Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"I Made It"

Well, this is it. Tomorrow, my Seventh and Eighth Graders will sit down and take the math sections of their state tests. They will be required to take three sections tomorrow and Thursday (for my 7th Graders) and six parts all tomorrow (for my 8th graders). These scores will then be punched through a formula to determine my "effectiveness" as their teacher. There are so many things fundamentally wrong with this, but that is for another post.

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of this school year: I was not doing any test prep! In the past, I have spent the two months prior to testing working from a "test prep" workbook and giving my students weekly "practice tests". We would review those tests (after slapping a grade on them, of course!) to get them to do better next time. I have to admit, it must have been effective, because for the most part, my test scores were high. So, that is all that counts, right?

This year I focused on altering my instruction to allow for more group work and higher level thinking problems. I worked hard at providing my students with a chance to work with each other to get guidance and/or support. It also gave me time to float around the room to engage my students in conversations about their work. This gave me a great opportunity to meet my students on a more individual basis. In years past, I never gave them that chance. I never claimed to be a "quick learner".

In addition to the intentional shift mentioned above, I have changed my instructional technique as well. In years past, it was a lesson a day. Period. I graded homework and gave frequent quizzes. I ended up with a lot of grades. It got to the point where I was spending all my time grading, that I could not prepare anything exciting to enhance the instructional part of the lesson. There just was not enough time in the day.

Now, I do not need to spend as much time reviewing homework because what they do at home is work from several days prior. I have worked hard at presenting material over several days with multiple chances to practice in the classroom prior to allowing them to work at home individually. This did take some time getting use to, but I really like this adjustment. I have found an increase in the amount of homework completed since it is a topic we have spent several days discussing in class. As a result, I am noticing an increase in my students' confidence as well.

That confidence is what I am hoping will carry my students through the next couple of days. I had to wait until the last minute to write this post because I had second thoughts (repeatedly) throughout the year about reverting back to my "old way" of doing things. I have to admit, I am glad I did not. I found this year much more enjoyable to teach without the test prep. I am just glad I had the will power to see it through...

Are there any changes you made this year to your instruction? How did it go? I would love to hear from you...

3 comments:

barry saide said...

Love thi post, Jim. I too scaled back my test prep. I did one week (habits die hard), and focused instead on my students making meaning from work in partners and tri's. I've enjoyed the opportunity to do true mini-lessons and see students teaching each other. They'll learn more from each other than they'll ever learn from us, right?

Dave Mulder said...

Your courage to do what is right in your teaching practice is admirable, my friend! You are an inspiration. Blessings to you in your endeavors.

Jasper Fox Sr. said...

You've accomplished something that is very noble! Rote practicing for tests seems like a great way to have students score well, and it may work for some-but not all students! The manner in which you've described your year thus far sounds more engaging and student centered. Whatever ends up happening with their scores, know that the time they've spent with you will have been much more meaningful and memorable than if you just went through the motions and reviewed the old fashioned way.