Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Making adjustments and seeing benefits

I have always wrestled in my classroom with doing what is best for kids and learning. Opinion or experimenting sometimes win my favor but in the back of my mind I'm always thinking about what research says is best. That being said I've made some changes in my classroom lately that I think (both by opinion and research) are benefitting my students.

Begin with inquiry where students construct or discover much of what they are learning

In the (recent) past the videos were used to introduce new material and the idea was that we'd go beyond that material when students came to class. The trouble came with when students either didn't watch the videos or worse yet didn't understand them. By introducing the material through video I was also bypassing the opportunity for students to construct their own understanding through inquiry and make meaningful connections.

As a geometry teacher I want my students to understand the hinge theorem because they construct some triangles on paper rather than because they wrote something down what I said in a video--that won't make sense to them and they won't be able to apply it in new situations if they don't understand it.
I'm not throwing out videos, I'm changing the role they play in the learning cycle based on Ramsey Musallam's Explore-Flip-Apply method. Students first explore the concept in our classroom community, after our explore activities are complete they then view video (flip) later on to anchor what they are developing in understanding based on the investigation and then students apply the learned ideas to new situations. This has helped in focusing our class time and giving more meaning for us to scaffold our learning on.

Also during our class time I either begin with a question (often review but not always) or a new seating chart. I take attendance either by missing seats or by who didn't respond to the question. I base the seating chart off of data although the kids don't always know that. Our current seating arrangement places kids who scored better on our last assessment next to those that scored lower.
The intent is to raise the level of conversation for all students as we are doing these community based activities. Students will usually just choose their friends (which they still can on some days) but I want to make sure great math is happening at all groups. 
In some cooperative learning staff development I had years ago we were told never to place the highest achiever next to the lowest achiever (neither would be able to understand each other). With that in consideration, I created a seating chart that relies on recent High, Medium High, Medium Low and Low scores. I have students with highest scores seated next to students with the medium low scores and students with lowest scores positioned next to the medium high scorers and some of each at each table group. I also know which table groups are hot-spots in the room so I make sure to get to those more often as I anticipate they'll have more questions. I generate a chart for each class on a selected assessment and then throw screenshots into a Google presentation so I can access them quickly to either print or use at the start of a class.
For those that use my assessment system you can actually add the seating chart template to your current dashboard by searching and installing my seating chart script that is now available in the script library. It is also included for new users automatically.
My instruction needs to be more focused on learning targets.

I was concerned that by focusing on separate learning targets and objectives students would see the learning as separate modules and not make connections but instead I've been finding the opposite to be true. Because we've been more focused, students have more readily made the connections themselves.
As we begin new ideas, they are grasping them quicker and making connections across ideas that I haven't seen with past years. 
Students begin each unit by looking at a self-assessment rubric written for each specific learning target. They continue to look at the rubric as they are in the learning cycle and write down new dates as they see themselves moving to the next level. Students are taking more ownership in their learning by seeing what it will take to get to a mastery understanding of each learning target.
As a teacher I can anticipate the levels of understanding a student will show as they move through the cycle. This helps them identify their own level using specific indicators in the rubric can help them see where they are in the learning process.
Past practice for me was to just give them the "I can" statement but they didn't really know if they could or couldn't or to what extent. 
In anticipation of some students arriving at mastery sooner than others I'm trying to include a link for many learning targets to an activity that is an extension of the learning. Here's an example of a rubric for an upcoming unit.

No more homework quizzes

I've done away with submitting work answers online for class work that is formative in nature (not for grade). I found students were bypassing learning and just trying to come up with answers. I've been able to attend some staff development by Tim Kanold where he said to give students the solutions to homework for them to work toward in place of students not knowing the answers ahead of time. I have put together class work problems where the expectation focuses more on explaining their understanding and applying of skills from the current learning target and integrated review of targets from the past. 
Solutions are posted online (worked out by me) and also in a printed binder in the classroom and students are encouraged to check these both when they get stuck or when they finish. I said last week: 
"Don't assume that you are awesome and got them all right. You might be awesome, but just double check your solutions before you think that.
By giving students the solutions they are able to check for their own understanding and I am not spending my time recording more data in my grade book or checking individual homework assignments. I can spend my time as a teacher preparing meaningful activities for what we do while we are together.

Always reflecting on what we do

I believe that I will probably be doing something totally different a year from now or maybe even next month as far as class goes. I will always be looking for methods that will help my students learn math (and life) in more meaningful ways. I believe this is what makes us as teachers better is that constant struggle for how we can be better for our students. If you think there is a better way or I am totally off-base with this approach, please feel free to guide me in the right direction in the comments below. If you just criticize without offering solutions that helps no one.

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