We’re Back!

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School is offically back in session and 2019 is here.  Teachers and students are getting used to the routine again as my school approaches our third day back tomorrow.  It’s been quite a week already and the adjustment continues. Yesterday, my classes spent a decent amount of time discussing what happened over break and previewing what we’ll be learning about over the next few months.  I taught six classes on Monday and each class took some time to debrief, briefly review the expectations/routines and lay out a plan on what needs to be accomplished before the end of January.

There’s definitely a layover impact when students (and teachers) have long breaks away from school.  Students came in on Monday and were excited to see their friends, but also need time to chat about their experiences and reconnect withe the community.  That time is so important.  This isn’t news to any educator, but relevant – especially when students get back from a long break.  Similar to the first day of school, that first day back from winter break takes on a community building component.  That takes on a different form depending on the class.  I’m sure this looks a bit different and the middle and high school levels.  This year I had the students tell the class “one positive experience” that they had over break.   I made sure to put a disclaimer out that this shouldn’t be an opportunity to brag and that they could pass if they want.   It took around 10-15 minutes to hear about the experiences for each class.  I was silently proud as I listened to some of the students talk about seeing relatives, reading books, going to movies, eating holiday meals, and waking up without an alarm (that was mine too) types of experiences.

I know some teachers want to dive right into content and feel as though students will acclimate accordingly.  I’m minimally there when it comes to that perspective, but slowly moving outside of that zone.  It’s only taken a decade or so of teaching.  Haha.  I appreciate having a certain amount of structure in place.  There’s part of me that really wants to get back into the routine as soon as possible.  State testing, curriculum guides, formal evaluations, and other factors all play a role and can limit this time to reconnect.  I’m glad that I spent the extra minutes to reconnect.  I won’t be able to get that time back, but students will remember it.  I think it’s worthwhile to continue to share and discuss our experiences and look forward to our shared learning moving forward.  I believe it’s worth considering taking a look at how teachers structure their lessons after long breaks.


Side note:  One of my “experiences” over break involved organizing a site related to percent images.  I’m hoping to add to the site this year and give possible prompt options.

Evaluating Summative Assessments

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This past week has been a great opportunity to reflect and plan out the new year.  I’m writing this as I sip my coffee on a chilly day in the midwest.  As I contemplate my plans I’m reminded of always to “keep the end in mind” as I think of how instruction eventually leads to a summative assessment.  I usually see the following procedure used for math instruction:

Introduction–> Formative Assessment –> Reflection –> Summative –> Reporting

Summative assessments have changed over the years.  One major factor that determines how these look at the K-5 level is based on the district resource that’s used.  There are so many math publishing companies that push their resources to districts and the unit tests generally accompany them.   There are formative assessments that teachers use, but they’re often used depending on teacher preference. Grade level teams often plan out the formative assessments, although it’s up to the individual teacher to use them.  The summative assessments are another story.  These are set in stone and given at specific intervals throughout the school year.

The summative assessments in some K-5 classes take a long time to complete.  The upper elementary classes take a lot more time than the lower.  The accelerated classes can take 1-3 instructional days to complete one summative assessment. Usually there’s another day reviewing the assessment afterwards. The unit assessments often include written component and an open response section.  Each math class is allocated around 60 minutes for math and students are given (not always though) as much time as they need to complete the assessment.  These summative assessments are solely used to communicate how well students are performing compared to the standards and that’s put on the report cards.  As schools move more towards standards-based grading the reliance of the summative assessments may increase. Middle and high school might manage this time differently as final exams and tests become more of a priority.  I wonder how this summative assessment time could be better managed moving forward.

As far as I can see, there a couple options to consider.

  • Prioritize the standards within a math unit and adjust the summative
  • Rely more on class quizzes and emphasize the summative less
  • Create new summative assessments that better reflect the standards
  • Continue without changing anything

There are consequences depending on what’s picked and I’m sure other options exist that I can’t think of right now.  Prioritizing standards will inevitably leave out some standards and students won’t be exposed to certain skills/concepts as frequently.  Relying on quizzes for grades has me wondering how many attempts are given before students are actually assessed.  This can be a challenge as some students might be exposed to a concept three times, while another might have seven.  Is one student better prepared for the summative than the other?  Creating new summative assessments might be a good option if time is available to do so.  I’ve heard multiple times that teachers aren’t trained to write assessments, but I find that there input to be very valuable in the process.

I don’t believe there’s one right solution to this issue, but it’s worth contemplating a few different ideas.  I’m interested in hearing how others manage the summative assessment process.

Continuing the Math Writing Process

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As some of you might already know, one of my goals this year is to find strategies to help my students write better mathematical explanations. My students have been making progress towards that goal.  I see glimpses here and there where students are putting together more concrete statements and transitioning them into coherent explanations.  It’s good news – and making progress helps the students see that growth is happening.  We all need that boost every once in a while – or even more than that. Last week, students were asked to fill out a rubric and evaluate their own mathematical writing.  I then went over and highlighted my responses in a different color.

I passed those papers back early last week and the class had a conversation about the difference between my scores and theirs.  It was a productive conversation and I believe the kids left with a better understanding of what the categories in the rubric mean.  For the next couple days the class reviewed measurement concepts and place value.

The next stage of this mathematical writing process was for students to evaluate the writing of another student.  I’m finding myself using more retrieval practice strategies for this particular process and critiquing others writing multiple times has helped (at least I believe) them become better at recognizing rubric elements in their own writing.  I also want to give students multiples opportunities that are spread out with assessing and self-assessing strategies.  I tried this before earlier with some success, but this was also before students created the writing rubric that we’re using now.  Students read the prompt on magnitude estimates, read over what the writer created and filled out the rubric.

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The students carefully read through the prompt and then throughly read through the response.  During this time the classroom was so quiet.  Some students used highlighters while others were very critical with the pencil.  I even had a few students ask the writer about their response on the paper – future teacher maybe?

Near the end of the class I reviewed the responses and the students voted on where they thought this writing would fit on the rubric.  I’d say around 50-60% of the students were on target with all the rubric selections.  This improvement is telling and I’m excited to see growth in this area.

Next week I’m planning on introducing a different math writing prompt.  This will be their second attempt and will be used as a formative checkpoint.  The class will then continue this journey after winter break.

  • Shoutout to the MAA site and people for helping me thinking of additional ideas for this math writing process

Math Explanations

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This year I’ve been working with a group of 20-25 second grade math students.  I see them daily for about 20-30 minutes.  This group has been exploring a number of math concepts related to computation, place value and measurement.  At the beginning of each unit this group is given a pre-assessment and the class investigates a number of concepts for approximately a month.  During that month that class puts together and takes apart numbers, uses math tools, reflects on our math experiences and sharpens  different computation strategies.  The unit concludes with a post-assessment.  The class then reviews the assessment, looks for trends and analyzes possible errors before moving onto the next unit of study.

Every unit assessment has some type of open response which asks students to explain their mathematical thinking.  The performance on these questions has been rough. This isn’t a new experience and I wrote about this a while back here.  Students seem to have trouble creating complete math statements that answer the open response question.  Students have noticed this trend too.  Earlier in the week I ended up having a class discussion about math statements and written responses.  Through our discussion I also realized this is something that I need to learn more about.  This opportunity also had me wondering about past assignments and how often kids are really asked to explain their mathematical writing in written form.

To me, this issue looked like a professional need as well as a student need.  I looked online for additional resources related to helping students identify quality mathematical writing.  I found a few rubrics, but they were very generic and included words like “high-quality” or “fully understands the topic” that I think are valued, but not necessarily quantifiable.  So the class had another brief discussion about what math explanations should look like.  We came up with a list of what should be included:

  • Math vocabulary
  • Restating the question
  • Number models

A draft rubric was built and students completed a pre-assessment using the new expectations.  After writing a mathematical response to an estimation problem earlier in the week, students circled where they felt they were in relation to the expectation.

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I then went through the student responses and added my own thoughts in blue. Next week I’ll be passing these back to my students. This was the first time using this particular rubric and there may be changes to this as the year progresses.  I still need to hone in on helping students recognize what “restating the question” means as I think that’s a bit fuzzy.

The good news is that we’re making progress and students are becoming more aware of their mathematical writing skills.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this evolves over time.  I’ll also be sharing this with my second grade team before winter break.

Math Visual Model Strategies

There’s power in the picture.  There’s no denying it and I think most people assume this already.  A visual has the potential to bring curiosity and often gives off a certain vibe that brings more questions or leads to someone to swipe to the next picture with disinterest.  Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are just a few platforms that have hooked so many people with visuals.  Many people won’t even read an article or blog post if there isn’t a picture included.

Visuals also show up in the classroom.  If you have some time, I highly recommend taking a brief look at YouCubed’s article on visuals in the math classroom. They take the form of classroom posters that are on the walls.  They’re also found in textbooks, on worksheets, on stickers, shirts, shoes, and so many other objects that people see all the time.  I think they also have a role in the math classroom and many teachers and students have used them to make sense of the mathematics that they’re exploring.  Visual models are often used to organize thoughts, make connections, and communicate understanding.  Individual meaning is often associated (although not always) with visual models and educators get to see how how the decontextualizing <–> contextualizing process works with these types of models.

I believe visual models have an important role in math classrooms.  Some students make meaningful connections by creating a map of their mathematical thinking.  Often, these maps are related to what’s introduced in class, other times maybe not.   Students might adopt certain visual models because that’s how they’re told to complete certain problems.  I see this regularly when it comes to fraction models.  The rectangle and pie area models are rampant.  This sin’t a gripe, but just an observation as the visual model might be more emphasized depending on the teacher/grade level.

I believe there’s potential with using visual models, but they’re not always the default. Communicating and having the students bring their own awareness to when/why certain models are used is important.  Rate/ratio tables and tape diagrams lend themselves well in having students organize their thoughts.  When asked to create a visual model I sometimes hear students say that they’re visualizing it in their head and then they write down the solution on paper.  Other times, students thoroughly create large models and use them to find solutions and add more than enough details.

I’m looking forward to seeing how students approach this problem tomorrow.

                                                                            What is 45% more?

Students are familiar with finding 50% or 10% of a number, but this is different. I’m wondering if using a visual model will be part of their problem solving process?   

Better Math Explanations

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One of my primary classes just finished up a math pre-assessment.  One of the questions on this assessment asked students to explain their mathematical reasoning.  Specifically, they were given a prompt, a student example, and then asked to explain in their own words what happened.  Students had a lot of questions about this problem.  Since it was a pre-assessment, I basically kept quiet and asked them to persevere.  Some did, others didn’t.

A few students dropped their faces when they saw their pre-assessment results. Many, and I mean over half of the kids didn’t meet the expectations on the written response.  Instead of putting together sentences, the majority of students created number models and that was that.  Some students even wrote that the character was wrong and didn’t explain anything further.  I was a bit disappointed, but no worries though – this is a pre-assessment.  The actual assessment won’t happen for another couple weeks.

I noticed that I needed to look more closely at how to address the math writing issue.  I also needed to clarify the expectations for written responses.  This was new territory for kids.  Most students are able to tell me (with prodding) their thinking and how it relates to the problem solving process.  It’s a different story when it comes to writing it down.  In the next few week I want to ensure that students are explaining their mathematical thinking clearly and in a way that answers the question.

So this Wednesday students were asked to start looking for specific details in their writing.  We began by having the entire class analyze one math response from another “student” from a couple years ago (ok … maybe I created this).  Students went into teams and analyzed the exemplar and looked for key components in the response.  Students looked for an answer statement, math vocabulary and important numbers.  They then coded the response with circles, rectangles and underlining.  The student teams explained to the class what they thought qualified as an answer statement.  This was a great discussion as students came to a consensus to what qualifies as a statement that answers the question.  Students also discussed the numbers that were important and the math vocabulary that was used.

Later in the day students answered a similar prompt and then switched papers with a peer.  The other student coded the paper and then the pairs discussed what they wrote and why.

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The class will be meeting next week to review more examples.  Afterwards we plan on responding to a different math prompt and code our own writing.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this emphasis on mathematical writing transfers throughout the year.

 

More on Standards-Based Grading

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Last Friday was a teacher institute day.   I spent my time planning, working on report cards, and listening to a speaker in the afternoon.  The speaker spoke to all of the elementary teachers in the district.  The event ended up being in the cafetorium (that’s what we call the auditorium/cafeteria).  It’s a huge wide-open space that usually holds elementary and middle school lunches.  The speaker introduced himself and told everyone that he was there* to chat about standards-based grading/policies.  There’s been talk that the district will be moving towards standards-based grading at some point in the next few years.

The presenter went through questions related to why teachers grade students, why standards are used, and how inadequate a 100 scale is while emphasizing the need to use feedback instead.  I think most educators there were  aware that specific feedback is a more useful tool than points.  The presenter reaffirmed the audience’s beliefs and also  dolled out research by Paul Blake and Dylan Wiliam’s “Inside the Black Box” study.

After about an hour and half the presenter mentioned how he would introduce a  standards-based reporting model.  He also prefaced this saying that there’s not a perfect model.


4 – “Blows the expectations out of the water”

3– “Meets the expectations”

2– “Student needs a little help to meet the expectations”

1– “Student needs a lot of help to meet the expectations”


I’ve never had standards-based grading explained like this and it was refreshing.  I noticed a few teachers nodding and a few commenting about the simplicity behind the reasoning.  The presenter went through a number of submitted questions related to what happens when teachers have different opinions on what “blows the expectations out of the water.”  Questions also came up about how many standards to report for the report card.  There wasn’t exactly a right answer with this, but the presenter mentioned that students have “all of the year” to meet the standard.  There were questions about this.  Consistency with teachers’ expectations was also addressed and many teachers believed this would be a good use of PLC time.

in some schools that use standards-based grading, I’ve seen a number models where teachers use a percent scale and then convert that value to a 1-4.  I’m sure there are plenty of standards-based grading models out there and doubt there’s a fool-proof way to implement this new communication tool.

The good news is that I believe teachers are already using standard-based practices.  Some teachers are eliminating points and percentages on some of the assignments. They’re also moving towards a “Not Yet” or “Met” policy with tasks.  Report card grades tend to reflect unit assessments. I know of some classrooms that are already using classroom policies that reflect a standards-based model, while others don’t. Moving forward, I believe there’ll need to be support in developing consistency as districts move towards new reporting models.  Some Illinois districts have moved towards or have already started using standards-based policies and some have encountered turbulence.  I believe there’s consensus that averaging grades isn’t always the best option.  Moving away from that will cause some to squirm and ensuring that there’s a smooth transition won’t be easy.  Communication and consistency will play a major role in how it’s received by all stakeholders.

*Bonus – the presenter introduced the think, ink, share process.  I wasn’t aware of this and am planning on trying it out in a couple days.