Reflections and Takeaways

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The school year is coming to a close. This Monday would’ve been the last day but the midwest weather had other plans and an additional three days were added to the schedule. Classroom walls are starting to look bare and teachers are packing away their things for the summer. Boxes and labeled containers have started to accumulate in classrooms as some teachers know that they’ll be moving classrooms.  As I pack up my room I’m reflecting on this past year. Here are a few takeaways and potential changes that I’m contemplating over the summer.


Takeaways – I’ll keep these winners for next year

  • Give out study guides at the beginning of a unit

After reading Making it Stick last summer I decided to give out my unit study guides at the beginning of a unit.  It takes my classes around 1-2 months to complete each unit of study and I used to give out and review the study guides (basically chapter reviews) the day before the test.  This year I gave them out during the beginning of the unit and students worked on them throughout and then the class reviewed them together the day before the test.  I had to make a trade-off seeing that students would need to complete them at home or if we had extra class time, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.  Also, I gained about an extra day of instruction per unit by using this so it ended up being a winner in my book.

  • Create an agenda slide for each class

For the last couple years I’ve used an online planner to create my plans for each class.  I’ve found it helps me with organizing the structures of lessons a bit more and allows for a quick copy and paste to a slide for students to see.  The goal is in the left corner and it’s something that the class reviews each day.  Most of the students look at the activities for the day and then take out the materials that might be needed.  This year I had a handful of students with special needs and this visual cue seemed to help with anxiety related to the expectation for that particular day.  Plus it helped keep me organized, which is why I did it in the first place.  Do I always follow the agenda – nope, but it’s there to provide structure and an expected outcome.

  • Use math routines more consistently 

This year my 3-5th grade classes used math routines from day one until the end of the school year (counting these last four days).  I also used them during test days. There’s something important about starting with the math and the students expecting to start the day with a specific task.  My third grades used Estimation 180, fourth Who am I, and fifth AlgebraByExample.  It became part of our daily routine and I believe it helped with cycling through concepts and skills throughout the school year.  I plan on continuing to do this next year.

  • Instructional Balance

My classes this year have been much more balanced as far as math instruction is concerned.  This year I used Desmos, Quizziz and Nearpod more frequently and relied less on problems from the text book or worksheets (making sure to state that there’s nothing wrong with a worksheet).  Having that interleaved practice and time to discuss topics with partners has benefited students as they apply their math learning in different situations.  I’ve also changed the sequence in which some math topics are taught and gave students more time to explore concepts with manipluatives first before diving into more of the abstract.


Potential Giveaways – I might change these for next year

  • Homework

Ugh.  That sticky issue of homework has come up again.  This year I gave students homework around 2-3 times per week at the beginning of the year.  I slowly started giving less and ended up with 1-2 times per week during Feb-May.  I found that it was beneficial for those students that completed it, although the students I wanted to complete it rarely brought it back.  Also, I found myself giving homework to increase the amount of time in my math class – not a good reason.  A few years back I decided to give students links to the homework incase that they forgot it at school.  It still wouldn’t be completed.  I’ll still be giving homework next year, but I’m thinking of changing the format to be more of a retrieval practice model.  What that looks like will depends on the next couple months.

  • Projects

My students completed a couple different projects this year.  In a few instances I believe the time in which students worked could’ve been more structured.  I’d like to create more of a daily schedule for these projects and include time where students “check-in” with the teacher to ensure that we all finish.  Unfinished student projects feel like a failure and I’d like to limit these.

  • Grade Less and More Accurately

Next year I’d like to have specific points within a units to formatively check how students are in relation to the standards.  These won’t be formally entered into the grade book, but used for students to reflect on their progress and for me to look at where I need to emphasize my instruction.  I used a reflection tool that was helpful for my third graders this year and I’m planning on extending it to other grade levels.  Who thought emojis could be so powerful?  Also, every year around this time I wonder if the students’ grades actually reflect where students are in relation to the standard?  Sometimes yes, other times no.  At some point in time my district will be consistently using standards-based grading, but we’re certainly not there yet.  I’m hoping that this will help students and parents to see where students are on a continuum compared to the expected standards.  In the meantime, we still have the letter system that parents and students have grown so accustomed to and expect to see when the report cards are delivered.


Events that spurred growth – I’d like to continue to seek out these opportunities

  • Conferences

This year I had the opportunity to co-present at IAGC on the the topic of math routines with my colleague Cheryl. Most of my learning came in the time creating the presentation and discussing potential ideas.  The conference was well attended despite the extremely cold temperatures.  I had a sub for the day but ended up not needing them since school was canceled – go figure.  I also had the opportunity to travel to Wisconsin and attend WMC to present on feedback routines.  I was only able to attend one day, but it was great and meeting many members of my PLN face-to-face was amazing and long overdue.  Special shoutout to Adrianne , Sonja , Mary and Chris for being so welcoming and I enjoyed our conversations.

This past week I received confirmation that I’ll be able to attend all three days of NCTM in Chicago.  I’m in the process of putting together a couple proposals and look forward to meeting, sharing and learning with colleagues.  Attending conferences and meeting with other educators outside of my district brings a different perspective.  That different perspective and ideas is refreshing and helps me think of ways to improve my practice in ways that I didn’t think of before.

  • Book studies

Last year I participated in a Making it Stick summer book study and it was a great experience.  It’s one thing to read a book solo and another to read it along with other educators.  There’s an accountability piece that keeps me reading and more critically analyzing what I’m taking away from what I’m reading.  I’m looking forward to Culturally Responsive Teaching And The Brain this summer.  The book arrived at my doorstep about a week ago and I’m looking into diving in with my highlighter next week.

  • Podcasts

I recently started listening to Podcasts and have found a couple that I’ve been sticking with over the last couple months.  These podcasts help me think about practices that I could improve and just gives me a different perspective in general.  Right now I’m listening to The Cult of Pedagogy, Estimation 180, The Creative Classroom and The Minimalists.  I’m sure my list will change over these summer as more non-education related podcasts enter my queue.  I need to have more of balance with the types of podcasts I listen to but this is a start.


 

Class Survey Results – 2018

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School officially ended around a week ago and I’m starting to look back at the year.  During the last few days of school I gave students a survey.  I’ve used end-of-the-year surveys before, but this year I wanted to get the students’ perspectives on lesson structure and math interactions.

The reason I went in that direction because I noticed some trends while recording myself teaching. These recording were taking place because video recording were required for a certification that I’m pursuing. I went with the volume approach and decided to record three days a week for the first couple months of school so students would feel more comfortable around the camera.  At first, students would wave, make faces, dab and do all sorts of unrelated math actions around the camera.  That died down once students started to see that the camera wasn’t leaving.

After reviewing many different recordings (this took what seemed like forever), I started to notice trends related to how I was designing and implementing lessons and tasks.  This was a humbling experience.

I noticed that students were doing more independent work that I’d like to admit. There’s nothing wrong with independent work, but I wanted students to engage in math conversations with one another more frequently.  My lessons weren’t generally designed to have these math conversations occur regularly.  I used quite a bit of whole-group math conversations to spur mathematical thinking.  Although that seemed to be a good use of time, I noticed that not everyone was engaged.  There were students that hung out in the background and didn’t engage unless called upon.  I found through this experience that I was spending too much time on certain instructional elements and not enough on others.  I want the time that students spend in my classroom to be valuable and useful.  So I decided to start varying my strategies more often.  Short story: lesson design and pacing is undervalued.

So I made a few changes related to how often students work together.  The class created norms associated with how students should be working with one another.  I decided to increase that amount of “collaboration” so that each class had more of the time dedicated to working with other students.  I used visible-grouping strategies so students could see that groups were randomly chosen and all ideas are valued.  During this partner/group time students were completing math tasks, short-term assignments, long-term projects, Scholastic magazines, Desmos, Nearpod, and Kahoot! activities.   I noticed that students were having better math conversations at a more frequent pace.  While students were in groups I walked around and asked questions to help ignite or guide the discussion.  This slight shift seemed to play dividends as the year progressed.  Students became more confident with their math communication skills and the quality of those conversations increased over time.

Here are the survey results that came out during the first week of June.

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Not quite sure about the 2s and 3s.  I reviewed what the term “appropriate” meant and how it applied to their personal learning before students answered the question.   I think that some students prefer to work independently, while others thrive during group work.  I have to take this into consideration while reviewing these results.  Also, some students might be rating the actual work that is being done during these two scenarios.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see these results.  I tried to focus on giving students multiple ways to show their mathematical thinking.  Looking back, I used whole-group and independent math routines, projects, journal pages, individual tasks, math reflection journals, and  math class discussions throughout the year.  I was hoping to give students multiple opportunities to learn about math.  I believe students enjoyed some of the structures more than others, but having a variety of them gave them opportunities to see math from different perspectives.

The last survey question is below.

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This has been an issue that I’ve been tackling for years.  There are not simple answers for this. Students often view math as a speed game.  The quicker they are, the better.  I believe students see and are experiencing mixed messages when it comes to their math journey.  Fortunately, I get to loop with students and they get the message that math is a journey and there’ll be challenges and wins along the way.  Now what they do with that message differs.  When students perceive math as a journey, they develop a deeper understanding of the concepts that are introduced in class.  There’s also less anxiety related to speed and algorithms.  I’m going to keep this in mind while planning out what messages are being sent to students and the community next year.

The Last Five Days of School

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There’s about one week of school left before the end of the school year.  My school year ends on June 4th. Students know it, parents know it, and so do the teachers.  You can tell that school is coming to a close.  It’s in the air.   Teachers are starting to box up items and are planning their last few lessons of the school year.  The last class newsletters are being posted and student lockers are starting to empty.  The media specialist and library team is attempting to retrieve all of their books for inventory. Teachers that are retiring or leaving are giving away their resources and some teachers are moving classrooms.  The sound of tape closing up moving boxes echos around the school.   Multiple bulletin boards are being stripped down to reveal their natural cork board surfaces.  The classroom walls will soon be bare as teachers start thinking about the next school year.

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Yet, we have one week left. There’s been a lot of emphasis on the first five days of school, but in this post I’d like to address the last five days in one of my classes.

Monday is Memorial Day so students will begin the week on Tuesday.  Two of my classes will  be taking an assessment during the last week of school, which means that I can’t close out my grade book until the tests are graded.  Both classes have been exploring fractions and measurement and I don’t think the assessment will take longer than one period.  My class that isn’t taking a test is completing a scale factor project.

On Wednesday students will complete their last math journal reflection of the year. I’m in the midst of creating some questions for this and hope to finish it up by Monday.  Basically, I’m going to have the students analyze all of their assessments and SeeSaw account.  They’ll then reflect on the progress that they’ve made this year.  They’ll pinpoint a few strength areas and areas that could use some strengthening.  Since I loop with many of the classes I’d like to have the student create a summer goal that we can discuss when they return in August.  Students will bring home the tests that Wednesday to be signed and returned.

I plan on having Thursday be a research day for our math genius hour projects. Students have already created a questions and are currently in the research phase.  Some students are putting together their presentation while others are just beginning.  I don’t intend on having the students present his year as they’ll continue this project next school year.

Friday is designed as an end-of-year celebration.  Students will play different math games that we’ve used throughout the school year.  Some of the games are digital, while others involve cards and dice.  The last 10-15 minutes of class is used to fill out a class survey.  Again, I’ll be working on this over the weekend, but you can see something similar that I’ve used in the past here.  I say goodbye and tell the kids to have a great summer.  Some students are excited to get out to the bus and leave, while others want to talk about the year or what they’re doing this summer.

Field day is scheduled for Monday.  I generally don’t see the students much during field day.  I help out the different teams and at the end of the day all teachers have bus duty.  The fifth graders are “clapped-out” of the building and all the teachers wave goodbye as the busses leave.

Similar to other teachers, I have mixed feelings about the end of the school year.  It’s great to celebrate another year and the progress that’s been made.  But there’s also something different about coming back to your classroom that’s empty.   The clean up process begins and eventually teachers head home and another year is in the books.  I’m looking forward to recharging over the summer, but also have a few different work-related events.  Before you know it, I’ll be back to setup my classroom for another year.