Monday, January 25, 2016

There once was a boy...

Today started our new semester, and a new semester for me brings a new group of students to my remediation Algebra 1 class. These students are assigned to this class because they were not proficient on the Algebra 1 Keystone Exam (Pennsylvania's state assessment). The law requires us to remediate these students, prior to them taking the test again.

Every one of these students have a 2nd math class. They all have a year long Geometry class. Most of these students are your struggling math students, that simply don't like math. The thought of having 2 math classes in (sometimes) the same 4 block day, is daunting and scary.

My remediation class is a flipped mastery class, where the students do absolutely all work in class. There is no outside homework, and they are always able to improve on any score they receive. It is a standards based graded course as well. Every student has their own individual learning plan, based on their state assessment scores.

So, 2nd block today, while waiting for the students to find the room, and for class to start, the following conversation happens. The boy's name will be John for this conversation, so that his identity is protected.

John: "Are you Mrs. McGowan?"

Me: "I am!"

John: "I just want to tell you I don't want this class. I already have another math class, and I can't simply handle another math class. Can I please be exited from this class?"

Me: "But, John, I was SoooOOOOoooo looking forward to teaching you. I was told that your smile will brighten my day, and that your humor will surely make me smile, regardless of the day that I was having.

John: just looking at me

Me:  "I was told that I you are such a great student, that I will be blessed having you as a student"

John: "You were really told that!"

Me: "Yes! Can you give me a chance?"

I continued with class, where we did absolutely no math. We did a kahoot about me, students answered 10 questions about them, filled out a blog on "I wish my teacher knew...", did a learning style quiz, and played a Socrative space race on pop culture.

While playing Kahoot, the para's name in the room was mentioned. John exclaimed, "I know her! She's in my Geometry class too!" I, then told John, that is who told me all of those nice things about him.

John looked at the para and said "You really said those things! Thank you!"

At the end of the block (90 minutes), John announced to the class:

"I like you, Mrs. McGowan. It's going to be a great semester together!"

Now, I just have to make sure I live up to my end of the bargain. That my friends, is how I hook the students. I learn positive things about them, prior to knowing them, so that I can make sure they know I care.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why allow redos and late homework?

I just had this conversation with my students last Thursday. "Would you do homework if it wasn't counted for toward your grade," I asked my students. Here were some of the responses:

  • "Wait, we get points for doing homework?"
  • "We have to do your homework. If not, we would be totally lost the next day. Your homework is mandatory to know what the heck we are doing in class."
  • "Only certain subjects. It only counts for 10% of our grade, so not that big of deal. Other classes, it counts for 50% of the grade."
  • "Videos, yes! Worksheets, no!"
I asked this question because it never fails that majority of my students do their homework, and it just seems to be unnecessary for me to walk around and make sure they all really did do it. However, I do, because if I assigned it, then it is important. I don't assign homework just to assign homework. There is always a purpose.

The concept that it is important and it serves a purpose is exactly why I allow late homework. When a student doesn't do a video, he/she is asked to leave the room to watch it, so that he/she can be fully engaged with the activity taking place during class time. I don't deduct points because it wasn't done. Once the video is watched, the student is integrated back into the class activity. Usually it only takes once or twice for a student to realize, 10-15 minutes the night before is worth it. 

As for worksheets or other homework other than video, if a student doesn't have it complete when class starts, I ask the student to please complete it later, and once done, to show it to me for full credit. That usually catches the student off guard. "You will allow it late for full credit?" "I assigned it, right? It's important and you need to do it." 

As for test redos, I allow them. I allow students to retake summative assessments. This retake can't happen until a few things are done. The student must write me a letter (and their parents) as to why they should be allowed to have a retake, they must correct all mistakes on the first test explaining all mistakes, they must complete extra practice problems that I assign, and they must meet with me to go over practice problems. When those events are completed, then a retake is issued. I have very few of these retakes, because students realize the work involved and do well on the first test to begin with. Also, because I give so many different ungraded formative assessments prior to giving the summative test, I often know exactly who is going to do well and who isn't. I try to have the face to face conversations with those that won't do well, to help them do well. 

Some arguments that I hear from colleagues is that I am not teaching the students for real life, for college, for blah blah blah. "Would you want a doctor to work on you that has made mistakes," I am asked? Well, yes, I would because he/she had the opportunity to make the mistake prior to working on me, get it right, and I think I am pretty safe. If I wouldn't have had the chance to take my teacher exams more than once, I wouldn't be teaching. I had a grand-mal seizure during the first round, and the test was marked as a failure since I couldn't complete it. 

Stuff happens. Everyone deserves another chance!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What is a formative assessment?

I am a firm believer that formative assessments must be part of the teaching and learning process. I tell my students that an FA (formative assessment) allows me to get a pulse on their learning and their understanding, and gives me a direction in the path of teaching. Consider this situation: You are on a path of teaching, and you reach a fork in the road. What path you choose should be based on students' understanding.  Through administering a formative assessment, you have information that helps you decide the right path that is best for the students. In this blog post, I hope to touch on what a formative assessment is, what a formative assessment is not, different types/methods of formative assessments, and different programs/internet sites one might use to administer a formative assessment.

What exactly is a formative assessment?

A formative assessment is a quick assessment that allows a teacher to get a pulse on the students' learning. To me, what is important is that it's quick. FAs can be planned, but the most powerful ones are those that come about by observing the students, and listening for the students' understanding. FAs can also be used to check for common mistakes and used to discern those mistakes. It is not an assessment that checks for mastery of an objective or learning target. Mastery is usually associated with summative assessments.

Furthermore, a formative assessment is not a graded assessment. In my opinion, as soon as you grade a formative assessment, the learning stops. Students view it as a one and done type of assessment. Students also tend to get anxious when grades are assigned, and anxiety often times prevents a teacher from seeing the true understanding. Because you aren't checking for mastery, it is important to allow the students to try and try again if needed. The students are more willing to take risks in their own learning, when they are not being graded.

However, formative assessments do require feedback. It makes no sense to give a formative assessment, if you do nothing with it. As a teacher, after administering a formative assessment, regardless of type, I need to provide feedback to students. Sometimes, the feedback is simply a "High-five, you are on the right track!" but other times, the feedback needs to be a private face to face conversation with the student. This provides for a very powerful teaching opportunity. Those face to face chats can help you learn so much about the confusions a student has.

What are different types of formative assessments?

A formative assessment can be done at the start of the class, some points in the middle, and/or at the end of class. It should be done often.  It can be done gesturally, on paper/pencil, or digitally. All three have pros and cons, and all three can be employed rather quickly. Some ideas for each include the following:

  • Gesturally- Extremely quick, but hard to give feedback. This also requires trust that the student is being honest with their learning since no work can be seen.
    • Thumbs up/down for understanding
    • Cards that indicate where a student is understanding (Got it! Almost Got it! Need Help! Not sure at all!)
    • Fist to five (5 fingers = Understand completely, 4 fingers = Understand mostly, 3 = Understand pretty well, 2 = more practice, please, 1 = need help, fist = No understanding)
  • Paper/Pencil- Not the quickest way to get information, but is important if technology isn't available.
    • Homework practice- since a teacher doesn't expect mastery on every single homework problem, one might look at homework practice as a type of formative assessment. I know that I do when my students have practice problems for homework. 
    • Entrance Tickets or a "Do Now" problem. This can help you decide differentiated groups. 
    • Get the Goof- Teacher solves a problem, but makes an error. The students need to find that error and explain why it is wrong.
    • Quick Pulse- What can the student do at this point, and what needs to be stressed. This can been done a poll, a quick discussion using a back channel, or simply a problem to solve.
    • Exit Ticket- What are students' take away from the class (summarize what they learn, give a quick example of what was taught) what thoughts might a student have, what needs further discussion
  • Digitally - These are software/internet sites that help you "see" the learning and engage using technology. (These are just a few options!)
    • goFormative- My favorite. Only one (that I know of) that gives you live results as your students work. Many different ways to make a FA easily.
    • Today's Meet- A back channel that allows you to gather information/discussion with your students. Can be used as a way to do virtual office hours as well.
    • Kahoot- a site that can create competition with your students
    • Poll Everywhere - allows you ask questions or a series of questions to check for understanding
    • Socrative - a site that allows you to establish a virtual room (no logins needed) with different types of FA (multiple choice, open ended, space races)

Regardless of what you teach and how you teach it (traditional vs flipped classroom), formative assessments have to be an integral part of the teaching process. They show you what your students are learning, and where on the learning path they stand. They are not meant to be used to penalize a student for lack of understanding.  Formative assessments are simply meant to inform you of your teaching, and help you determine what the next best step is for the students.