Archive for September, 2011


September 24, 2011 9 comments

We are now seven weeks into the school year and settling into a routine. This year, more so than others, has brought tears and frustration. I’m frustrated with things that are out of my control and saddened by situations out of my hands.

This year, I am teaching a cotaught Algebra 1 class. I am blessed to work with an amazing co teacher. She helps me and the students so much. The students in this class are so incredible. I’ve never had a group of students that crave affirmation and blossom with just a little encouragement. My tears have come as a result of hearing their life stories. So many of my students come from heart wrenching backgrounds. In my worst nightmares, I could not imagine facing what they have survived. The fact that some of them manage to get out of bed in the morning is miraculous in itself. Forget the fact that I have to teach them to factor a trinomial, I just want to teach them to function in society. Many tears and prayers have been spent on this group of teens. They have captured my heart.

My frustration comes with some former students and coworkers. Since I do teach a remedial or repeater class, I often have students who have never experienced any success in math. They come to me hating school and viewing me as the enemy. Through the magic of Standards Based Grading, I convince them that I am not out to get them, just measure their learning. Through Dan Meyer type activites, I get them to view math as a puzzle and somewhat fun. Some students have their first taste of success in my class. (It’s not me, it’s the blog world that inspires me.) I love the end of the semester when I hear things like, “I’ve never gotten an A in math,” or “I had fun in your class,” or my personal favorite, “I don’t hate math anymore.” (Once again not me, it’s all of you I steal from.)

These kids leave the safety of my room where homework is not graded and seldom required. They leave the world of retesting where tests are meant to measure learning and guide my instruction instead of punishing the student. Most of the students leave my alternative class and enter the traditional math classroom. (These are not students who aspire to go to college.) The students shut down in the traditional environment. They hate math again and stop working. Several come back and visit and we have heart to heart talks. I try to tell them that if they aren’t trying I can’t help them. I offer to tutor them and help them in anyway, but faced with 30 problems of book work every night and large chapter tests, these students revert back into a pattern of failure.

I am frustrated with them and their lack of perseverance. They have tasted success and it was not enough to inspire them. I am frustrated with traditional teaching. We are not getting this particular group of kids ready for college. We are trying to prepare them for life. This generation is different and requires new teaching techniques. Outdated pedagogy is not the answer. Most of all, I am frustrated with myself. Am I doing this group of students a disservice by trying to create an educational utopia in my room where failure is not an option and effort is rewarded? Is allowing a student multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery setting them up for failure in the future? Since I am the radical teacher in my building with my wild ideas about education I have few coworkers to ask this to, so my blog friends, here is the question: Have you encountered this in your schools? Are students who have been successful for you, failing for others? How do you justify this without labeling yourself as the ‘easy’ teacher? (I know this is several questions and not just one. Comments are not just appreciated, but desperately needed. Thank you!)

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Measuring Mastery

September 10, 2011 4 comments

Thanks to race to the top in Tennessee, there is a new evaluation system for teachers. This has caused tremendous amounts of stress among my coworkers and myself. Thirty-five percent of our yearly evaluation is linked to our students’ test scores. Fifty percent tie to professional evaluations. Fortunately, there is a rubric that explains the expectations for the evaluations. A teacher must post the daily objective and state standard. While I never posted the verbatim state standard, posting a daily objective was not new. The new part for me came with the requirement that I measure mastery at the conclusion of every lesson. I used to finish class with, “Here is your homework. Get busy on it.” the students would normally fake interest in the assignment and end up spending the last ten minutes of class talking. This was wasted class time.

Now that my job depends on this new evaluation system, I decided I needed to rethink the end of my classes. (Tenure is also out the window in TN. Two years of consecutive low ratings and you can be let go.) I always heard about Tickets out the Door and other such items and didn’t put much stock in them. I’m a believer now.

Here are some brief activities I have gathered that meet the requirement to measure mastery daily, without requiring too much preparation or time.

1. Ticket out the Door: This is a classic closure activity, but I don’t pre make mine. I have a stack of scrap paper cut into small squares and I hand them out and have students work a final problem in the last five minutes. Sometimes I have students grade them in class or sometimes I collect and grade. I never take an actual grade on them and so far, the students don’t seem to mind. It is amazing the effort they will put into this when you tell them, “Show me what you learned!”

2. Show me your sign: I taught my students sign language for the letters A, B, C, and D. At the end of class, I put a multiple choice question on the board. I give the students time to work the question. When time is up I say, “Show me your sign!” The students show the correct hand signal for the answer they got. This gives me a quick way to scan the room and see if the majority of students mastered the objective for the day or if we need to review it in the starter for the next day.

3. Find my Mistake: I have students work a given problem and make an intentional mistake. Students then trade papers to try and find each others hidden errors. I collect these at the end of the block. The students really get into this one, trying to make the mistake subtle and difficult to find.

4. Tweet It: Students are asked to use their cell phones (our school allows this) or are provided with a notecard. I ask the students to tweet one thing they learned in class today that is related to the daily objective. If they use their cell phones, they are required to hashtag our class so we can go back and read them later. This requires creativity since the students are limited on characters.

5. Write my Starter: I ask students to create a problem with a solution for our starter for the following day. I collect these and then type one up for the next day. I give credit to the student. They love to see their name on the projector and are proud when their problem is chosen.

When this new evaluation system started, I was overwhelmed and frustrated with the feelings of having to jump through hoops, but I can honestly say it has made me a better teacher. I now think about everything I do in class and if it measures learning and relates to the objective. I find I waste less time, but I’m still working on my transitions of activities. Overall, I never leave a class anymore without knowing if my students got it. Sometimes they do, and that is a great feeling, and sometimes I leave knowing I have to back up and punt tomorrow. Either way, I know and that’s progress.

By the way, I’m always on the hunt for closing activities that measure learning, so post away in the comments. Thanks!

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