Saturday, October 8, 2016

Even introverts can enjoy cooperative learning!

The first conference I've ever attended as a Common Core Demonstration Teacher was Kagan Engagement and Cooperative Learning.  My job entails attending a variety of Common Core conferences throughout the year and then applying the strategies in my own 4th grade classroom.  I had never heard of Kagan and the only reason I went was because other Common Core Demo Teachers had signed up.  It was also in Pasadena, California, which is somewhat close to my house and it was on a Saturday and I wouldn't have to miss any school.  So at 7:30 in the morning my friend Hortencia and I roll up to the high school where the conference is scheduled.

We walk in and I'm impressed with the environment at once.  Although we are in a high school cafeteria, it looks comfortably set up and they have a spread of breakfast danishes and bagels from Panera including fruit plates and coffee.  I am already feeling at ease and ready to learn.

I sit down at a table of four with other fellow Common Core Demonstration Teachers.  We all begin to chit chat and catch up with each other when the conference begins.  I am feeling very comfortable in our small group and I'm ready to learn something new.  Our presenter is hilarious right from the beginning and makes everyone feel right at home.  He is wearing a little bow tie and looks like the biggest nerd, but he is so cool!  You just love to listen to him and then you discover that he has a lot of knowledge!  I learn that Kagan presenters have been educators and even administrators and have thoroughly utilized Kagan strategies in their classrooms and became Kagan fanatics long before making the transition to Kagan presenter.

Right away we begin getting acquainted with engagement strategies.  We learn how to share with a partner, giving each party equal talking and listening time.  We learn how to team build and class build by telling our face neighbor what we ate last night with lots of elaboration.  We list ice cream flavors, taking turns with our shoulder partner.   Then we take turns, again everyone with the same amount of talking time sharing with the four members of our table what is our favorite food with descriptions and sensory details.  We learn how to greet each other, praise each other, and say goodbye to each other.  Kagan really stresses the social component in their lessons.

By now I'm getting really comfy and self assured with my group when the music starts.  We are told to get up and walk around.  I don't want to get up and walk around.  I am a happy introvert and I really like to learn in my little area of known variables.  But I get up and walk around with the music just like everyone else.  Some people begin to dance, but that is definitely not me.  When the music stops, we are to find the closest partner to us, someone we don't know.  We are to shake hands with them and introduce ourselves.   Kagan stresses the fact that our students do not know how to greet or introduce their selves so they must practice, like we are practicing now.   We then have to tell each other why we chose to get in the teaching profession, practicing the strategies we learned in our comfy, risk free group.  Now we don't say goodbye to our partner but are told to take him to find another pair of partners.  We greet each other again and go through the routine of meet and greet.  Now my original partner has to introduce me to the new pair.  This teaches him and trains him to be a good listener.  When it is my turn I realize that I was so nervous that I forgot why my "new friend" wanted to become a teacher.  I have to ask him again, which is embarrassing, but it teaches me to get over my fears and listen and pay attention to others when they share something with you.  I guess adults need these lessons in social etiquette also unfortunately.  Now that the new group of four knows each other we are told to grab our things and move to a table with our new group.  My heart drops!  I was so happy before in my little risk free group of fellow teachers and peers.  Now I have to get social and talk to new people??!!  I was not happy anymore.

Well the day went on and it wasn't so bad.  The presenter remained as entertaining and knowledgeable throughout the day.  I learned so much as to the why of student engagement.  I learned that getting students out of their comfort zone helps develop their minds.   I learned that standing up, dancing around, any type of movement are types of brain breaks that young minds (an old ones) need so desperately if they are going to learn and retain information.  I learned that equal time sharing gives the introverts, like me, practice sharing and prepares them for life that you can't always sit back with a cozy group of four.  I also learned that equal time listening gave extroverts time to learn that listening is just as important as speaking.  I also learned that my new group of four were great people and I spent a very fun day learning amazing new strategies and philosophies with them.

The day went so well that I am now a complete Kagan fanatic.  Everything I do in my classroom has some type of Kagan engagement strategy behind it.  My students absolutely loved my new teaching style also.  Throughout the year I returned to a Kagan conference seven separate times.   If you continue to read my blogs you will probably see elements of Kagan engagement and cooperative learning woven throughout my lessons and my rationale for designing them.  I would encourage anyone to personally check out a Kagan conference.  They have them all over the world actually.  My favorite spot is in San Clemente, California because it is their headquarters and situated besides the beach in a comfortable two story building.  (I still can't get away from wanting to be in a comfy and riskfree zone.)  What is wierd is that now Kagan headquarters the place for cooperative learning and engagement kind of feels like home to such huge introvert like me.     Here is their website in case you are interested.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why am I lovin my teaching job?

I just read an article titled  "The Disproportionate Stress Plaguing American Teachers"  by the Atlantic. It discussed how teachers are overly stressed by their job and it is becoming a huge problem.  I thought of myself as an educator and thought, 'I am not stressed at all.  I am actually so happy at my job that I come home and blog about it every night!'  So I felt it was my duty to explain why I am lovin my Common Core job and why I think others are not.  Hopefully by opening the dialogue up to different points of view and bantering a bit, we can go outside the box to solve some of our education problems and be happy again in our profession.  So here is my story:

 My district has created the job of "Common Core Demonstration Teacher or CCDT."  I was hired in the second year of the program.  The population of CCDTs began with 12, then at year two doubled to 24, then at year three doubled to 48.  The initial plan was to continue doubling the amount of CCDTs every year until all teachers in our district had the title, the knowledge, and the salary, but the program got too expensive so we didn't hire anymore this year. 

CCDTs are expected to work 27 additional days in the year and two additional hours per day.  We get paid our daily rate so it is a decent sized pay increase.  During these hours we are expected to attend Common Core conferences of our choice (paid by our district), educate ourselves with Common Core books and Webinars, and bring this valuable knowledge back to our classrooms to incorporate true Common Core practices.  We share this knowledge by creating Common Core videos, presenting at school and district functions, and inviting teachers to visit and observe our Common Core practices in our classrooms.  

Common Core Demonstration Teachers are not stressed or burned out.  We love Common Core because we understand it.  But the only reason we understand it is because we have been given the luxury of time to explore it, to practice it, to fail with it, and to learn from it.  We have been given the resources needed to understand it and the time to reflect on it.  We have been given the support by our school district to take risks with new 21st Century ideas, and learn and grow.  We have been given the money that makes all this extra time spent out of the contract time worth it.  We feel valued and honored actually, the way a teacher is supposed to feel. 

I'm definitely not saying that all teachers should do this.  This is my time of life when I want to do this.  But what I'm saying is that valuing the teacher, honoring her, showing her respect, giving the time, resources, and support to learn the Common Core properly is what needs to be done to make the education system thrive again.  Most importantly, pay us what we are worth!  Teachers are working so many inconceivable hours just to understand Common Core practices that that is causing the stress.  They are expected to know so much, but receive so little paid time to learn it and put it into practice.   No wonder the majority of us are basket cases!  So in conclusion, the easy fix to eliminate teacher stress, make them all Common Core Demonstration Teachers!  Train them, give them time, let them take risks, let them present to others to better their craft,  honor them, and... pay them what they are worth!

Anyone else have a solution to teacher stress?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Project Solar System with nine planets

My son, who is in eighth grade was assigned a project in his Science class this week.  He was to create a three dimensional model of the nine, yes nine planets of the Solar System.  That was the assignment.  He was then to write a short description of every planet.  He and I were both very disillusioned by the assignment.  I have been a third grade teacher in the past and this was the exact replica of the project I had assigned, before I was a Common Core teacher every year (well I had only assigned eight planets, but that's beside the point).  So my son and I both thought the same thing, "Really?  Five years later, the same basic art project?"  But I got over my negativity quickly.  I was told before my son entered kindergarten some very wise advice.  A mother from a Mom's group I was involved in said, "School is just icing on the cake.  The real education happens at home."  I have believed in that advice from day one of kindergarten, and nine years later I am happy to say that my son is thriving academically in school.

So I couldn't let this rudimentary assignment go to waste.  I took my son to JoAnn's and I let him walk the aisles, getting ideas for how he was going to design his Solar System.  I didn't say a word, no matter how badly I wanted to.  I decided then and there that since this project was so very easy, he would do every part of it.   He liked this freedom of creativity.  He was excited about picking out the  art supplies.  He was never really into art before so this was something new for him.  He chose clay, ceramic paint, Crazy Glue, and a lot of other materials that I never would have chose if I were to help him.  We went home and he got to work immediately.  He made nine planets (yes, the assignment said nine) out of clay.  He made them a little, or actually a lot bigger than I would have, but true to my word, I didn't say anything.  I gave no advice whatsoever.

  The planets came out beautifully!  Then he researched the planets and wrote up their descriptions and posted them near the planets.  He put on some finishing touches such as the many moons and rings that the planets had.  He was extremely proud of his creation.

Tonight is the night before he has to turn his project into class.  He has this idea that the project must be propped up vertically, he can't deliver it horizontally.  It doesn't say this on the instructions, but he has it in his head that that is how his project will be.  So he lifts it up vertically.  You know what will happen.  We all do.    Well actually that doesn't happen.  Only one planet, Jupiter falls hard to the floor.  Luckily it doesn't shatter into pieces.  My son takes it well.  He decides he needs to add more glue.  Once it is dry, he props it up again, and down it comes, pounding to the floor.  So he analyzes the situation and decides that Jupiter's rings, which are pipe cleaners can be used to sustain the heavy clay ball from falling.  He makes some calculations, finds some duct tape, and Voila! he solves his problem.  When he props up the poster board, Jupiter doesn't fall.  I am so proud of him!  I even begin to change my mind about this project that I deep down inside feel is not worthy of an eighth grader.  I see my son solving problems, working with gravity, and even thinking like an engineer.   I think, "Wow!  He's using 21st Century Skills now!

By now its late at night.  We're both tired and ready to go to bed.  He props up the poster board again, and, yes, you now guessed right, all the planets fall to the ground.  My son gets so upset!  Three days of work come crashing to the ground.  He is completely ready to lose it.  Now is when I see it is time for me to step in.  I have been hands off for this whole project.  Now it is my time to be a mom.  But I don't help with the project.  I help his state of mind.  I realize now since I have become a Common Core Demonstration Teacher, and have done so much research, that I have given him the Fixed Mindset.  He is the typical super smart child that has never had a challenge in his life.  He's feeling it for the first time tonight.  Here is my chance to make up for all the times I encouraged that Fixed Mindset.  I tell him to take a break, and then I tell him that he can persevere.  He can overcome this obstacle, even though he is dead tired and wants to give up.  He can solve this one last problem.

So he does!  He gets up, glues all the planets back on and tells me that this is now a horizontal project.  I am so proud!  I learned a lesson too right along with my son.  Every project, every assignment, can encourage 21st Century Learning.  You just have to be open to the possibility.  Here is the finished horizontal project, Our Solar System with nine planets. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Are our tests really CCSS approved?

Today my class took a district benchmark test in math.  Yesterday we took one in English Language Arts.  They both took up half the day of instruction time.  I have very mixed feelings about this test.  I am a Common Core Demonstration Teacher for the district and part of my job is to spread joy and positivity towards anything Common Core.  The problem is that I truly am joyful and positive about anything Common Core so when other educators bad mouth it, I vehemently disagree.  For so long I had to go through the hoops and obstacles presented to me by the phonics only era, then Balanced Literacy, and finally the  scripted teaching period.  I was so happy when along came a philosophy that I believed in.

So they, and they are the people who told us to teach in scripted vocabulary, tell us we must formally test the students on Common Core Standards every trimester.  We must do this to prepare for the CAASPP test that comes next spring.  They also tell us this is the "Common Core" way.  The problem for me is that I don't get all giddy for taking this test the way I get giddy for teaching Common Core Standards.   I actually do feel like testing is good.  I have worked really hard this first two months of school and I do expect my students to show what they know.  I know that some will excel and some need a lot more practice in order to get it.  If this test were valid, I believe that it would show me those very results, and I would actually not be surprised.  For example, "Fernanda" who reads very fluently, and can answer questions by referring to text and inferring should really have no problem on test questions that deal with inferencing.  While, "Julie" who cannot yet read grade level text should not even remotely pass the test.  Well, today I was surprised when both "Fernanda" and "Julie" both scored the same on the inferencing portion of the test.  They both scored at far below basic.

Of  course I won't use these test results for anything of importance.  I can't use it for future differentiation strategies or small group instruction because the whole class did poorly.  I won't use it for grades because I don't believe in its validity.  Maybe it has a little importance because it get the students familiar with technology and test taking strategies.  Maybe.   But the problem I have is because I am a Common Core Demonstration Teacher, representing CCSS, do I have to support this benchmark test that I don't agree with?  It makes me wonder if the district/state/country may be unsure of what CCSSs really are.

When I look at the State Framework I don't see any mention of extremely difficult tests.  When I review the CCSS for my grade level, I also don't see mandates that say that teacher must give tests that are super hard and make students (and teachers) doubt themselves and their skills and hard work they put into learning the skills.  I also don't see any reference to multiple choice tests when discussing the importance of real world application in the College and Career Ready (CCR) section of the standards.  So why are we still giving these tests?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Retelling Stories using Nonlinguistic Representations in a Dual Language Classroom

My students did a fun lesson today on retelling stories.  We are reading the novel The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White in Spanish (we are a dual immersion classroom), and it is much more difficult in Spanish than in English.  I have a lot of Spanish learners in my class so I had to find a way to scaffold and differentiate to make the story meaningful for all learners.

I began with a read aloud while my students followed along.  I had divided the chapter of 8 pages up into fourths, so every two pages we stopped and represented the plot in a nonlinguistical manner.  We drew the image we saw in our minds.  This activity created a lot of discussion within table groups as the students drew their pictures.  Students were asking for vocabulary, plot, character analysis, everything I try to teach and they don't listen to easily, they were now asking for freely from their peers.  As I walked by table groups I heard joy and academic laughter.  One student said, "QuĂ© divertido!" which means how fun!  Students that I have to pull teeth from to get any work out of were freely working and actually understanding the text.  After about five minutes for each section I would place student examples on the overhead projector for the whole class to admire and copy if missing prime examples of the plot.  I also made a word list that I wanted to be added to the sketch to be used further on in the lesson.

Next I had the students close the lesson with a quick write on the journal page beside the non-linguistical representation of the chapter.  I assign a quickwrite so students can organize the ideas in their brains, especially the students learning the language.  Students use the word lists I had previously given them and the organization of the four square with the images to retell the story.  Quick writes have also been proven to improve intelligence because the recalling of information and applying it to the written work gets the brain's dendrites firing up and that is an excellent accomplishment in the     classroom for any teacher.

 The above example is done by native Spanish speaker.  Here is an example of a Spanish Learner's work.  This is a great activity for differentiation.  Everybody works and grows at their level.

 Next week I will build on all this great work the students have accomplished.  I will build on the vocabulary, plot, and character development the non-linguistical drawings promoted when I ask the students to reread the chapter with their shoulder partner.  Shoulder partners are strategically chosen to be high/medium or medium/high.  This promotes learning from both students.  One gets one on one tutoring, and the other gets to explain their ideas which cements knowledge into the brain and again, gets those dendrites firing.   So one partner will begin reading while the other will listen and assist if necessary.  Then after the reader has read half the page, that same readers  will ask the listener a question.  This will put added rigor to the reader to not only read for phonics but for comprehension since they know that they will be responsible for asking a question.  The listener then will answer the question and  will begin reading the second half of the page.  If they don't know the answer the reader must show them where to find it, and the question must be text based.

After the rereading of the chapter is when the fun begins.  The students will be ready to collaborate to realize the big idea objective of retelling stories.  Collaboration is only legit when everyone in the group participates.  This next activity is a true example of that.   There are four students in each pod in my classroom and they are numbered off between #1 - #4.  Student number #1 will begin with a sentence that represents box #1 of the day before's non-linguistic representation.  He will use his best vocabulary and grammar to retell that one scene.  When he has finished his teammates will add to it, delete from it, or completely renovate it.  This will open up a valuable team discussion of vocabulary, plot, character, and much more.  It is the perfect environment for language learners!  Once the team has come to a decision, they will all write the same one sentence to represent scene #1 of the chapter.  The activity will be repeated with all four scenes, and thus all four team members will get a chance to express their opinions and use their vocabulary to retell a story.

Finally we get to the presentation component of the lesson.  The students will have read, written, listened, and now they will get a chance to speak in front of their peers.  This is a great way to practice public speaking, something that all students have to learn to excel in in the 21st Century.  I will give the students five minutes to practice reading their story summaries.  I will then choose a random number between one and four.  Whose ever number is chosen, they will be representing their table.  They will go to another table to present their summary.  The three members at the other table will listen and then give three responses.  They will give one praise, one item of confusion, and one piece of advice.  Then the representative will return back to their table to deliver the news of what was praiseworthy, what was confusing, and what needed to be changed.  The goal is the teams will improve upon their writing style the next time I assign this activity.

This is the plan for next week, with my goal of retelling a story using a variety of language learner scaffolding and strategies tailored for success.  I'll let you know how it goes.  Being an educator I know that you know that I may have a completely different story to tell... Planning a lesson and experiencing it are two different entities.  :)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Don't Raise your Hand! Reaching All Students in a Cooperative Classroom

 Over the summer I presented my first EDTalk at the California Teacher's Summit, Better Together at Cal State University San Bernardino.  It was a fantastic experience.  I'd like to present the message I spoke on in my speech here, in word form.  I hope you enjoy!

  Every year I set a personal goal for myself, something that I can work on to better my teaching skills and thus better my students.  Last year I decided to focus on Reaching all students through Cooperative Learning.

I am a 4th grade dual immersion teacher.  What that means is that I teach all Common Core Standards in two languages.  Half of my day I teach these standards in English, and the other half I teach them in Spanish.  50% of my students are English learners, and the other 50%  are Spanish learners.  That means that at any time during the day, whether it be Science, Math, Language Arts, or any other subject, half of my students are learning in their 2nd language. 
So return with me to the first day of the last school year.  I’m all ready and excited to begin working on my goal of reaching All students.  I began my day in English and I had normal first day participation.  Most students walked in very shy and weren’t ready to show me their true colors yet.  I noticed this boy Isaiah.  He was not shy, rather the opposite, ready to participate, a firecracker actually with lots of energy and drive.   But what I noticed most was his award winning smile.   Then came the switch to the Spanish language, remember, I teach Common Core Standards in Spanish half the day.   Isaiah’s whole demeanor changed when the class began speaking in Spanish.  He did not want to participate and he completely shut down.   This happened every day.  
I’m sure you all have students like this in your class.  If you teach Science, you may have those students who show no interest.  Or maybe if you’re a math teacher you’ve seen the students who have been unsuccessful in the past so they come to your class already defeated and unwilling to try.   Many of these “unreachables” become our behavior problems.  Of course, educating in California, we all have a good number of English Language Learners.  No matter what the subject matter we teach, or the assignment we hold in the education field, I think we can all relate to our desire to want to reach all students and the struggles we encounter as we try.
So I focused on reaching Isaiah.  I wanted to make sure he felt seen and important in the classroom.  I called on him, often.  He of course never raised his hand.  Those raising their hands were the students who didn’t need my attention.  You know the students, the extroverts, “I know the answer!”   The native language speakers,  “I know how to say the answer!”  And the high achievers, “The answer is so easy!”    But when I called on Isaiah, he shut down even more!  I could see it in his eyes, like a deer caught in headlights.    His stress level increased exponentially and made it impossible for him to focus and have success.  
I tried to ensure that he had easy access to the information.  I made graphic organizers, used manipulatives and realia.    I held 10:2 discussions where I talked for ten minutes, and then let the students talk among themselves for two minutes to process information.  After the student discussions I would call on Isaiah, really trying to give him a question that would bring definite success for him, but I got the same result.  He would not participate, or even try, he acted as if he were defeated, and that winning smile of his never appeared during Spanish time.  
I realized that I had to research Cooperative Learning strategies quickly if I was going to be able to reach him before his grades and self-esteem plummeted.  So I read articles and books, I attended conferences, I observed other teachers.     And then I had a realization!  I was teaching Cooperative Learning all wrong!
First of all, I found that you must strategically plan for diverse grouping.  Diverse grouping, it’s all over the Common Core Standards.  I initially thought, “Easy, I group students all the time.  Their desks are grouped in pods of four and I encourage communication and group tasks daily”.  But I learned that that is not diverse grouping.  I needed to really plan and think about my students.  I had to analyze every one of them and decide where they fit best in the classroom.  Who were my language learners?  My high and low achievers?  My extroverts and introverts?  Who were possible behavior issues?  Who were Friends? Who were enemies?  What ethnic and cultural groups were represented in my class?  Gifted?  Special Education Students?  And after analyzing everyone, I had to strategically place them in groups that were the most beneficial for every student.   I needed truly diverse groups.  
Next I had to look at time equity.  Did I really give everyone equal time to share and practice the language and standard orally?  Well, when I asked a question and looked for raised hands, this was definitely not equitable.  Again, only the extroverts, “I know the answer!”  The native language speakers,  “I know how to say the answer!” The high achievers, “The answer is so easy!” were participating.  This was not equitable.  Then I thought about the 10:2 discussions and thought, “No , the same student populations are still dominating the conversations.”  What about random cold calling… No, remember Isaiah who would freeze up if his name were called.  
No my time equity was horrible!!   Luckily, I learned a new strategy to ensure that I was reaching ALL students.   I assigned seat partners letters, seated side by side letter A and B.   I taught my lesson say, lecturing on Rain Forest ecosystems, for 10 minutes and then instead of asking for a volunteer or cold calling, or saying discuss in groups!  I said, “Partner A, talk to Partner B for 30 seconds about Rain Forests.”  After 30 seconds, Partner B would say, “ I really like what you said about …”  and then paraphrase what his partner had said.  This ensures that he is actively listening while his partner shares.  Then Partner B will share.  The whole class responds in this manner, thus reaching ALL Students. 
Now I know you’re probably thinking about Isaiah, or maybe your own hard to reach students, and you ask, “What about them?  What happens to someone like Isaiah, who can’t yet form a sentence about the topic, let alone speak for 30 seconds.   Well that’s when planning for diverse grouping comes in.   I had seated Isaiah next to a very patient student who was trained to encourage him to elaborate so he could access his 30 second time slot.  If Isaiah responded to the rain forest question with, “I like rain forests.”  Then his partner would ask, “Do you like rain?” Or “What types of rain forest animals do you like?”  Thus Isaiah gets his time to practice the subject and language, while his partner gets to model and teach, which is also proven to be great for the brain and cognitive development.  It’s a win, win situation!
Lastly, I learned to truly make this type of cooperative classroom work, I needed to team build.  I needed to create opportunities for these students to find similarities and respect for each other so they would be willing to help those in need.  I planned short fun, non-academic activities for them.  For example, in a group of four, I would ask, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”  Say that one student responded, “Chocolate”.  And another said, “vanilla”.   And then the remaining two said strawberry and chocolate.  Well, now we just built a bridge.  They know that two members of their group like chocolate and they begin to see similarities, rather than differences. You can also ask a more open ended question like, “What is your dream house?”  Give them each 30 seconds to share, time equity, and again, and you have built another bridge.
 Also for team building I like to do dance activities.  Everyone in the class stands, I put on fun music, and a chosen member of each team dances in front of their own teammates, crazily most likely, while her team mirrors or mimics her.   If you look out at the whole class, you see 8 groups of four students dancing different dances together.  The whole team has fun being silly and dancing with each other.   If you take the time to encourage them to have fun together, they will be more likely to want to work together in the future.
So it’s the end of the year and I receive this letter from Isaiah.

Dear Ms. Richardson,
You’re personally my best teacher because you motivate me to learn as much Spanish as I can, and also thank you for everything you taught me.  Also you are really fun because you play music and do activities with us.  

 I’m happy to tell you that Isaiah was reached this year!  By mid-year, he was fully participating in all classroom activities no matter the subject or language.  His self-esteem had skyrocketed and his famous smile had returned.   With help from his strategically placed table partners, he learned the vocabulary and grammar necessary to voice his opinions.  He was able to access Common Core Standards in his second language.  And more importantly, by placing him in a safe environment created by team building activities, he was able to learn that mistakes are good, and something to be learned from.  He did not have the fear of failure anymore.  
 And I know Isaiah wasn’t the only one who benefited from the application of true Cooperative Learning Strategies.  By not letting my students raise their hands to answer questions, but rather direct them to partner or group discussions allowing for time equity, all students were reached at their own differentiated level.  All students were teachers and models for others.  All students were pushed to a higher level of thinking due to peer interaction and the processing of new information.   And all students had a safe environment to practice and learn.
As you begin your new school year, I want to encourage you to plan how you will reach all students.  I hope that you will rethink the common practice of cold calling or asking students to raise their hands to respond.  Imagine the change we could bring about if we multiplied all of you reading today’s blog on Multilingual Mania, and we multiplied that number by the amount of students we teach, and we were able to reach every single one of them! Let’s do some miraculous things in our classrooms!   Come on educators of the future generation!  Encourage your students to stop raising their hands and instead actively communicate with each other!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

After the math test

All educators want their students to succeed.  They teach to the Common Core Standards, differentiate instruction so all students get what they need at their own levels, reflect on how the lesson went and decide how to move forward.  They give the students the test, and then either do the happy dance or fall into a deep depression.  Then the next day they move on to the next chapter of the math book, or whatever scope and sequence their district has decided to follow.

I like to add one more step to this merry go round.  I think that the day after the test is extremely important, maybe just as important as all the other steps a student, and teacher have to take to successful learn and retain the material necessary to grasp Common Core math problems.  This step is actually a bit hard on me.  Some nights when I'm working on this step I ask myself, "Why are you killing yourself for this job?"  But I really believe in this step, and if I didn't do, I would kind of feel like all the other hard work that I had put into that particular math standard would be pointless.

You ask what is this ridiculously tiring extra step?  Well, after the students take the test I take them all home and correct and grade them.  Then I record the grades in my grade book.   By this time I am tired and want to stop but I know I can't.  I must write a nice growth mindset message on every test, "I see you've practiced your multiplication facts!"  or "I think if you took extra time and used your notes you would see better results."  I then go through all their tests and make a spreadsheet that tells me how each student did on each question.  This way I can pull small groups throughout the upcoming week to reteach the concepts not yet grasped.

Now you are probably thinking, "Why does this have to be done all in one day?"  Well, I have read research by Dr. Marzano that proves a correlation between the time a student takes a test and the time he receives the results.  The closer the time frame, the more meaningful the test, and the more successful the student will be when taking the test and retaining the material.  The more time that passes, the less powerful the test and thus, the concepts taught by me.  I don't want my hard earned time used teaching the students to go to waste!  I want to get the most bang for my buck!  I want to give my students their tests back as soon as humanly possible!  And if that means that I work late one night so I can give the students back their tests the next morning, then that is what will happen.

So the next morning I give the students back their tests.  I have them write a refection on them in their interactive math journals.  They must write about something they did well, something they still need to learn, and something they question.   Then the next step I feel may be one of the most powerful steps.  I send the students out to mingle with their classmates.  Their assignment is either to explain something, or have something explained to them.  This is how it works.  They look for a peer that got the answer they got wrong, right.  Then that peer must explain how to do the problem.  If the student understands how to compete the problem after the explanation, they ask the student to sign their problem for them.  If they still don't understand, then they look for another tutor.  Both students win in this activity because the person being tutored, gets tutored, and the tutor gets practice explaining a problem, which is fantastic practice to help take him to the next level in their math capabilities.  Lastly, I tell the students to take their math tests home to be reviewed and signed by their parents.   Any home-school collaboration is a welcome addition to my math problem, and parent involvement is an extremely powerful tool in any subject.  Plus, there are fewer surprises at parent-teacher conference time.

You may think I am a workaholic, and you are probably right.  But out of all the extra activities I do off the clock I feel most strongly about this one.  I do feel that if even one of these steps were taken out of my "after test day routine" that my students would be harmed a bit educationally.  I do believe that what we as teachers do after a test is just as important as what we do before the test.  And if we don't have the time to do all the steps, why even take the test?