Thursday, September 29, 2011

Test Corrections

In an effort to encourage students to learn from their mistakes, I allow students to correct their tests (and quizzes) to earn back half credit.  I started doing this instead of retakes since many kids just want to immediately retake the test without going back and learning what they didn't understand the first time around.  I like some of what I've seen where teachers require proof of remediation in Standards Based Grading, but this works for me for now.

Originally the process was: student shows up after school, we sit down with lined paper and their test and go through the whole test, I give them some extra points.  This was fine, but not many kids were taking advantage, and it was really time consuming for me.  Then at a department meeting our head teacher shared an article about tests as part of the learning process (as opposed to coming after the learning), we shared our methods of doing re-takes/correcting tests and then came up with a template for correcting tests.  We don't all use the exact same one, but I really like this one:

Test Corrections
Reflection in actual sentences is really important in my class (students journal daily) so I have students start filling out the questions on the first page while I'm handing back the tests.  At the beginning of the year we spend quite a bit of class time correcting tests together.  I hear some good conversations between students trying to figure out the differences between their answers and I am able to circulate and check in with the students who had more striking deficiencies.  As the year goes on we won't spend quite so much class time working on corrections, but I do try to give them as much time as possible because chances are kids need some help and if we do it in class they will be more likely to analyze their answer than just take a guess and hand it back in.

Guessing won't actually get you anywhere on a correction page.  It's fine to guess on the test (I'd always rather they write something than leave a question blank) but I am quite serious about the "No explanation = No credit" statement.  They need to fill in all 3 columns- what they are correcting, why they got it wrong the first time and why their new solution is correct.  I'm not looking for an essay, since I teach mostly Geometry they can get away with a nice drawing most of the time to explain their point, but there has to be something.

So far, so good this year.  It's nice to see most of the kids trying to learn from their mistakes.  Plus, the reflection questions give me some good early insights.  They tell me who is working really hard and still struggling (I studied for hours, thought I was totally ready and then bombed!) vs. who isn't very invested (actual quote from today "I don't study") vs. who has low expectations (I'm happy that I didn't fail).  This information influences how I approach students, plus I think they like the opportunity to share their experience.

I'm also doing this with quizzes this year (I have a half sheet version) but I may only allow them to correct the following class and after that they have to retake?  Not sure yet, still in the "How do you not know all the routines and norms yet?? Oh yeah, you're all new, I forget it's only September." mode and until we have settled in I'm not sure how that new addition will play out.  To end, a cute drawing a student made who got a 100% on her quiz:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grading with Stamps

Alternate Title: Gold Star or the Dreaded Clock?

So you may be wondering what on earth either title means, give me a minute to explain.  If you've heard of formative assessment you have probably heard of comment only grading.  And if you heard it from someone convincing, they probably gave the statistic (which I can't find at the moment) that shows if there is a grade on the page, most students don't even bother reading all the comments and corrections you took hours to write.  So you think, "Great!  I won't give grades!"  But then you remember that you still work in a school that runs on grades.  My PD leader suggested that we give grades on resubmitted work, but not on first drafts.  Sounds doable, right?  But I worried about that disorganized kid who loses their work that they actually did pretty well on the first time around.  I want to encourage organization and independence, but I also want to give grades that reflect knowledge, not the state of someone's backpack.  So, I finally decided to record the grades in my gradebook, but not on the students paper.

Three years later and this is still working out well, with a few tweaks.  The general procedure is: Students complete an investigation (mini project), hand it in, get comments (plus a secret grade) and resubmit for more credit (plus a shared grade).  On the day of the first investigation I tell students that this is just like English Class, we do a rough draft, hand it in next class no matter what state it's in, I comment, then they edit and submit a final draft.  The reference to rough draft has been helpful since in the past I had students who were unwilling to hand something in until it was 'done' (while I really wanted to grade them all in one sitting and provide feedback sooner rather than later).

The only issue is the kids on the two ends of the spectrum.  First you have the students who always get good grades; they are super worried about that one tiny thing they did wrong and want you to discuss the entire worksheet with them immediately.  These also tend to be the kids who would correct their papers even if they got a 98% to try for the 100%.  So now, students who earned an A get a gold star stamped onto the page.  Still no grade, so it could be anywhere from a 90-100%.  This rewards the students who worked hard the first time around and calms the worriers.  At the other end you have the child who sees a couple check marks (which mean an answer is correct) and a bunch of comments, but decide that it's good enough.  These students need some extra motivation to make sure that they resubmit their papers.  So, I found a cute little alarm clock stamp saying "Take Your Time" which I stamp on papers earning a D or F.  If I manufactured stamps it would say "Take More Time" but I don't, so I'm happy to have found something cute, action oriented and hopefully motivating.  Hence the alternate title "Gold Star or the Dreaded Clock?"

I just finished grading one class's first resubmitted projects.  Everyone who resubmitted improved to at least a C (2/3 to an A!).  Only 4 didn't resubmit, and this was our very first investigation.  I gave more class time to edit than I will later in the year, but I'm thrilled with the initial results.  Plus, stamps are fun :).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ambiance, Atmosphere, Aura?

The only rules in my classroom (other than the school mandated ones) are: be safe and be respectful.  With each class I have a discussion of their interpretations of my rules and we establish some norms together.  It amazes me how much my classes vary in their 'personality.'  (What's the word for a group's personality?)

My first class (A Block, Fundamentals of Geometry) may quickly turn into my favorite group.  As we were discussing what to do if you need to leave the room, someone asked what to do if they get mad.  I offered the option to ask for a pass to take a walk, but then someone suggested a "happy corner" and the idea took off.  Students were excited about the concept- deciding where it should be and asking when we could start decorating it.  The next class students were still asking when we could decorate, and I promised if we finished early we could start, but by the end of class we'd forgotten and got caught up in a game instead.  Today they still remembered, and I had the perfect activity- we were learning to use the compass and the book had instructions for making a 6 pointed flower.  We practiced arcs and circles, pulled out the markers, and quickly had a nicely decorated corner.  There's a chair in that corner facing a wall full of brightly colored flowers and it's well isolated from the rest of the room by my desk and a table.  I have no idea if anyone will use it when mad or upset or if I will think to use it as a time out space, but I'm thrilled that we're all having fun.

This class also came up with:
  • instead of making fun of someone, help them to understand
  • if everyone does their homework for a month, candy for all!
  • if someone isn't respectful, call them on it
My next class (B Block, Geometry CP) is a good group, but their personalities aren't as vibrant (yet?).  They came up with some reasonable norms, but nothing particularly insightful and certainly no one is excited about their rules.  This is my biggest group, the numbers are still fluctuating but they hover around 27.  My classroom isn't very big so they just fit, with no extra space, which means I have to be more diligent about keeping the noise level down as well as somewhat restrict movement in the room.  I want them to be comfortable, to talk to each other and to go get their own paper when they need it, but when the room is packed all of those things become just a bit more difficult.  Hopefully we'll find a way to work together in the space and find a good balance without being stifling or distracting.

Their not so inspiring rules:
  • Don't talk when others are talking (if someone is, say "be quiet please")
  • No goofing around
  • Be careful with tools
  • Respect each other (if someone isn't say "be respectful!")
  • Don't shout (wait to the end of class or walk over)
  • Get a pass before leaving
Sadly I don't have the rules from C or G Blocks to compare.  C Block is the Learning Skills class and they discussed rules with my co-teacher (who they spend most of the rest of their time with).  We're still figuring each other out in that class, but today went much better and I'm feeling less overwhelmed and more "I could possibly have a chance of success with this class."  During G Block one of the students offered to type and email me the rules, so I didn't bother to copy them down and I have yet to remember to remind him to send them.  They were pretty much just like B, also a Geometry CP class but not quite so big a group.

The final class (H Block, Fundamentals of Geometry) is already high tension.  There's a group of three girls that were a major issue for the entire year last year, which I learned as soon as I mentioned the name of the loudest one to her Algebra teacher.  Other students were already frustrated by the end of the first class and my co-teacher and I discuss them after class each day.  We're making progress which I hope continues because I really can't spend the entire year like this.  The rules in this class reflect that - none of the other classes discussed consequences, but they brought up consequences almost immediately (we decided on warning, name on board, after school-time dependent on number or severity of rule(s) broken).  However, they did also set up a reward if everyone in the class earned all 3's or 4's on the classwork rubric.  I should remind them of that next week, I'm not at all above bribery!

I wonder how this happens.  When you gather a group of 20-30 kids in a room, how do you end up with such different results?  It's even the same co-teacher in both of my Fundamentals courses, so it's not about the adults.  Time of day has some effect, but not nearly enough to explain these differences.  Is it just those few strong personalities?  In A Block there are a couple sweet, genuine kids that speak up and sit right in the front.  While in H Block there's that group of 3 who are intent on loudly discussing anything other than schoolwork.  Two or three students seems to be all it takes to set the mood for a group 10 times that size.  How do we encourage those leaders to be positive influences?  To carry the class further, to grow closer, to move everyone toward success?  One of the many challenges of teaching mathematics that has little to do with math...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Call for help

I just wrote the email below and then realized that I could ask all of you for ideas too!


This year I am teaching a new course called Learning Skills for students with significant learning disabilities.  They're mostly on the autism spectrum but some have other diagnoses.  In the past this course has been taught by a special education teacher alone, and they only did very basic math, pretty much just practicing addition.  The goal, though, is for these students to pass MCAS (but probably not until they are juniors or seniors).  I tried to google some basic math pre-tests to get a sense of what they know.  The first problem asked students to add the numbers 12, 6, 3, 8, 5, 14, 15 and 7, thinking about a way to make adding them easier.  Some were overwhelmed and skipped it, others turned to a calculator, still others added incorrectly and those who did add correctly didn't notice the pairs that add to 10 or 20.  The second problem gave data to make a bar graph from and they did that successfully.  I had anticipated using resources from when I taught pre-algebra, but I don't think we'll be able to use many of those until second semester at the earliest.  Which means I'm a bit lost.

My intuition is to focus on problem solving skills (habits of mind) and find interesting ways to drill basic computation.  For example, I remember a cool problem from one of my grad school classes that involved multiplying pairs of numbers on a number line and seeking patterns as you changed the pairs systematically. 

I would love to hear any book or resource recommendations you can offer.

Thanks so much!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Here we go!

The first day with students was today, it went great all considering!  We have a block schedule so today was 'Red Day' with blocks A-D, I teach A-C so it's my long day.  Normally we have 90 minute periods, but we had 2 hours of freshman orientation plus 30 minutes of homeroom (easy-peasy since I have Juniors), so I only saw each class for 45 minutes.

I had enough time to get through all the activities (find seat by matching multiplication and division flash cards, questionnaire, index card game, expanding sea creature) in both of my Geometry classes.  Those went largely as expected, the kids seem nice and were generally willing to play along with my antics.  I always spend the first week(s) overwhelmed by names, I'm not good at remembering names in the first place, so when I have over 100 to learn at once it takes some work.  Anthony and Antonio ended up next to each other in one class, in another Sara and Sarah are only 2 desks apart (randomly assigned seats).  I'll figure it out soon enough.

Learning Skills was a bit more complicated though.  That class is made up of students who aren't capable of the traditional curriculum for a variety of reasons.  They are above the life skills class, but still quite low.  One group (of 5) has Autism and the other group (of 15) is either on the spectrum or has some other type of disability (a couple have traumatic brain injuries, the rest I haven't seen the IEP's for).  The problem is, none of us know exactly what level each student is working at.  The Autistic group is all new to the high school and the rest were taught by a teacher who has now retired.  Then, the teacher who was hired to work with the Autistic kids just didn't show up to school yesterday or today.  Needless to say, things were a bit chaotic.  Math class turned out okay, there were 8 adults (between teachers and paras) so we got through my questionnaire and index card activity, but it turned out to be more than they were really ready for.  I had planned to work on logic problems next class, but I'm going to have to cut some of the wordier ones.  Since there are so many adults it's not critical that everyone can read the problems independently, but I don't know that their processing level is high enough.  A variety of pre-tests will be in order.  Turns out I didn't really know what I was getting into when I signed up for this class.  I'll figure it out, but the confusion of merging classes, a teacher not showing up and discovering that these students have trouble answering the question "What are your hobbies/interests?" left me a bit flummoxed.

At the end of the day I read through the questionnaires and found a pleasant surprise.  In response to the question "What class are you looking forward to most?" one student answered "Geometry, I heard you're a good teacher."  This year is going to be just fine.