Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reflecting on yearly goals & moving forward

I've set yearly goals a number of times, but feel like this is really the first year that I went back and reread my plans and made adjustments to actually try to reach them before the end of the year. Partly, this was due to blogging about them, as well as knowing that someone was going to check in with me in October to see how I was doing. Because the online accountability didn't end up being as ongoing as I thought it would be, I want to consciously reflect on my goals and think through what I want to continue doing or change for the rest of the year.

Recap of goals for this year (full post here):

  • Give back quizzes with feedback only, share the grade later.
    • I've been doing this and it's going well. Keep it up! Need to give more time in class to process and correct assessments, discuss with me and others.
  • Students must correct original quiz and demonstrate evidence of work/learning done in order to reassess. They may not reassess on the same day. 
    • I have not been as strict as I should be on this one. I basically tell them they need to do this, but don't actually check very rigorously. I have way fewer students reassessing this year though so it's not been a lot of work to manage. 
  • Teach students how to use feedback effectively. 
    • Sort of doing this... in-person meetings with students have been instrumental in my giving of feedback this year. I did a few peer feedback assignments and written reflections responding to my feedback, but need to do it more. 
  • Have students self-assess their practices via a portfolio.
    • Haven't done this yet, but plan to at the end of the semester. Need to check in with @crstn85, who's having her students self-assess their work on the mathematical practices and provide evidence for each one. 
  • Get homework and projects graded more quickly.
    • In-person meetings, describe here, have been really helpful with this. I discuss students' recent work with them in person so I am staying pretty current with grading. Definitely way more current with projects, which languished on my desk reproachfully for interminable periods of time last year.
Class culture
  • Continue using Visible Random Groupings and whiteboarding.
    • Done and done. I merged this with a goal for strengthening student-student relationships by having each daily random group go around answering a question (such as: if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? what is your spirit animal? what has been your favorite class this year? when were you last a good friend to someone? what is your favorite movie? etc) Students often give ideas for questions - it's been a great way to get to know students and to build trust and relationships in the classroom.
  • Continue my policy of having students volunteer to participate in class discussions, with the caveat that each person must participate at least once or they must start the next day's discussion. In addition, when groups report out, I can call on any member of the group.
    • Yep, still doing this and still prefer this over calling on random students. Everyone has to participate at some point, but they can choose when and how, which I think is important for communicating my beliefs about classroom culture and that contributions should be about learning, not for punitive or classroom management purposes.
  • Introduce talking points and exploratory talk ideas into class discussions and teach language of argumentation and mathematical discourse.
    • Uh, this one I've definitely failed to implement and not sure that I have the bandwidth to add another thing into the mix right now. I'll look over the list before the start of the next semester and plan out some actual activities rather than the vague idea to do this somehow somewhere.
  • Continue assigning bi-weekly reflections; include metacognitive questions as well as questions about mathematics and thinking routines/student learning. 
    • I have not been assigning longer metacognitive reflections as often as I did last year, but including a few reflection questions on most daily assignments. Definitely doing more questions that ask students to restate concepts in their own words, look for connections, and explain errors or discrepancies more frequently. I haven't really addressed the issue of thinking routines and how they are impacting student learning, other than asking students to reflect on their learning for bigger projects/write-ups. Need to balance the benefits of reflection with students not feeling like they are reflecting all. the. time.
  • Be more intentional about homework: assign fewer problems, spiral it in more intentional ways, and always provide answers in advance and worked solutions from students' own work after we discuss homework in class. Organize homework into Review, Reflect, and Reach. 
    • I'm much, much happier with how homework is going this year. I am lagging assignments, which allows class to be more flexible and not feel like it needs to cover a certain amount in order for homework to make sense. There is also more time for students to process and make connections in class before they are asked to do independent work on the topic. I am also seeing more retention since every assignment includes review that intentionally brings in topics that are related or that I think students could use more time with. I would like to assign fewer problems as we are still sometimes spending a lot of time going over questions, but they are good problems to be discussing.
  • Ask students to give themselves feedback on their homework. Continue assigning a catch-up day every 2 weeks.
    • I have had students give themselves feedback once, need to do it again. I have not had any catch-up days this year because students are able to complete assignments by the original due date since the work load has been more manageable and because they are getting feedback in person. Should definitely have at least one or few times that I ask students to pick an earlier assignment and revise it though.
  • I will continue having students turn in pictures of their homework digitally while keeping an organized notebook. 
    • I need to put more effort/teaching into students' notetaking. I would like students to take notes and write down questions/ideas/connections. This is especially important since we don't have textbooks so notes are students' only record of what we are learning. I also want to have students write down questions, conjectures, tests, and conclusions more formally - it will be really helpful to show models of actual student work so that students have a better idea of what this looks like. I am giving students time at the end of class to write down summary statements and examples, but need to do this at a few intervals instead of just at the end and give students more tips and feedback on how to do this better. I am providing a rubric for all assignments, but it would be great to have links in the rubric to samples of student work so that students have more specific models. I also need to provide students with models of what formal write-ups look like as well as what an "exemplary" (which is our highest level in the standards based grading rubric) level for each mathematical practice looks like. 
New goals:
  • Take pictures during class of work that is going on the whiteboards and post these - still need to figure out an organized way to put up this work so that students can find it easily if they need to review a specific topic and don't remember the date on which we worked on it. I currently provide a list of electronic resources for each topic we are studying - perhaps I can make a second column of links to pictures of our in-class work on that topic. I still need to think about what makes sense here - a chronological order or a topic-based order. One idea is to assign each topic to a student and put them in charge of writing a summary of the topic, including examples, and uploading this to a class online textbook.
  • Keep better track of students' progress. I have been doing a lot of discussion and in-person meeting, but not a lot has been in writing or communicated more formally. I am now starting to write down a summary of our in-person meeting with specific objectives listed, such as "review binomial distribution model and reassess on it next week" and then emailing the list of feedback and to-dos to the student. I should make sure to loop in the advisor when appropriate as well.
  • I need to have more regular meetings with my co-teachers. I have not been doing a great job of planning together or watching others on my team teach. I wanted to do some co-teaching and lesson study, but in the frenzy of the year, this has sort of fallen by the wayside. I'd like to recommit some time & energy to this in preparation for the second semester to figure out a regular plan for making this happen.
  • I need to figure out better ways to support struggling students in my classes. I have been more focused this year on providing sufficient rigor and challenge to students who learn quickly and want to explore more topics, but haven't been addressing as much the needs of students who need more time and to sit with concepts for longer and from more perspectives in order to feel more comfortable with the material. I need to structure classwork and homework occasionally to allow for more differentiation and review/reach, as needed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Student meetings for formative assessment

This year is going by in a blur, but I did finally squeeze out a few minutes to blog about something that I've tried this year that I'm really liking. Based on a description in the book, "Creating Cultures of Thinking," I implemented something that the book calls Individual Feedback Sessions (I just call them "regularly scheduled meetings," but sure, pick the fanciest name you think you can get away with), which were created by a teacher profiled in the book. His explanation of this strategy is here, but the gist of it is:

  1. Schedule 20 minute bi-weekly meeting with each student (he recommended meeting with 2 students at the same time, which I would do if I had a more typical class load). I meet with students before school, during lunch, during their free periods (if they overlap with mine), during tutorial, and after school.
  2. Discuss work that the student has turned in during the last two weeks (since the last time you've seen them). Go through their work with them in detail, giving verbal feedback. Either you or the student records a summary of the feedback (I put comments in the online gradebook and ask students to also write some notes in their notebook).
  3. Discuss the student's overall progress in the class, how they're doing incorporating feedback from previous sessions, and ask for questions about the content and for feedback on what you can do to support them better. Follow up on any issues that have come up in class with that student.
I have a schedule of meetings posted on the class page so students know when we're supposed to meet. For students who need a bit of an extra reminder, I have an automated email that emails them the day before our scheduled meeting. It is more work. I do have a much busier schedule during the school day as a result with almost no "free" periods. BUT, I do virtually no grading at home (other than quizzes, which I like to grade more quickly than a 2 week window would allow) AND I feel like students understand my expectations, really hear my feedback, and develop stronger self-advocacy and ownership of their learning. 

Grading papers at home by myself vs. interacting with an actual student about their actual work...
You do the math

Doing this has made it possible for me to assign better problems. I have been using IMP Problem of the Week tasks in my teaching for a long time, but every year, after grading a few write-ups, I became quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of grading (how the heck do English teachers do it??) and stopped assigning them. This year, I have already assigned four Problem of the Week write-ups for every class. And graded them all with students. And seen tremendous growth in their ability to describe their process and reasoning. Yes, I do think it's a valuable skill for students to learn to interpret written feedback from teachers, and I plan to do some of this in the second semester (perhaps, I provide written feedback first, then we meet and student explains how they understood it). But in terms of actually understanding and learning from feedback, in person conversations are waaaaaay more effective. Especially when I'm asking students to do mathematical work that they are not used to doing (writing about process, explaining reasoning, providing evidence, using formal notation and clearly annotating work, etc). Overall, I do think it takes more time, but it's much more fun for me and results in more learning for students so I think it's worth it. 

As the semester winds down, I am starting to ask students to give feedback to their own work and to the work of their peers so this is definitely not my only model for feedback. And as always, I'm curious to learn more about others' approaches and ideas on this.