Third Grade Math Confidence

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My third grade students have been working on rounding and estimating this week.  It’s been a challenge as these concepts are fairly new to the entire class.  We’ve only been in school for only three weeks but I feel like we’re in stride now.  Kids and teachers both are in a routines and tests are already on the schedule.

Back to rounding and estimating.   So students have been struggling a bit with these two concepts as we head towards using the standard algorithm. With that struggle comes a shake in math confidence.  Students needed to be reminded of our class expectation of “lean into the struggle” many times during the past week.  It’s interesting how a student’s math confidence changes throughout a unit, or even throughout the year.  This third grade class in particular is working on becoming more aware of their math performance compared to what’s expected.  In order to reach that goal, I dug back into my files and found a simple, yet powerful tool that might help students on this awareness math journey.

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Basically, students first read the top row goal. They were then given a die to create an example of the goal.  During this process students circled one of the emoji symbols to indicate their confidence level.  The extremely giddy emoji indicates that they could teach another student how to complete the goal.  The OK smiley means that you’re fairly confident, but feel like you might not be able to answer a similar question in a different context.  The straight line emoji means that you’re confidence is lacking and you might need some extra help.  This paper wasn’t graded and that was communicated to the students.

Regardless of the emoji that is circled, students are required to attempt each goal.  Some students were very elaborate with explaining their thinking, while others tried to make their answer as concise as possible.  After completing this students submitted their work to an online portfolio system so parents can also observe progress that’s been made.  So far it’s been a success.  I’d like to use this simple tool for the rest of the first unit and possibly the next.  It takes time, but as usual in education, the teacher has to decide whether it’s worth that time or not.  In my case, the student reflection has meaning and it’s directly tied to the goals of the class.  I’m looking forward to seeing how these responses change over time. Feel free to click here for a copy of the sheet if you’d like one.

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Grading Practices

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School started about two months ago.  Since then so much has happened and the first trimester is closing upon the school.  Report cards are starting to creep up on teachers and the very busy month of November is knocking.  My school has parent/teacher conferences as well as a bunch of professional development sessions planned for the turkey month.

While thinking back about the last two months there’s a lot that comes to mind.  Specifically, I made a change in my grading policy.  I wrote about that here. I decided to move from a point-based system to something that better resembled a standards-based approach.  It’s definitely not 100% standards-based, but it’s moving towards that model.

Basically, students complete a quiz or project and receive it back with my feedback.   Students either get a M or NY.  If they receive a M they file away the papers.  A NY means that the students are required to redo/change the assignment so that they meet the expectations on the second attempt.  I keep the score on the second attempt.  It’s not a perfect system, but I believe this policy is making positive ground.  My reflections on the first two months of using this are below.

1.)  Students are much less anxious about the quizzes and projects.  Maybe knowing that they get another opportunity allows them to take a risk or try a new strategy that they otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

2.)  I’ve become more precise in what I expect students to complete.  Part of this is due to wanting to make sure that a boat load of students don’t have to redo the assignment because of unclear directions.  I’ve been using a “criteria for success” indicator on each project.  This eliminates the points aspect, but also gives students an opportunity to evaluate their own progress on the assignment before turning it in.

3.)  Students are a bit more assertive in looking at their own misconceptions/simple mistakes when they look at a NY that’s returned to them.  Some students ask for additional help or resources before completing the assignment a second time.  Students aren’t allowed to redo the assignment at home so some have used technology tools in the classroom to research the skill before making a second attempt.

4.)  When I first started using the M/NY criteria I found that time was an issue.  It still is although it’s managed a bit better with some clear expectations upfront.  Students that receive a NY have to redo the assignment before the end of that unit.  Some students finish it on the day I return the sheet, while others wait until close to the last minute. I don’t accept the assignment after the unit is over.

5.)  It’s not perfect.  I don’t think any grading policy is perfect.  It takes students more time to complete assignments, especially if they have to take it twice.  There’s also more feedback involved, which takes additional time.  Also, this policy is in place for assignments, but not necessarily tests.  What happens to students that take more than twice to achieve mastery?  Good question and I haven’t answered that yet.  The district still requires letter grades at the upper elementary level.  My district current doesn’t use standards-based grading, but at some point it may move towards that model.  I’m already seeing positive strides in my own classroom and a slight change in how students view assignments.  It’s more of a focus on moving towards the mastery of a concept vs. look at my points.  We’re making positive progress.

Standards-based Grading Strategies in Second Grade

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Yesterday, students in my second grade class took a unit assessment on fractions.  Generally after the assessment students review their results and reflect on progress made.  I graded the tests last night and the scores were across the board, as some did extremely well while others floundered.  The point values were placed on the top of each test to be reviewed by the students and parents.  I don’t put a grade on the test, but instead add bits of feedback for questions missed.  I’ve used similar strategies with homework for the past few years.  No one had a perfect score, but I definitely wanted the students to check their results before we move on to the geometry unit.  I think reflecting on achievement can lead to personal goal setting.  

There are many ways in which I could facilitate the reflection process.  The class could review the test together, question by question.  Students could ask questions to determine misunderstandings. Or I could have the students work in partners to review questions missed.  Or possibly even have the students fill out a reflection sheet.  I feel like these strategies provide value, but the results vary and aren’t individualized, except for the reflection sheet.  All of the strategies tend to be missing a student ownership/accountability piece.

Regardless of the grade/score I want students to be able to focus on the learning, not necessarily the grade. This is a focus in all my classes.  This emphasis as well as participating in #sblchat has led me to embrace more standards-based grading strategies.  Even at the second grade level I feel that it’s valuable to set a growth-mindset tone.  I’m becoming more comfortable in using standards-based strategies in the classroom and am starting to see the benefits as the school year continues.   

Instead of using a strategy that I’ve used before, I decided to try something different.  I spent about 10 minutes reteaching misconceptions that I found while grading.  Some of the major themes were retaught in this mini lesson.  I then gave all the students an opportunity to retake the test questions that were missed.  I gave students a blank test and highlighted specific questions that were missed.  I met with students as they finished their retake. The student and I reviewed the assessment results and the retake opportunity. Students were given  about 3-5 minutes to meet with me to review the retake.  I’d like to spend more time with each student but time was definitely a constraint. I feel like the conferences were helpful as I was able to confer with students about their thinking, retake and test. I added any second attempt points to the original total.

Even though this was a time-consuming activity I feel like it was time well spent.  I even had a few students ask if we we’re going to do this after every assessment.  I’m not sure about that, but I may use this strategy again in the future.