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.


 

Reflection

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It’s official.  The 2015-16 school year has concluded.  The final bell rang last week I’m starting to look at my summer book list. My reading takes on different forms during the summer.  I have a few books on hold at the local library just for that purpose.  I’m looking forward to digging into those later this week.  Before reading these I enjoy catching up on blogs that I missed during the last hectic month of the school year.  This year I’m also looking back at my personal goals for this past year.

As I reflect back on the school year I often categorize how classes went that year.  Were the classes successful?  How did students learn?  Did I create an environment that optimized student learning and their curiosity?  Did I leave a lasting impact that students will remember?  How many of these students will invite me to their graduation.  Okay, the last one was a joke.  Kind of.  I tend to reflect back on these questions as well as others.  Last August I wrote a post about the goals that I had for the new school year.  This post is designed to reflect on those goals.


 

1.  I plan on taking the first few days of school to engage students in community building activities. The class will be completing a “get to know you” survey and set expectations for the class. We’ll also be completing the marshmallow challenge and have some rich conversations around math and mindset. I feel like instructional strategies make little impact if students have a fixed mindset. The same could be said for teachers. Before delving into content I want to ensure that the classroom community is moving in the right direction.

Looking back, I was ambitious with my planning.  At the time I thought this was a realistic goal.  I started off the school year with community builders.  We completed the marshmallow challenge and other activities.  I didn’t actually survey the students.  Instead, students wrote in their journals about math experiences.  I reviewed their journal entries and had brief conversations with each student.  The students felt comfortable in the classroom and seemed to develop rapport with each other.

I didn’t get into the rich discussions about math mindset as much.  Having a growth mindset has been emphasized in my district but the practice of it in individual classrooms vary. This is also a byproduct of the mindsets coming from other students, at home and at school. Honestly, it was challenging to not dive into content immediately.   Regardless, the classroom community was set on a sound foundation.  That foundation played a pivotal role throughout the rest of the school year.

2. I‘d like to make learning more visible in the classroom. I’m planning on having students use math journals to reflect and document their learning journey. I’m also planning on using effect size data to show student growth over time. To do this I’ll need to create additional pre-assessments to analyze pre/post data. I’m also planning on moving away from letter grades on unit assessments. Instead, I’m going to have students reflect more on the skills being learned in class.  This is a change from past practices so a lot of modeling may be needed.

I had students use math journals this year.  I intentionally had students use them to reflect on assignments/projects throughout the year – more so at the beginning of the year.  I also dabbled with students using foldables this school year.  The foldables were used primarily for process-oriented skills involving conversions.  These were glued or taped into the student math journals.  By the end of the school year the math journals were thick and looked like scrapbooks.  I’m looking at changing this format next year.

I used effect-size with one of my classes this year.  Students took  a pre-assessment and explored a particular concept for around three weeks.  After the three weeks, they took the same pre-assessment.  I calculated the effect-size and placed the data in a spreadsheet that was shared with my teaching team and administrator. I felt like this was good practice as my district is moving towards effect-size next school year.  Students received both the pre-assessment and assessment back at the end of the unit to see how much progress was made.

My unit tests didn’t include letter grades on the top of them.  This seemed to bother some students as they wanted to know their exact grade.  By the end of the year, all some students weren’t as concerned about the percent/grade.  I emphasized, as much as I could, that the skills were the focus.  I believe progress was made in this area and I’d like to keep this practice intact for next year.


I tend to agree with the philosophy that deep reflection can lead to growth.  I’m looking forward to the new school year in August and have some new goals that I’d like to put in place.  For now, it’s time to reflect and recharge before the new school year comes around the bend.