Thoughts from the Semester

As the first semester winds down, there are several things I have been reflecting on in my mind. I spent one class period of semester exams organizing a drawer full of manipulatives I created this year and it feels great to be clutter-free…so, I think organizing my thoughts about this semester in a post will double that feeling. Before my mind goes to winter break, here’s what I’ve been thinking…

  1. SBG Grading: I have continued to do a lot of research on this topic as I find my right path in standards based grading and I have a lot I feel confident about but also still have a lot of growing to do in this area. 
    • Disaggregating Quizzes: The main thing I am proud of that has worked really well is disaggregating my quizzes. Each quiz I give might be on one standard or it might be on multiple. Instead of giving one grade on the multiple standard quizzes, I give a grade for each standard. This has helped students (and myself) pinpoint exactly what students are mastering and what they still need to work on. Students come in to correct and retake only that portion and are using the language of the standard when they need to retake.
    • Self-Evaluation: I also like having students reflect on how they think they did on each quiz. I made this much simpler than my original plans (1. because it took up too much space, and 2. it saved time). At the bottom of each quiz is a simple question, how well do you think you mastered the standard ____________ of of a 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4. Then there is a space for any comments for me to read and respond to. This adds an extra piece for them to re-read the standard, self evaluate, and provides a communication tool between me and the student.
    • Two areas of growth that I need to continue to work on are disaggregating tests and possibly being more standardized with my grading. I reverted back to 0-100 because it was easier for me and easier for students, but I still have thoughts about using a 4 point scale.
  2. I want to make reviewing for the Algebra 1 STAAR engaging and worthwhile for students. Sometimes when reviewing for several days (like for semester exams), I must admit, there are days where I feel like some students work and some students just waste time. I know if I don’t do a good job of planning the days, it will not be beneficial for students. I don’t want this to happen with STAAR review next semester. I have some stations I can use, I know I want to do a test taking strategies mini-lesson, and students need to continue to see past tested problems..but, in what ways can I make this enticing to students?! So…any ideas for standardized test prep is more than welcome here…leave a comment!
  3. I want to explore the Desmos activity builder more ( I saw this parabola activity on Twitter the other day and it looked really fun! It could be a great intro to quadratics for my Algebra 1 kids…or a follow up…I need to look into it more.
  4. I had an idea the other day while I was working with students on word problems and I realized students were reading from the middle of the sentence, jumping around to find key words, and then trying to answer the problem. As warm ups next semester, I need to include more lengthy problems and focus on reading strategies. I thought about starting out by covering up random parts of the sentences like they do in their minds and asking them to solve the problem…nearly impossible! Then with that hook, we can talk about more reading strategies to solve math problems throughout the following weeks…perhaps I can collaborate with our English teacher on the team.
  5. I planned a Julia Robinson Math Festival to be held at a local university for students at our school and a feeder middle school, but unfortunately we had to cancel it because of a huge flood back in October. We are rescheduling for February, but it is still not solidified and I just hope it can work out and be something extra for students to become more interested in math.
  6. I got accepted to present two sessions at CAMT, but soon after applying, I found out I was pregnant!! 🙂 🙂 With my due date only a couple weeks before the conference, I decided it was best to turn down the opportunity to present. I hope I can make it to the conference at least for a couple sessions in between baby time to continue learning this summer.
  7. Lastly, I want to continue to help my students become nicer and more thoughtful citizens. With bullying and hate so prevalent in this world, I as their teacher, want to instill a sense of kindness in my students that goes against high school stereotypes and promotes inclusiveness and compassion for others.

If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this post, thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful holiday!!  



Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

I have been thinking a lot about grading, assessment, and the meaning behind these to both teachers and students. I have read Dan Meyer, Daniel Schneider, Educational Leadership, Matt Townsley, and Rick Wormeli while researching and talking with colleagues about mastery and standards based grading (SBG). I really like a lot of the ideas of SBG including more frequent and smaller assessments that allow one to know a student’s mastery on a standard. I also like the thought of a 1-4 scale and the language that is used to convey what each number means. One example I found that I really like is that the Solon School’s language in their rubric (1).  CaptureHowever, I am still struggling to wrap my head around SBG and mastery in the math classroom. I still have lingering questions that honestly keep me up at night. I want to do what is right for students and I want to push them to understand what they know and what they don’t. Even further, I want them to take charge of their learning and with my feedback, help them to know how to gain mastery on a concept.

Here is what I want to keep in my classroom regardless of grading…

Student communication and group work: I think when students talk out mathematical problems together, they cognitively grow a lot. A student’s ability to explain a topic further enriches their own understanding, and when they hear an explanation from another student, they relate to the language they’re using. So, regardless of how I grade and what I grade, I still want students to work together to solve problems.

Reasoning: I also want to be sure I am still allowing room for reasoning and processing skills beyond algebraic skills. I want to continue to provide opportunities for students to explain and justify their understanding of concepts through written and spoken dialogue. Whether this fits into a numerical grade or not, students still need to be pushed to think deeply and justify their reasoning.

Here are my questions that linger…

How do I keep students motivated to practice mathematical concepts they are struggling with? How do I motivate beyond grades in practice settings? Ultimately, how do you stop students from asking, “is this for a grade?” A lot of SBG research shows that you should not grade homework because you should not penalize a student when they are practicing their mastery. I agree with that to an extent. As a basketball coach’s wife, I know that practice is important, but that my husband should not grade his students in their practice sessions. It all comes down to the game. The game is where they will be graded based on if their shots fell, if they played zone defense instead of man to man or vice versa, if they passed the ball smart, if they turned the ball over, if they made their free throws, etc. If he included practice in their final grade, the score at the end of the game would be quite skewed. Similarly, homework practice should not be a penalty or a reward to a student’s average…it should be a check for understanding and an identifier of strengths and weaknesses on the road to understanding. Overall, I don’t want to penalize my students for practice they get wrong. However, most students are much more motivated by sports than math practice. So, how do I keep my students motivated if I don’t grade practice? Naturally, you would think that they should make the connection that when you practice, you get better. So, when you do more math practice you should do better on your quiz/test…but students don’t always think in advance and the most common thing I hear in the classroom is, “is this for a grade?” I think I need to hold them accountable to doing practice and/or homework by counting it for a portion of their grade, but it should not inflate or penalize their average. Additionally, I think the word “homework” needs to change. It has such a negative and dreadful connotation, but I am still thinking about what it should be called.

How do I create a balance between group practice and independent practice? How do I convince students that individual work time is just as, if not sometimes more, beneficial than group work? And finally, how do I convince students that individual assessments are meant to be informative not punitive, especially when we take points off for wrong answers rather than give points for correct attempts? Right now I give a lot of time for group practice. Again, I love the learning that happens when students talk through math. But I am realizing as I read more about SBG, I need to create more opportunities to show what they know individually. In that, I need to create time to give my feedback to them on an individual level beyond tests. I think by adding in more frequent assessments, this will do that and give students the opportunity to analyze what they know. These could just look like short quizzes done on note cards at the beginning of class. They could be graded on a 1-4 scale with more feedback than a regular assignment as it leads up to a cumulative summative assessment. The question then becomes, do I have the time myself to dedicate rich feedback more often to every individual student? How do I create that time, especially as a math teacher, when so many of my days are dedicated to teaching new material rather than refining knowledge students already know? Ultimately, can someone find me some more hours in the day? 🙂

Feel free to respond to any or all of my questions, share this with every educator you know, and continue the conversation of grading and assessment!