grade” in the gradebook looks pretty bad until they improve.  If I could grade without numbers and with proficiency levels, it would be fantastic.  Every year I work to teach my students that grades don’t matter, it’s their understanding of the skills that do.  Typically the students understand and it takes the parents a little longer…see my blog post earlier about a parent email related to this.

What do I do with the student who doesn’t care? Who doesn’t do the homework, doesn’t prepare for skill quizzes, doesn’t take advantage of reassessments, doesn’t take me up on my offer for help during lunch? I feel that it is HARD to fail my class with all of things I have in place, so what do I do when a student does fail? Obviously there is parental communication, but what else can I do?  When does the responsibility fall back to the student? When is it the student’s choice that is causing their failure?

The conversation that I had with my Admin today was one of having too many D’s or F’s.  Mind you I don’t have any F’s and had 5 D’s total from my 4 math classes (2 Algebra and 2 Pre-Algebra).  The conversation was one of what can you do differently to reach these students because clearly what you are doing isn’t working.  FIVE D’s???? I think my head almost popped off my body.  Here was my admin telling me I wasn’t doing enough to reach all students.  Really? Besides what I listed above, in my short 42 minute class, I do a lot of small remediation groups, 1-1 work with students, video chats on the weekends and review of topics with those that need it.  I was made to feel that my offering before school, after school and during lunch help and reassessments was implying that I wasn’t doing something in the classroom correctly. That it was bad for me to offer these things.  I was asked what I was going to do to change those grades from D’s to something higher.  WHAT? What about asking the students what they are going to do?  What about asking the students if they took advantage of any of the hundreds of options they have available to them?  Why was I made to feel that a D was an unacceptable grade and I shouldn’t allow it?  I was told that I should really be reflecting on myself and my teaching to make improvements because I must be doing something wrong.  I have thought long and hard about it…I think I am going to talk to my admin on Monday and ask what else they would like me to do (after listing everything I am doing) because I am at a loss as to what else I can be doing. I teach topics in multiple ways with different examples, the students have ISN’s filled with notes, examples and reflections to fall back on.  My students and I have a great rapport, we have fun, we talk about the ups and downs of life, we challenge ourselves with the math we do and we like it. And guess what? They learn in my class, they ask questions in my class, they want to know more about what we are doing and they help each other.  It’s been a great year and has allowed me to reflect and learn about what it truly means to be a teacher in this day and age.

The Irony: On Wednesday of this week I found out that instead of teaching 8th grade Algebra (Accelerated class) and Pre-Algebra (Regular class) next year (like I have for the past 11 years), I will be moving up to 8th grade Geometry, which is the best of the best…the gifted team.  It’s supposed to be a compliment to be teaching those students because they require so much and so much different than what I am use to.  However after leaving my meeting this morning with my admin, I was questioning why they would place me there if I had “SO” many students struggling in my classes; if I clearly didn’t know what to do to reach my students, why was I being moved? I felt as though I wasn’t good enough to be moved to teach those students. I don’t think that a teacher should ever leave a meeting feeling as though they aren’t good enough.

So what is the answer?  What does failure mean today? I am getting the feeling that it means that the teacher didn’t work hard enough and let the student slip through the cracks…at least that’s the impression my admin gave.  I don’t agree with that answer, but I am now not sure what the answer is.  I agree with SBG and students showing mastery, but I also believe there needs to be a deadline at some point, in order to hold them accountable, to work on responsibility, to allow them to move on.

Does your school allow students to fail? What things do you have in place to help them if they are struggling? Is there a lesson to be learned from failing and struggling?  I posed the question on Twitter on Friday because I needed to vent and see what other teachers and schools do.  The responses were great and now I just need to figure out how to move forward. How to move past how my admin made me feel, reflect on it and make sure I never make anyone student, parent or teacher ever feel that way. And to think about what else I can do in the classroom to reach all students.

Winter Break Goals

I have a lot I want to accomplish over winter break this year; I figured if I wrote a post about it, I would be held a little more accountable. 🙂 We will see how it pans out.
Blog – Day #1 of Winter Break

Winter Break Goals:

  • Blog daily (I have a long list of things I’ve been meaning to blog about…they just may get done this way.)
  • Clean up google reader (Everyone has written so many fantastic posts, I can’t wait to read them…perfect for avoiding time with relatives when you need a break from holiday festivities.)
  • Finalize group work norms & incentives (Need students to figure out how to work together better and work on Math Practices. Less social talk & more math talk.)
  • Work on Interactive notebook pages for upcoming units (Find or create foldables.)
  • Work on High School placements for students (Need to finish so I can conference with each student when we get back to school.)
  • Finish planning Linear Equations unit for 8th Grade CCSS (Want to make time for more investigations. I really want to do Barbie Bungee…)
  • Write sub plans for 2nd day back from break (I’m attending a training and have a great math sub. Still nervous about what to do on that day though.)
  • Clean my house
  • Take dogs to dog park
  • Write thank you notes to students & mail them

I think that’s it.  Oh and somewhere in there I want to relax and take a nap. 🙂