A “typical” class

I try to think deeply about what my life would be like if I was given more freedom than I currently have to run my classroom the way I would like.  I know that I have TONS of autonomy at this point, but due to the relationship with a teacher prep program, my awesome big people/student teachers need to teach in a somewhat more typical format to progress in the program.  So with that said, here’s a “typical” format for me:

Welcomes, Learning Log, Revision, Unit Work, Exit Ticket

Welcomes: Students arrive to my lovely classroom and choose which kind of chair they would like to sit in (rolling office chair, saucer chair, typical school chair) and move furniture to sit in their zone.  They are greeted with hellos and welcomes from not only their teachers but also their peers.  If applicable, students receive a handwritten thank you note about their leadership contributions to class and other peer-nominated recognitions and accomplishments. (The students get VERY excited about these notes, usually thank the class for the acknowledgement, and then carefully place the cards into their folders to bring home.)  Students transition to the Learning Log portion of the class as they have settled into the community.

Learning Log: Students have a weekly yellow Learning Log (LL).  (I have it color coded so it is easily spotted in bags and on tables and resist using yellow for other handouts.)  I then sing, yes, I said sing, the names of the kiddos that have retrieved their LL and have started to record the topic for the day and started the Do Now.  The topic is a student-friendly objective truncation and finishes the questions “How do we…” or “Why do we…”  The Do Now, oh the Do Now, is a short prompt, usually to review a skill from previous units (and then is evaluated for accuracy) or a primer for the upcoming lesson/topic/unit (and is evaluated for completion).  Students earn a stamp to show they have successful met the day’s requirements of the Dow Now and students may move on to the next agenda item.  Do Nows are not timed, but rather students move on when they have finished the requirement.

Revision Work: I am a HUGE believer of students make significantly more progress when they receive feedback from previous work and then have a structured way to make revisions.  While I have days dedicated to revision (and are called the super original name of “revision day”) for longer assignments or projects, I like to have the transitional time between the LL to the unit work dedicated to help students iron out misconceptions and errors, and build confidence before moving forward with the new material.  Students receive the previous day’s exit ticket or work with written feedback (not advice) with the question “do you want to revise this work?” Students look over their work, read their work and feedback, and then decide if they want to revise.  I’ve yet to have a student say no if there was anything that could be improved.  But I always pose it as a question, a choice, so students have more power in their world.  Students correct their work, write about how their new work shows improvement on each standard, and independently complete an alternative form of the same assignment.  All of the pieces get bundled together and reassessed.  During the revision process are able (and encouraged) to seek help from any person, book, anchor chart, or previous work in the room.  (I am still working on how to have students use the internet as a resource.)  Students don’t want the answers from one another because of the whole explain-your-improvements and now-do-a-similar-problem situation but they do request explanations and they make up problems together to practice the skill on their own.  (And, does it make me excited to see when they make up their own problems to practice.)  Once the kiddos have turned in their revision work, they move onto the unit work.

Unit Work: Once students have transitioned from their LL and revisions, they are ready for continuing their work on their unit mastery!  I try to have a 3+ day string of mastery check points.  Everything gets bundled together, with explores and practices, everything color coded by part so that students may see where they are in terms of the progression and timeline.  Students move at their pace, to a point, through the material.  The students are given an approximate timeline with a bit of extra flex time built in.  The students read through objectives and standards and look at the Criteria for Success and exemplars.  They ask questions and find resources to help them move through the tasks, seeking mastery.  The tasks change depending on the day and unit but the students move forward.

Exit Ticket: With roughly 7 minutes left in class, it’s Exit Ticket Time!  Private think time happens in the lovely room 054 and students work independently on the exit task.  If the students have more time before the end of class, students return to their unit work.  Students pass in their ET and say their goodbyes for the day as they leave.

That’s a typical day in my room!  Huzzah!


This Work is Challenging

Some of the things I talked about doing last year came to fruition.  Many didn’t.  It was pretty disappointing for me.  I did more creative/thinking-focused/choice-incorporated/knowledge-building assignments.  Students begged for “math class” – to many students, a place where the teacher explains exactly what to do and how.  I tried to give purpose for my choices and show how rewarding this work could be.  Maybe (maybe) now in late February, students have (kind of) come on board.

I did more product-focused assignments.  Making sure that the product-making didn’t become rote, that the product required new and deeper thinking, communicating to students how that deeper thinking looks, what that deeper thinking is was truly challenging.

I gave students far more work time (and far less me-talking time).  Even with lots of rich tasks and choice, management is challenging.  45 minutes of work-time is a lot of time for a 9th grader.  Keeping students focused remains my personal hardest struggle.

Maybe I’ll too hard on myself?  But this is just to say, this work is challenging.  Planning (and using good research) to teach in a way I believe in did not just magically make everything click.  I am more happy, mostly, with what the students’ are learning and how much they are thinking, but it has not been, so far, everything I imagined.

Revision Day

Several math teachers I know, including Kogut, do successful revision days.  I tried a couple of times last year to mixed results.  Similarly at the beginning of this year.

This term, however, I think I may have gotten somewhere.  Here’s what (finally) went right.

1) This term, we had our first revision day after only 3 assessments. With only 3 assignments, it was attainable for students to revise all or almost all of their work so far.  Sweet!

1a) Since we do standards based grading in the way we do it, assignments show up under multiple standards on a progress report.  This makes the progress report harder to read and perhaps more intimidating (the 3 assignments each show up 3-5 times on the report).   As students fixed and then re-took an assessment, I showed them all the places they could check off that assignment.  Suddenly, the progress report was less overwhelming!

2) Retaking to demonstrate mastery.  Because I had multiple versions of each assessment, with students who were more behind and needed more help, a peer or I could assist them on (re)learning the material they struggled with and then trying another version all by themselves.  In some ways, I feel like this is a cop-out (are the students thinking? will they remember later?) but in other ways, this shows students that they can do tasks that they avoided or missed the first time ’round.  And for more skills-based tasks, I’m ok with this.

3) I got to focus on 1/2 the class.  Because I have student teachers, I got to focus on 1/2 the class while they worked with the other half.  I think this day could have been successful with just me, but it definitely helped.

4) Instant gratification — I gave out progress reports the next day and made a big deal about how much people who worked hard the day before improved.  Especially since there have only been 3 assignments, students got to see how much their work paid off.

Next step – Kogut made this awesome “re-evaluate me on ____ standards because ___” form. I’ve used it when students are revising more “thinking” assessments (instead of skills assessments where they just take another version), but incorporating this for all the time is my next step.

Also, sometimes i had to interpret my or my student teachers’ feedback for the students.  We should work on making our feedback clearer so less teacher help is required.

When people come observe, I feel I should apologize.

But that feeling doesn’t last for very long.  


I run a class in such a way that the students do what they need to do, and I try my best to stay out of their way.  Sure, I communicate what they need to do, through Criteria for Success indicators and some sort of loose agenda posted.  And I supply them with resources (oh the resources!).  But for the most part, they move from one things to another as they earn it. Yup.  They need to earn the work, the next step, the homework.  And do the kiddos work to earn it.  

In a two week period, I had 5 visitors to my E block class.  The students were unphased by the visitors.  (And amusingly enough, they just approached the people as if they were an additional resource, just like an anchor chart, textbook, or calculator.)  Because of the way that class works, I am able to sit with the visitor for 8-14 minutes and answer any and all questions about what the visitor observes or to give a bit of background to the work.  But usually the first thing that pops out of my mouth is an apology: “Sorry, you don’t get to see me teach today; this is how the class works.”  Sure, I am not at the front of the room leading the children to the wonders of mathematics.  But that’s how I roll.  (And yes, there are days that I am, but I usually don’t like it.)  But the piece that makes other people/observers/evaluators more nervous about the work that we do in lovely room 054: we aren’t all together for very long.  One observer told me he measured we were in “whole-class” mode for 3.5 minutes.  Total.  Of 58 minutes.  And I kinda thought that was too much time for that particular class.  

I am often in negotiations with other people about what I am doing should be considered teaching.  Or maybe a better word is facilitating.  Or herding.  But regardless of the title, the children are learning some mathematical thinking.  And to be independent.  And to consult peers.  And use multiple sources to improve.  And make and meet personal deadlines.  And self-evaluate their learning.  And that effective effort leads to improvement.  And personal accountability is better than any other sort of accountability.  And that everyone in our community has and uses strengths to improve.  

And I feel much of that above list more important than the children mastering most of the math content required.  

So I guess I should stop apologizing for doing what I think is best for the kiddos that I have.