Monday, September 30, 2013

Another Instructional Change

I have spent the last several weeks unhappy with my lessons. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what I need to change in my presentation. Over the years, I have created the following routine during all of my lessons: I review with the students a concept from the previous lesson. Then, I provide an overview of how this skill will connect to the skills we will learn today and tomorrow. Next, I present the new skill for that day. Throughout the lesson, I provide several forms of evaluations to determine if the students are learning what I am teaching. Lastly, I summarize the key points that I want my students to take away from the lesson.

After some reflection, I realized my concern was centered on the number of students not completing assignments for homework. Several of those students claimed they "did not get it." Do not get me wrong, I know some of them just did not complete it and used that excuse. My worry was an increasing number of students being truthful about not understanding the lesson. I could not figure out why, since I provided several examples in class prior to assigning the practice at home.

My "light bulb" moment occurred during a recent conversation with @WHSRowe. During our conversation, Rik mentioned he delays homework until at least three days after introducing a new topic. During this time, he provides examples over a few days to help students become familiar enough with the topic to attempt the practice on their own. Sorry for the pun, but it was a very enlightening conversation for me.

Since our conversation, I have intentionally delayed home practice on topics until three days after introducing a new topic. In addition, I have made a commitment to starting each class with a student centered review where they can work in groups. This delaying concept has made several noticeable changes in my classes:

1. There is an increase in practice completion
2. I am able to provide more examples for the students to work through
3. There is an increase in students' grades for the practice
4. There has been a noticeable decrease in students claiming "I did not get it."

It has taken me a little bit of time to get use to the structural change of my lesson, but I am very pleased with the changes I have mentioned above over the last week. I have grown accustomed to integrating two problems from each of the last two days prior to introducing the new topic. It was a little tricky at first, but I have gotten use to it.

I think I have found the answer to my lesson dilemma. I am happy with the changes I have made. I am glad I gave Rik a call. He helped connect a lot of dots for me.

Please let me know if you made any lesson changes that increased student engagement or achievement...

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Monday, September 23, 2013

SGOs and SBG, Perfect Together!

The new school year is off and running. We are beginning to dig deeper into the CCSS in my math classes, along with attempting to blend technology into my lessons when appropriate. Also, we are continuing to learn more about the implementation of the new PARCC assessments. Lastly, our district is beginning to implement the state required Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) for all teachers. It can all seem like a big bowl of alphabet soup after awhile.

The addition that will impact instruction the most, in my opinion, is teachers starting to use SGOs. The idea behind the SGOs is for teachers to focus on the growth of the students towards a particular objective or standard. First, teachers are asked to provide a pre-assessment to determine where the students currently are with their understanding of the concept. Once the teacher has scored the pre-assessment, he or she can begin to create a growth scale to get the class moving in the right direction. The role of the teacher is to now focus on the  instruction to reach the above mentioned goal. The teacher can determine the current level of the class by providing frequent formative assessments. Still need to improve? Challenge yourself to use alternate methods to improve student achievement.

The great part of this is that the teacher is focused solely on learning. The teacher can not stick with the old school view of "I taught it, so they should understand it." Since the teacher is focused on the learning of the students, he or she will attempt several methods of instruction to guarantee the students are reaching proficient on the standard. All the teacher is concerned with is the success of the students. This sounds exactly like the  kind of classroom I would like my own kids to be members of.

I believe the impact SGOs will have on instruction in the classroom will lead to more teachers heading towards Standards Based Grading. The framework for SBG is imbedded in the SGO process: Teachers must focus solely on the students learning, not what their percent grade is currently. If the students are not getting it, the teachers must try alternate methods to get the students to grow. This is the main concept behind SGB as well. How do teachers determine if the students are getting the concept? Simply put, we must use formative assessments more. This will provide feedback for teachers to gauge the growth of the students. Ideally, this information can provide areas or students to focus on to maximize the growth of each individual student. Getting the students to actually get a concept, what a novel idea!

What better way to have students work towards mastering a concept than to provide multiple attempts at learning? The idea of retakes and redoes is at the core of SBG. These retakes give students a chance to learn from their mistakes and make corrections to improve. The idea behind this is that students must continually work on improving towards a specific goal or standard. It is almost like these two were made for each other.

I do not know if the state thought about this when requiring SGOs in every class, but I think they have made a huge impact on changing teachers' instruction. Focusing on if the students are learning should be the only thing we pay attention to. If done correctly, the usage of SGOs could have greatest impact on instruction in my career. I wonder if the state knew what they were doing...

Anyone else have thoughts on this? Please let me know...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hitting the Ground Running

I am in my classroom on and off all summer long. I go in for a couple of hours a few times a week for a variety of things. My two kids like it because they get some freedom and can head to the gym to play basketball while Dad works in his room. I like it because I feel like I can prepare better for September. I could not be the person who leaves in June, never setting foot again in their class until September. I like heading to school, it gives me peace of mind for the new school year.

Then why did it feel like I was sprinting all week long? Between meeting my new students (and several I already knew from teaching them the year before), IEP meetings, SIP meetings, review of policies and procedures, assisting the new teacher two doors down and getting involved in our District Improvement Plan, it was tough knowing which end was up.

A couple of real positives: I was able to discuss a new grading policy with the Special Ed Teacher that co-teaches in my room. I believe we are looking at focusing on Standards Based Grading for those classes. We are focusing on measuring them against a standard using a 0-4 point scale. We have not come up with what we are labeling each number in the scale, maybe we will leave that to the students next week. We are hoping that this new approach will increase their interest in learning the topics instead of concentrating on their grade percentages (regardless of how low or high they were). Bye-bye traditional percentage grades!

The second positive is getting involved in our District Improvement Plan. During our QSAC audit last spring, we did not reach the required 80% in a couple of categories. I have been the "data person" for our small district the past few years and was asked to join the team. I am looking forward to finding solutions that will help both the teachers' instruction in the classroom and student achievement. It is going to be tough work, but one benefit is our school is finally looking into creating a school-wide Response to Intervention (RTI) Program. We will be responsible in the Math Professional Learning Community for finding Level 1 Instructional Strategies that we can use to begin working on improving student achievement. It will be challenging and fun all at the same time.

Needless to say, I am ready for the weekend. A chance to regroup and, let's get ready for soccer games both Saturday and Sunday along with a sleepover for my son's birthday. Yeah, I should be well rested for Monday!