Study Guide Issues

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This past week I started working on my school website.  It’s a journey every year, but this year is a bit different since my district adopted a new math text and quite a few of my links need to change.  In the past I’ve posted homework, a few math strand practice sections, and class newsletters to my website.  I’ve decided to change a few things up for the 18-19 school year.  I’m nixing the homework section and adding a study guide piece.  The reason I’m adding a study guide section is because I’m not thrilled with how it’s currently being used.

Study guides have been a sticky issue for me over the years.  There are so many different ways that they’re used.  My class tends to give and review a study guide a day before the unit assessment.  Each teacher in my school uses them slightly differently, but the process usually follows this sequence:

1.) Students use class time to complete the study guide

2.) Study guide is reviewed by the class and teacher

3.) Students correct their answers and feedback is provided

3.) Students use the study guide to prepare for the test

It seems that most teachers use some version of a study guide or review before an assessment.  Some teachers use games, while others go the paper and pencil route.  I think it truly depends on the teacher and their students.  This study guide process works well for many students, but I think it needs some tweaks and to a certain extent, improvements.  This summer I’ve been reading Make it Stick and it affirms some of what I’m seeing when it comes to memory retrieval.  Teachers want students to be able to retain what’s experienced in the class and giving a study guide with only that night to prepare isn’t as helpful as other strategies.  I’m starting to become more critical when it comes to questioning study guide practices. I sent out a Tweet indicating my concerns.

Here are my issues:

  • Students aren’t being given enough time to process what’s being discussed on the study guide
  • Students aren’t benefiting from enough retrieval practices
  • Students solely rely on the study guide to review for the test
  • Students might not be engaged or they decide to copy the answers from their partner
  • Students aren’t aware of how to study (this could be a whole different blog post)
  • Students aren’t experiencing enough reviews throughout the unit
  • The questions on the study guide are very similar to the actual test

I’m aware that some of these issues will occur regardless of the policies or procedures that are put in place.  I’d like to specifically address the blue issues in this post.

  • Students aren’t being given enough time to process what’s being discussed on the study guide 

In order to give students more time to process the study guide I’ve decided to give the packet in advance.  This requires more planning on my part (let the uploading and copying process begin!).  I’m planning on posting the study guides on my school website and giving students a paper copy at the beginning of the unit.  Students will have 4-5 weeks to finish up the study guide before the assessment.  In addition, this will help students preview the learning, as Mary pointed out.  It’s likely that some students will lose the sheet as they’ll need to hold on to it for about a month.  That’s why I’m deciding to post the study guides.  I’m also planning on having students code their work with a few self-monitoring strategies. I really like the completed, mistake, misconception, and correct coding.  Occasionally the class will review concepts discussed on the study guide so that the class won’t have to wait until the last day before receiving feedback.

Giving students more opportunities to experience math has its benefits.  Being more  intentional in how retrieval practices look is important.  I currently have specific exit cards and review checkpoints that are used for particular units.  I’m planning on creating more and placing them strategically throughout the units.  I’d like to give students multiple opportunities to address standards and receive feedback.

  • Students aren’t experiencing enough reviews throughout the unit

Moving forward, I think students need to have the opportunity to review topics as the unit progress.  The text my district uses has reviews, but the students need more opportunities to address skills that are taught at the very beginning, middle, and end of the unit.  Like David said, I’m planning on adding deliberate interleaving of concepts to the study guide.  That may add additional questions to the packet, but I think it’s worthwhile.  I also need to keep in mind that students will have around a month to work on the packet.

  • The questions on the study guide are very similar to the actual test

I’m conflicted with this.  I think students should be aware of what skills are on the test and the format shouldn’t be a surprise.  Being unfamiliar with the questions or format can cause anxiety.  There’s already enough anxiety surrounding testing.  I think sometimes giving questions that are too similar can cause students to be overconfident.  I think there’s a balance, I just haven’t found it yet.  I’m placing this bullet point in the ‘to be continued’ section.

From here, I’m currently updating my school site to include study guide materials.  It’ll take a shift in expectations as I loop with many of my students and they’re not used to that process.  Change is inevitable and I believe being aware and making a shift will benefit students. I’m looking forward to seeing how this process plays out and will write a post about it at some point.


 

 

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A simple mistake or something more?

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I’m grading tests this weekend.  My third grade group just finished up an assessment on fractions and multiplication.  It’s been about a 1-2 month journey full of investigations on this particular topic.  Many formative checkpoints were planned along the way and the unit assessment was scheduled for last week.

While reviewing the student work, I’ll sometimes write questions or direct students to a part of the question that would’ve made their answer more complete.  There are moments of pride and moments where simple mistakes drive me a bit crazy.  You see, there are only eight units with my new resource, so the assessments influence grade reporting quite significantly.

After grading the assessments, I have student analyze their results.  They comb through the test and look at how each question aligns with certain skills.  They also determine if a missed question was a fixable mistake.  I want students to be able to recognize when this occurs and fix them when they can.

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In my experience, 9/10 times students believe that the reason they missed a question was because it was a fixable mistake.  That’s not always the case.  There’s a certain amount of self-reflection and humility that’s involved in this process. Being able to be a bit more honest and communicating what a simple mistake is and what it isn’t might be in order before the next assessment.  So, what steps do students take if a missed questions isn’t a fixable mistake?  It’s one step in the right direction to admit that it isn’t fixable, but then what happens next?  Do students and teachers have plan for this, or do we move on to the next unit?

So, was it a simple mistake or something more?  This question comes up more often than not while I’m grading student work or reflecting back on a class conversation.  Some of the answers are more positive than others.  A simple calculation error can vastly impact an answer, but it may be a simple mistake and the student has a solid conceptual understanding of that skill.  But, a number model that doesn’t match the problem tells me that the student might not be certain about the operation that needs to be completed. Was the simple mistake putting the wrong operation sign in the number model?  I guess you could go down many different paths here.

The question type can influence how well and thorough a student responds. Some questions are quite poor in giving educators quality feedback to help inform instruction.  Right off the top of my head, multiple-choice and true/false questions fit that bill.  They sure are easy to grade by human or a machine.  Hooray!  But, they don’t give me quality feedback that I can use immediately.

This also has me wondering about the quality of the assessments that are given.  Measuring how proficient a student is on a particular concept doesn’t always have to come from standardized or unit assessment results. Classroom observations and formative checkpoints are beneficial and give teachers insights to what students are thinking. I want to make students’ math thinking visible.  Whether that’s using technology or not, making that thinking visible puts the teacher in a  better position. From what I observe, some of the best math task questions are open-ended and tend to have a written component where students are asked to explain their thinking.  The quality of the question and openness of the answer helps educators dig deeper into how and what students are thinking.  I think that’s why teachers are always looking out for better math tasks that help students demonstrate their understanding more accurately.

How do you help students determine if a mistake was simple or something more?

Meaning and Algorithms

My third and fourth grade classes are exploring computation algorithms this week. Taking apart and putting together numbers is one of the skills needed to tackle higher level math concepts. I find it interesting when this topic is brought up as I sometimes hear students commenting that they already know how to add/subtract. Many of my students have been instructed to use the traditional algorithm to add large numbers.  After digging a bit deeper I started to see students falter with their explanation of the traditional method.  I asked them to explain their thinking. I found that their reasoning started to turn into comments about the process. Students explained the steps involved to find the product.  One student told me about the example below.

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Traditional

The process, although important, doesn’t reflect mathematical understanding. Students didn’t mention place value at all.  Place value within the traditional method is evident, it’s just that the students weren’t able to explain it with confidence.  It reflects more of an understanding of the procedures required to find a solution. Most of the students that I see are used to adding/subtracting numbers on a number line. They can hop up and down the number line with ease.  Once they feel comfortable with that, parents or others start to show students the traditional algorithm. Students become familiar with the terms carry, borrow, cross-out, add a zero, and others without necessarily knowing the reasoning behind the process.

This past week I introduced the partial-sums algorithm. This is one of my favorites as students start to see the reasoning behind the process that they’ve been following for years.  Although at first it can seem clunky, students started to see how place value can be a key indicator in determining the sum. That’s an #eduwin in my book.

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Partial-sums

Later that hour students were given an assignment where they had to find the sum using the partial-sums method. Some students struggled a bit to move out of the traditional algorithm process and move to a different algorithm. Afterwards I gave student the option to use whatever method best meets their needs. It’ll be interesting to see the progression that students make as they decide on an algorithm. When asked about how and why the algorithm works I’m hoping they’re able to confidentially create their own proof.

We’re making progress!

Learning Number Concepts

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This summer is moving by quickly and thoughts of the upcoming school year are in view.  I’m in the process of preparing materials and the first few lessons.  This year my math sections are larger than before and it changes some of the ways in which I prepare. While researching a few ideas I came across a Tweet from Jamie.

 

I’ve heard of Kathy Richardson and her role in the math education world, but haven’t delved too deep into what she’s written.  This book interested me mainly because of the use of Kathy’s critical learning phases.  As students progress in school they visit different stages of mathematical understanding.  It’s not always linear, but these stages tend to follow each other. I wanted to learn more about this process.

So the book arrived yesterday and I was able reading through the first section. Kathy states that children learn number concepts in different learning phrases.  She coined the phrase critical learning phases to describe the stages that kids pass on their way to making meaning of the math they encounter.  The first section of the book focuses on understanding counting.  On first glance I thought this would be very basic.  Advertised and delivered.  It’s basic, but also intriguing and gave me a few takeaways.  After reading this section I started to draw parallels to how my own students make sense of numbers.  I then wanted to reach out to my colleagues to direct them to this section. Understanding counting, although basic, is a foundational skill that is built upon.  My paraphrased version of Kathy’s learning phases are below.


Counting objects

  • Counts with 1:1 correspondence
  • Knows “how many” after counting
  • Counts out a specific amount
  • Spontaneously adjusts estimates while counting to make a better estimate

Knowing one more/one less

  • Knows one more and one less in a sequence without relying on counting out
  • Notices if counting pattern doesn’t make sense

Counting objects by groups

  • Counts by groups
  • Knows quantity stays same when counted by different sized-groups

Using symbols

  • Uses numerals to describe amount counted.  Connects symbols to amount counted.

 

As I read through this I started looking through my school’s teaching materials for grades K-3.  Some of the materials follow a linear progression while others tend to favor spiraling.  I have a few takeaways after reviewing this first section of the book and looking at my district’s materials.

  • If counting is important than students will start to see why keeping track/organizing numbers is important.  If it doesn’t matter students won’t care whether they come up with a different amount when a specific amount exists.
  • Being able to “spontaneously adjust estimates while counting to make a closer estimate” is a skill that’s found as students progress through the elementary grades. This plays a major role in measurement as students are asked to estimate using non-customary  tools.  I also see a connection to Estimation180 as students might use proportional reasoning after initially counting to find an estimate.
  • Moving from 1:1 correspondence counting to group counting can be confusing for students. Understanding that counting by 2s, 5s, or 10s is a strategy that’s more efficient and that may be learned in time.  Students might not initially come to this conclusion and replace 1:1 with 2:1, 5:1, or 10:1 if they don’t understand the reasoning and if they’re taught in the same period of time. For example, I find this evident when there’s a disconnect between counting by 10s and grouping numbers into 10s and then counting the groups.

 

 

 

 

Exploring Criteria for Success

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This past week I’ve been observing how students reflect on their learning. This observation originated from a brief conversation that I had with an administrator about the need for students to be aware of the mastery learning objective. Depending on the lesson, I feel like being aware of the goal upfront is important as students have an understanding of what’s expected. Although posting an objective brings awareness and is easy to check-off during a class walkthrough, it doesn’t necessarily impact student learning.  At the most, posting the objective may direct students to informally question the connections that they’re making in relation to the goal. To ensure that students are making a personal connection to the goal I believe they need to have ample opportunities to reflect on progress made towards the goal.

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That reflection process becomes important as students start to recognize their own growth over time. This year I’ve been giving students time to review assessment results and compare their results to specific math standards. In the past students have used math journals and a reflection sheet to document their progress. At this time of the year students are using it every 2-3 weeks and it’s a bit sporadic. I’m trying to become more consistent with giving students time to compare their academic progress to the expected goal. In general, I want students to become more capable of self-assessing their own progress. I believe moving towards a criteria for success model may help.

criteriapicI first heard of criteria for success during a Skillful Teacher class that I took awhile back.  This past year I’ve been experimenting with using it more frequently.  I’ve been finding that the criteria for success communicates what meeting the standard looks like. It also tells students if the product that they created is good enough to meet the standard. I think of it has an expectation gauge. If students can recognize that they’ve met the criteria for success then they’re meeting the minimum expectation for that particular assignment. Josh Hattie has been quoted as saying a visual learning school is “when kids know what success looks like before they start.” See Hattie’s video here for a more in-depth dialogue on his view on criteria for success. My first thought of criteria for success revolves around the idea of rubrics. But it doesn’t end there. A decent rubric can tell students if they’ve produced work that has met the standard. Personally, I feel like a rubric can’t be used for all assignments and projects. A criteria for success can also take the form of a checklist or list that describes the qualities of a proficient project.

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Should the criteria for success be used for every lesson? Right now I’m tackling this question. I’m wrestling with it because students complete so many activities and assignments that narrowing it down to just one a seems unmanageable. Also, sometimes students work on projects that last a couple of days. In those cases, does the criteria for success stay the same and do students periodically revisit it accordingly?

I’ve been using criteria for success checklists over the past few days and am analyzing the results. I’m finding that students are intentionally reflecting on whether they’re meeting the posted objectives. Students that analyze their own performance have opportunities to also set goals and move forward. I see potential in using this model as students become aware of their own performance level compared to the standard.

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New Twist to Curriculum Night

Curriculum Night


My school’s curriculum night took place last Tuesday. Like past curriculum nights, I had a presentation prepared and intended on having it last around 20 minutes or so. The majority of my class parents visit during this time to discuss class curriculum, policies and happenings for the new school year. The presentation went as planned for the first 15 minutes or so. I fielded a few different questions and landed on my last slide for the night. This slide is actually from a Tweet Fawn sent out.

I left the slide up for a few seconds so the parents could process the information. I did get a few strange looks from parents and knew I had to clarify what the slide meant. After about 10 seconds of silence I went into explaining what each section meant to me.   My paraphrased comments are below each section.

  1. Be less helpful:

I feel like parents and teachers attempt to help whenever the need arises. It’s innate to help when our kids struggle. We’ll even show the student a process or way to complete the problem. Instead of doing this I’d like to suggest that as a team, we help students develop individual perseverance. It’s okay to help, but let’s not complete problems for students. This doesn’t help them long-term in having students develop a conceptual understanding of particular math concepts. Give students opportunities to struggle and develop their own math identity.

  1. Asking them to make estimates often

At a very young age we ask students to estimate. One way in which we practice this skill is through Estimation180. Students are asked for a low, high and just right estimate. Ask your child to create similar estimates at home and in the community. One benefit is that students start to identify when their estimates are reasonable or not. This “reasonableness” plays a role in students’ understanding of the magnitude of estimates. So many opportunities exist to make estimates. Carefully pick situations where your child can make estimates with a variety of units.

  1. Asking them to help you calculate something

Giving your child opportunities to do this can help students practice their computation skills. More so, calculating items mentally can lead students to round or estimate their answer. That mental computation is powerful and reinforces number sense concepts that are being discussed in class. It would be interesting to observe how your child calculates the sales tax in Lake County – 7% compared to Chicago’s Cook County – 10%. Ask your child how they came to the solution.

  1. Asking them what do you notice? What do you think? How do you know?

I believe this goes with the first item of being less helpful. Instead of giving students an answer or specific process, ask them why they’re completing certain procedures. Ask students for input. Look for the reasons why they’re taking certain actions. Ask them to prove why procedural steps are taken and encourage your child to take a “proof” approach when completing problems.

  1. Not saying , “I was never good at math.”

It might seem obvious, but students hold onto comments like this.  I may hear them from time to time in school. Students tend to take sayings like this and use them in response to a negative math experience. Like I said earlier, I’d like students to develop their own math identity and be confident in their own ability. I’ll also mention that sometimes our non-verbal actions also play a role here. Regardless, being aware of these types of statements can help my students and your child create their own perception of math.


I spent the last five minutes of my presentation on the points above. I really felt as though the audience resonated with these statements. It was honest and I felt like parents needed to hear this perspective. During the night, parents were able to walk through the school and see new bulletin boards, shiny technology, new curriculum materials, sign up for parent/teacher conference and meet their teacher. All of those are great, but I thought this last slide made one of the largest impacts of the night.

Vertical Learning

Vertical Learning
Vertical Learning

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a Downers Grove middle school for #samricamp. I’d like to give an appreciation shout-out to the DG58 staff and administration for putting on another excellent PD event. I’m always impressed with their ability to organize events and invite all interested educators and administrators to their school.

All of the sessions that I attended were insightful and I have many ideas to think about for the new school year.  I found the last session with Matt and James to be especially useful. See their presentation here. They facilitated a session on the idea of vertical learning. The session started off with questions related to why schools group students by age.  We then delved into what matters as educators engage students in learning. Both questions spurred conversations about differentiating instruction so all students can grow. The consensus was that all of our students come into our classrooms at different levels.  Regardless of their age, students have a “starting point” as they begin and progress through a school year. Sure, educators may group students at similar levels but in reality all students are at different levels of understanding. If all students are expected to show growth, how do educators show and document that growth? I organized my thoughts and came away with something to consider for the upcoming school year.

There’s a need to reorganize our resources

Typically I find most elementary resources labeled by a grade level, not a learning target. For example, a fourth grade class will use a fourth grade district-adopted math and reading text. The English and Science texts are matched to fourth grade based on a publisher’s recommendation. More often than not, teachers are trained to use these types of resources with a certain grade level. Most of the workbooks, worksheets, and journals are all associated with that grade level.

I feel like issues arise when students aren’t ready or have already learned concepts for a particular grade level. What do teachers do then? Instead of “covering” the curriculum teachers should be inclined to emphasize learning targets. What learning targets have students met? Some teachers use pre-assessments and pull groups or use a form of a workshop model. Teachers then scaffold the skills that match learning targets. Formative checkpoints along the way help align instruction, but without resources a workshop model has limits.

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Teachers need to have access to resources that match their students’ needs. This can look different depending on your school. Some elementary schools have a resource room with K-5 content spread throughout an array of cabinets. In those cases, teachers can visit the resource room to grab a needed text for a group of students. This can be a valuable resource for teachers although having a resource room isn’t always an option. Also, what happens when students are showing mastery of skills above fifth grade?  What then?  Other schools have staff development educators, resource teachers, or instructional coaches that can point classroom teachers towards resources that might be helpful. Again, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes teachers create or find resources outside of their school to meet the diverse needs of their students. Many educators on Twitter locate and share resources that help with student differentiation. Other educators visit different schools to observe instructional practices that can be incorporated in a different setting.

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Regardless of how resources are organized/obtained, I believe there needs to be a plan to communicate the organization to staff. Grade level texts are one resource that can be utilized to help students master concepts and grow. Supplementary resources exist and online/print material should match the curriculum being implemented. I believe the onus shouldn’t necessarily be placed directly on a school district’s shoulders, but they play a pivotal role in what resources are used in the classroom.

Students are expected to show grow regardless of their starting point. Having conversations about how to achieve that vertical learning and how to access resources is important.  I believe having these discussions with staff will benefit students long-term.