But for the 20152016 school year, I will be returning to a more traditional teacher’s role and teaching mathematics again (due to mainly budgetary reasons, not because I wish to discontinue my role this year). At first, I dreaded this move back to mathematics, but now I am more excited about it, mostly because I hope to be able to incorporate the many things I learned this year (about students, my school, interdisciplinary work, educating a person rather than teaching a subject…) into my practice.
At the moment, I am thinking about how to incorporate Mentor Texts and DocumentBased Questions into mathematics (particularly Algebra 1) so that students may use the same learning protocol in MANY content areas, rather than just humanities. So, the main takeaway from this year (see above, bolded) leads me to want to try more exciting mathematics through studentknown methods. I am excited to collaborate with the teachers who have taught with these instructional protocols for years (and those who tried it out for the first time this year) to build up students’ ability to think critically in all content areas.
jk
One “tool” I’m thinking about today is this “favorite mistake” activity. I first heard it as a Do Now review where the teacher quickly looks through student answers to the Do Now and then posts his/her “favorite mistake” for everyone to discuss.
In many of the classrooms I’m in, students are much more focused for the first 2/3 or so of class, and become less focused/productive near the end. One idea I’m toying with is a remix of My Favorite Mistake …
With about 15 mins left in class, post one (high leverage) problem and two solutions. Every time, there is EITHER one accurate/one mistake or two mistake. Students think/write/decide in partners and then vote and discuss (this, tailored to the context and teacher, and more fleshed out). Followed by some sort of exit ticket/reflection about the entire class.
I hope this idea will help give more focus/thinking/interest to the end of class.
1) Keep it simple. Better to do fewer things more in depth/well than be scattered. If you have shortened periods, don’t try to cram things in. As my boss put it, students will remember the “how” more than the “what.”
2) Don’t forget the “how”! Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s important to outline expectations for how things get done. Make sure you know how you want everything done and can explain it concisely.
3) What’s the purpose? Backwards plan even “Unit 0.” Know exactly why you are doing each activity. Tell students why and how what they’re doing connects to the course.
4) Be positive and enforce your expectations. Do it. From Minute 0.
Happy first day of school, BPS teachers!
This summer I am planning on writing the curriculum, reviewing the content taught at my school, reading all of the books that the little ones read, think deeply about and create sustainable systems, and plan the first few units.
Hooray for new challenges! Huzzah for differentiation!
jk
In the revision process in the lovely room of 054, students receive their previous selfassessed work with each standard assessed and feedback given. Students are then given the option to revise their work. If they choose to, the little ones use the Revision Criteria for Success (see below) to improve their work and sentence starter (see student work) to reflect upon their changes.
The Revision Criteria for Success (CfS):
In order to revise your work for reassessment, follow the Criteria for Success. Your successful revisions include:

In my geometry sections, we recently finished a unit about classifying polygons in which we focused on standards in the strands of Problem Solving, Communicating Clearly, and Geometry. Here’s the adventure of one student, Student K, towards her mastery of the standard and more importantly thinking about what she needs to continue to improve going forward.
Company Logo Project – Performance Task on January 23^{rd} and 24^{th}, revision on January 27^{th}
Students created a logo of a known company using appropriate notation and relationships.
K submitted her work after the two days of class and it needed major revisions to demonstrate mastery of many objectives. She used the Revision CfS and submitted her improved work. See the work below to read the sentences she wrote about each standard and how she improved each one.
This sentence frame encourages/forces students to think about how the improved project is lots of working pieces and different aspects of the product demonstrates mastery of different standards.
Mystery Figure (Stage 4) – Original Performance task on February 11, revisions on February 12
In this multipart, wholeyear project, students show their ability to do the unit task with the same coordinates unit to unit and for Unit 4: Classify, students classified the polygon formed with their points. K submitted her work, received feedback, and opted to make revisions on one standard (see work sample below).
K’s original work had the more traditional “math” work (Problem Solving and Geometry) fairly accurate. However, she still needed to improve on writing a claim with mathematical evidence and reasoning (Communicating Clearly). In her revision, K made her mathematical facts become a strong statement.
Unit Assessment – MCAS problems. Administered on February 12, revision on February 13.
After the guidance of their Mystery Figure project as a review, students independently attacked the MCAS practice problems, which served as our end of unit assessment. The standards addressed on the assessment appear below.
Note that K somewhat accurately assessed her work in terms of the Problem Solving and Geometry standards above. She opted to only revise one standard – solution.
As she submitted her revisions, she remarked “Ms. Always with the writing!” She then began her portfolio, filled with writing.
Portfolio for Unit 4: Classify – End of Unit (February 13)
In this fourpage template, students review their work from the unit, examine the unit objectives in multiple ways, reflect deeply about a product that demonstrates their mastery towards the unit goals, create and solve their own problem, describe and reflect on their growth, and assess themselves overall in terms of effort, achievement, independence, and community leadership.
On the bottom of page 3, students describe the other important skills involved in this unit. K’s work is below.
After reviewing her work, K determined she needed to improve on writing up her work verbally (versus algebraically or pictorially). She noticed that nearly all of the revisions in this unit involved a Communicating Clearly standard and she needed to focus on that for the next unit.
Unit 6 has just begun. In the preassessment on February 25^{th}, as K selfassessed her work, she realized she needed to describe her process in words as well as showing her calculation. Huzzah! She is already consciously improving on the goal she set in the previous unit.
(Note for the concerned reader: K’s process is inaccurate. Fear not, this is just the preassessment.)
(Exercise for the eager reader: Identify why her math demonstrates a common misconception around proportional thinking.)
So that’s the story so far. Please let me know if you have any questions/comments/concerns about the process I use to incorporate metacognition into mastery of Problem Solving, Communicating Clearly, and Geometry standards.
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 peernominated 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 studentfriendly 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 explainyourimprovements and nowdoasimilarproblem 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!
I did more productfocused assignments. Making sure that the productmaking 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 metalking time). Even with lots of rich tasks and choice, management is challenging. 45 minutes of worktime 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.
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 35 times on the report). As students fixed and then retook 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 copout (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 skillsbased 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 “reevaluate 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.
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 814 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 “wholeclass” 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 selfevaluate 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.
I documented much of those dreams here over the past 6 months. And now, at the beginning of the school year, a few of those things are coming into fruition (and many others aren’t).
Small victories, September 2013
– Seniors are problem solving. I’m doing very little; they are doing more than I am. I do occasionally help more than I should, but having students present holds them accountable (or at least makes apparent the times they haven’t fully understood). Side note: the concepts students get stuck on are fascinating. Two seniors were estimating the amount of M&Ms in a family sized bag. They googled the weight of the bag and the weight of a single M&M and wanted to divide. But the bag weight was in pounds and the M&M weight in grams. They did not see the problem until they divided.
– We are having circle time on Mondays and I am using that time to teach students about various topics that I hope will help them become better students and people. So far, we’ve just talked about Growth Mindset, but this routine is working and I look forward to more topics. And students seem to mostly understand growth mindset and have come down (mostly) on the side of growth > fixed.
– Freshmen are also problem solving. We started a yearlong project (students choose from many systems of equations problems and solve them in multiple ways). Students have chosen their own method to solve the first few problems. They analyzed a pattern without any direction from me (besides to find Figure 10 and then the generalization). I’m so. excited. to start the pattern unit for real and to see what they can do/figure out with all the linear (and nonlinear!) problems.
– This week, we are going to have the Algebra students grade themselves on the first unit and provide evidence and reasoning for their selfassessment. As a teacher who wants to foster students’ selfmotivation and who probably cares less than she should about sideconversation during worktime and bathroom trips, I hope this kind of activity will help students become better scholars through reflection rather than force.
So. Baby steps in a hopefully good direction.