Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On My Mind

Our last day of new instruction for Algebra classes was yesterday, and we are off today due to effects of last night's tornadoes (no loss of life in our area, thank goodness!). So I find myself with the mental space/energy and the time to start thinking about next year, what to keep, what to quit, and what to beg my colleagues to try. Here are the big ones and excerpts from the articles and blog posts  currently fueling the fire.

Abolish Graded Homework

"Stop giving points for homework! That only enforces economic-type abuses. Football players are not doing bicep curls for points, they know it’s necessary for a good game-time showing. Give a whole lot of a ungraded homework. They’ll have to organize their thoughts and decide what’s necessary for them to do. This is working splendidly in my room, the kids were irresponsible at first, and I handed out F’s like candy. After clear explanations, and the use of SBG, they’ve turned a corner." - Shawn Cornally (ThinkThankThunk)

And a response to grading homework for the purpose of "padding" their grades:

"You asked, 'What about the student who struggles with math? Where is the homework score to 'help' their grade?' With all due respect, I think this is not the question we should be asking. If Suzie struggles to understand 7th grade math, but her homework completion 'helps' her grade, what is her chance of success at the 8th grade level and beyond? I'm guessing we're doing her a disservice by inflating her grade, falsely communicating her level of understanding, and setting her up for a below-average chance of success at the next level. Also, homework is done outside of class - copying and other uncontrollable things happen. Let's say 40% of all math homework is copied. If you weight homework at 50% of the overall grade, you are mathematically rewarding students for cheating by giving them a "free" 20% (40% of 50%). Furthermore, once homework is viewed as 'practice,' there is no need to consider it as part of the grade. It is the FINAL level of knowledge that should be reported rather that some quasi-calculation of progress along the way." - Matt Townsley (comment, MeTA Musings)
This, this, ten thousand times, this. I don't want to hide the gaps in my current students' skills from next year's teachers. I don't want the gaps in the rising freshmen's skills hidden from us. I don't want parents of students whose previous grades have been inflated shocked and outraged when their children don't have As. I want them to make informed decisions for and with their children, and I want them to understand why their kids are struggling and be able to see specific, achievable steps to catching up. I want to stop hiding information about what students know from the parents and the students themselves.

Alternatives to traditional, graded homework: A portfolio system

Switch to Standards-Based Grading

Thoughts on why traditional grading kind of sucks from Matt Townsley:

"Consider Student A who bombs the homework, bombs the quiz, but 'gets it' between the formative assessments and the test (assessment that 'goes in the grade book'). Now consider Student B who 'gets it' on the homework, aces the quiz and aces the test. In the old system, Student A is penalized for not 'getting it' early, so his/her grade suffers. Student B's grade looks outstanding because he/she 'got it' right away and earned all of the points along the way. If Students A & B both have the same level of understanding, I believe that what is reported out about these two students should be consistent as well." - Matt Townsley (blog post: MeTA Musings

And Shawn Cornally:
Why are you reporting cryptic titles like “Test 4″ and “Unit Quiz 1.2?” Those tests and quizzes, or whatever assessment tools you use, are aimed at testing content standards, so stop destroying information by adding the scores, and just report proficiency by standard! The thrill of having a high schooler walk in to your room and say the following should be enough to bring you into the fold: “Mr. Cornally, I was looking at my grades, and I’m pretty sure I need to work on the quotient rule. Then, I think I should do a problem like the one of the quiz to show you I get it.” - Shawn Cornally (ThinkThankThunk)
And Shawn Cornally again, this time addressing the shifts accompanying SBG:
Students could not care less about their score on “Quiz 5″ from last month; they don’t even know what was on that quiz. Don’t put that in your gradebook. Put the individual ideas that that quiz assessed in your gradebook, so that the students know what it is you care about.  - Shawn Cornally (ThinkThankThunk)

And a Townsley article on implementing SBG districtwide: "Redesigning Grading--Districtwide

Other Resources:
  • This post went a long way towards answering some of my remaining questions. The SBG Assessment flowchart was particularly valuable. I also thought the descriptions of what SBG should not look like vs. what SBG should look like were super helpful. 
  • I'll probably also be using this one to help in persuading my colleagues to make the switch.
  • This list of blogs written by teachers using SBG looks promising.
  • Jason Buell wrote two blogs posts about the (perceived) disadvantages of SBG.

Current Conclusions and Questions

  1. I kind of don't think homework or quizzes (at least as they are now) should be graded. They're the check-ups, designed to help correct the course when we're not heading towards meeting our learning targets. OK, honestly, there is no kind of about it, and I am just scared of the overhaul I think this is going to bring. No matter how exciting, I am probably always going to find major change to be pretty terrifying.
  2. SBG. Let's just say I have drunk the kool-aid, and now I am having to find a way to make that kool-aid palatable for colleagues who are slow to buy-in to new practices. Projected battles:
    • Ease of grading: We currently use GradeCam to grade our unit tests, which are all multiple choice. (Sidenote: we allow students to do "revisions" where we mark the items they missed and they get a second shot at them immediately. The idea is that they go back and check their work, finding where they went wrong. The reality is that students are told which items to go back and guess on. I am not entirely at all comfortable with this.) Grading 150 unit tests by hand would be a pain. However, we currently grade quizzes by hand, and we give many more quizzes than tests. So, what if we switched it up and graded quizzes via Gradecam and tests by hand...From everything that I've read, SBG assessments are meant to be much, much shorter than what we're currently using, though possibly more frequent.
    • Pacing/Logistics: When does the reteaching happen? Or are we supposed to trust kids to work on skills/concepts they haven't mastered outside of class? Clearly, at some point, we must move on. We can't spend an entire quarter on simple equations while we wait for our stragglers to catch up. That smacks of all the worst parts of NCLB.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Things Kids Say

Overheard during the class change. I am standing in the hall, outside my door as students enter the classroom. 

Male Student #1: Hey, how do girls get make-up off?

Male Student #2: They don't take it off. They just put more on top of it.

MS #1 (calls out): That doesn't seem right. Hey, Mrs. S., how do you get make-up off? Like off your eyes?

Me (without looking at the kid): Well, I use eye-makeup remover pads. Why?

MS #1: 'Cause my sister wanted to put makeup on me last night, and I let her. But then she went to bed, and I couldn't get it off, so I scrubbed at it, and got most of it off, but you can still see it, and she left before me this morning, so now I've just been wearing makeup all day.

MS #2: Well, if it's still there, it probably isn't coming off. On the bright side, your eyes look pretty!

Bonus: Things I Should Not Have to Say to 9th Graders

  1. Don't lick that.
  2. Why do you have a latex glove?
  3. Put your shoes back on.
  4. Please don't pour Powerade into that glove.
  5. Don't eat that.
  6. Please don't put that in your mouth.
  7. No, I don't want to smell you, but thanks for asking.
  8. Why are your hands wet?
  9. Don't lick him.
  10. I'm sorry your feet are sweaty, but you have to put your shoes back on.
  11. Are you telling me your hand just spontaneously started bleeding?
  12. No, really, put your shoes back on. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Warm-Up: Perfect Squares Timed Trials

Inspired by this post from miscalcul8, I tried something new with my classes this week.

I have been unhappy with how much time we spend on bell work each day and with the low percentage of students who are actually engaged during that time. This week, I've started each class with a perfect squares speed drill, and I don't think I will ever go back to doing bell work the old way.

Here's How This Looks in My Classroom
The kids use calculators as needed to simplify 1^2, 2^2, ..., 16^2. (The stopping point was arbitrary; I project the problems and with the font size I chose, 1-16 fit perfectly.) I use the stopwatch feature on my phone and time the kids starting when I say, "Go!" As soon as a student completes the problems, he stands up, and I stop the clock when everyone is standing. I've been recording the time for each class on the board all week, updating the times as each class sets a new person best, and it's really sparked a lot of interest among the students. (When students are coming in for class, their first stop is the records board where they see if their class's time has been beaten, but I'm also having a lot more kids pop in between classes to check the times.)

Things I Love About This
  1. Students are eager to get started. My expectation for bell work has always been that students should get out their supplies and get started as soon as they enter the classroom and before the bell actually rings, but all year, I've found still having to prompt most of my classes to actually do so. For the first time all year, I've made it through an entire day without having to prompt students to get out the supplies they need or to get started.
  2. Kids like standing up. The kids get a chance to move a little (especially good in 1st period when they're all still asleep).  Students who wouldn't consider themselves particularly good at math are seeing that they are often among the first to finish or at least are not the last to finish. It makes keeping an accurate account of the time easier since I'm not looking for a pencil to be put down but for a student to stand.
  3. Everyone is participating in the warm-up. At this point in the year, I have a few students who know they will not pass the course, and motivating them to participate in anything is a major challenge. I have several other students who are hit or miss--sometimes, they'll come in and work hard, and sometimes they won't try anything I put in front of them. Monday, most--but not all--kids participated. On Thursday and Friday, I had 100% participation in every class--a minor miracle! 
  4. More kids are participating all period long. I think giving the students something they can all complete and experience success with at the beginning of class has made a big difference in their willingness to try more challenging tasks later in the period. Providing opportunities for small successes early on is certainly not a new idea when it comes to student motivation, but I have had trouble providing these opportunities on a daily basis.
  5. Students are studying! Because they want to! I have heard several students say that they have written down the problems and answers and have been studying in the evenings and throughout the day to improve their time. While I have mentioned a few times that once they have the answers memorized, they'll be able to get their times down, I have not at any point suggested that they study these outside of class. The students who have mentioned studying have all seemed a little surprised that they're actually doing it, and I admit, since many of them are students who have probably never studied, I've been more than a little surprised myself. 
In the upcoming week, we'll be focusing more on accuracy first, and then speed. I also plan on having them go up to 20^2. We'll be working on weaning ourselves from the calculator, as well.