Oh my goodness, this summer has FLOWN BY?! I had grad school classes for the first five weeks, then did some curriculum writing with my district for two weeks, mixed in with a lot of concerts and a trip to NYC to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and visit the Museum of Math and a really awesome MC Escher exhibit. And now teachers report back next Monday, students come back next Thursday, and I am NOT READY but also very ready.
I miss students in my life, which as always reminds me that I’m in the right profession. I miss making dumb algebra jokes with them, I miss singing Toto’s Africa or Sia’s Chandelier with them (what will the theme songs of this school year be???), I miss laughing and learning and loving with them. I’m stoked to have a bunch of new freshmen in Algebra 1, a ton of kids I had two years ago in Algebra 1 for Algebra 2, and the entirety of last year’s Algebra 2 class that was one of my favorites of all time is going to be the first ever Pre-Calculus class in our school!
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about changes I want to make in my classroom, as always. I learned so much in my grad classes this summer (real analysis, an assessment course, and Geometry pedagogy) and am excited to apply those ideas, plus talking to other teachers and reading books and continuing to expand my worldview have me itching to try some things out.
I want to keep my goals attainable – we talked in grad school about not changing too much at once, for several reasons. You don’t want to burn yourself out trying to totally overhaul your entire teaching style at once, and you also can’t tell what effects the changes have if you make a bunch at one time. So I’m going to set three larger goals for things to change this year, and then goal 3b is to check in on those goals regularly throughout the year on this blog (midterms and end of terms, possibly?)
Goal 1: Grade less papers
My assessment course and our district’s transition to standards based grading have made me think a LOT about how I grade things. I am a big believer in giving feedback in a timely fashion, because how are students supposed to improve and learn if they don’t have feedback on what they are doing well or what they could work on until two weeks after they did something? Last year, this had me grading papers for almost every class I taught almost every night. I’m going to go ahead and admit that this was not that bad because I just did it while I watched tv in the evenings, and I did not have much of a social life on most weeknights. I seem to have developed much more of a social life over this summer and I…well I really don’t want to be stuck in my house grading papers every night.
I had the realization during the assessment courses we took the last two semesters in my grad program that feedback =/= grading. Wow! Some of you might be thinking that that’s obvious, but I had been thinking of them as synonymous in my mind for the past five years. We talked a lot this summer about oral feedback, checklist feedback during work time in class, partner feedback, and other ways to get students the feedback they need without them necessarily having to turn in a piece of paper (or digital work) daily. With the population of students in my building (at risk students), I try not to assign homework, so there are plenty of opportunities to give them feedback on their work during class without me taking a bunch of grading home. I will still grade paper assignments sometimes, I am sure, but I want to develop checklists of problem solving skills / math skills (based on our SBG rubrics for each standard) that I can quickly fill out during class as I walk around observing student work and I can carry my chromebook around the room also to input proficiency scores for practice assignments, which don’t count towards their grades anyways.
The goal is to take grading home two days per week or less.
Goal 2: Experiment with non-traditional assessments
I started doing this a tiny bit at the end of last year, with poster projects for both Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 asking them to synthesize the information they had learned about sketching polynomials or solving quadratics. They got to choose problems from a list, or draw random problems from a hat. They got to consult with partners. They were much less anxious and stressed and I felt that the results were a much more accurate depiction of what they knew than the paper-and-pencil tests I typically give.
Those aren’t going to disappear, but I want to try more different approaches to help decrease some of the test anxiety I see. I’ve read a lot about giving timed consultation periods at the start or end of a testing period – a few minutes, long enough to discuss something you need to clarify or get validation on, but not quite long enough to have your partner explain how to solve the whole problem. When talking about our SBG implementation, our district curriculum specialists have mentioned combining several individual skill quizzes into one assessment score that encompasses an entire standard. I want to think about having students make a mini-portfolio by choosing problems from the textbook with certain criteria to demonstrate their knowledge.
Basically, I want to incorporate more collaboration and choice. Fundamentally, this is based on two beliefs I have about mathematics. In the “real world”, 1. my students are rarely if ever going to be forced to complete math work in isolation. There will always be an option to ask someone for help or use a resource. 2. they will rarely ever be told they have to solve a specific problem. The problem will present itself in a non-math way, and they will have to select the math that will best help them solve the problem and that they feel capable of doing.
The goal is to have at least one “alternative” form of assessment every half term in at least one of my classes.
Goal 3: Class time to discuss completed work
I think this is one of my biggest teaching weaknesses, honestly. Since we do so much of our work in class and also have issues with attendance, I tend to leave this kind of task to happen individually during our intervention period or during work time. So two things here. One, I want to bring a common misconception or work done by a student to the whole class’ attention at the end of class on a practice day to have a more solid conclusion to the work. Using the checklists I described earlier will help with this effort since I will be able to see boxes that I didn’t check for many students and find things to address easily.
Two, I want to really commit myself to taking ten minutes the day I hand back assessments to discuss them and have students ask questions. My students often don’t want to discuss their work as a class, so I’m thinking I will have to format this as a challenge: I want one question about why something you tried didn’t work, I want one person to share a solution method they think was unique, etc. Open to ideas on that!
My action research project to complete my masters degree will take a look at how self-assessment impacts student achievement, so part of this is also making sure to USE the SBG rubrics that I use to grade with my students and having them assess their own work using them, or rating their understanding of learning targets, etc. Mostly, I want my students to reflect more on their own work and not just turn in and move on.
The goal is to have some sort of activity that forces my students to actually look at their work every time I hand a summative assessment back.