Sunday, August 5, 2012

Because it is what's right for kids

This summer has been the busiest and yet the most productive for me, professionally.  In a department of 22 members, 11 have been hired in 2012 (9 just this summer).  I have gone to some AH-mazing professional development this past week.  I have been asked to present to the other 20 some department chairs just what I learned tomorrow in a meeting.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right?  Didn't I just say it was the busiest summer for me?

Monday, I attended a district supported session on grading practices.  Five others from my school attended with me.  Steve Ventura presented material from the Elements of Grading by Douglas Reeves.  Oh, how I wish this was more than one day of training!  So much to digest, so little time.

I realize how much of a disadvantage we put our struggling students in when we assign a zero to a grade.  Even the traditional 90 - 80 - 70 - 60 scale isn't fair, if you think about it.  A student has 50 points to show you how miserable they are at math, and just ten points each to show you mediocre, average, above average, and excellent work.  When you give a student a zero for a behavior issue (didn't turn in the assignment, ditched class, etc.), it can impact their grades in such a way that their final semester grade is not an accurate assessment of what they really know.  Or in the case of the student who might need longer to show you mastery of a topic, a low grade isn't showing you the potential they have.  To counteract this, Steve talked about the 4 point scale or even assigning a 50 instead of a 0 to level the playing field.  A few hours was not enough to settle this issue for me.  I need more!  Lots more dialogue with my teachers and experts in the field.  I can easily see now that I should really begin Standards Based Grading.   This however, will have to sit on the back burner and simmer for awhile.  I don't think my department is ready to move on this, not while instruction needs to improve.

However, I am going to ask my department to do several things this year regarding grading practices:

  1. Allow late work.  Allow the student the chance to demonstrate their knowledge.  And if the teacher is having difficulty getting students to turn in their work, then we need to have a hard conversation about ways to either get them to or ways to get around it and still get the data needed.  A zero should only be given if it is the very last resort.
  2. Each subject area will need to agree upon the weighted percentages for homework and tests.  The homework assigned is practice of the material to be assessed.  All Algebra students should have the same opportunity despite which of the 9 teachers they may have.  
  3. Homework (academic practice) should no longer be graded just on completion.  Students need feedback on it.  It can come from teachers or other students.  And showing the answers on the board and asking "Any questions?" is not proper feedback.  (I feel I need an I'M JUST SAYING right about here.)
From the sticky notes left in my binder:
  • All children can learn because of what I do in my classroom.
  • Ineffective teaching and grading practices are like chipping away at granite with a spoon.
  • It's not what the students need to do in my class, it's showing me what they have learned.
And more books/authors I need to research and digest:
  • Beyond Monet
  • Dylan Wiliam
  • John Hattie

And now on to Tuesday...  drum roll please....

THIS WAS BY FAR THE BEST PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT I HAVE EVER BEEN TO IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.  THE.  BEST.  After a day of swimming or riding bikes, my oldest son will walk in the house and announce to the entire neighborhood from inside my living room, "This is the best day ever!!!"  Well, that is exactly how I feel about this training.  I think only winning the lottery could be better.  I'm not lying.

If you have not read Accessible Mathematics by Steven Leinwand, stop reading my post, open up Amazon and get you a copy!!!  No, seriously.  I'll wait...

I wasn't kidding.  Order yourself a copy.  112 pages of pure genius at work in this book.  I read this book this summer.  I found myself saying "NO FREAKING WAY" lots in this book.  It is an easy read, but you will want to pause to think about what he says.  With that said...  Steven himself was utterly amazing.  I felt like a Baptist in a tent revival waving my white 'kercheif around saying, "Hallelujah, preach it, brother!"

He completely gets it.  He gets why our math programs suck.  He gets why we are screwing our kids up.  And he is out there trying to tell us we have screwed up.  He is my superhero.  He could have worn a cape and flown around the room, and that would still not have been as great as the info he shared.  He writes about 10 instructional shifts that need to take place.  I have picked my three favorite. But I am not going to spoil the ending.  You should have ordered the book by now.  When it arrives in a few days, read it.  These are my three favorite:
  1. Make "Why?", "How do you know?", "Can you explain?" classroom mantras.  [By the way, let's throw in "Does anyone else have something different?" in here, too]
  2. Embed the mathematics in realistic problems and real-world contexts.
  3. Take every available opportunity to support the development of number-sense.
Side notes or sticky notes wisdom from this day:
  • We need to build a classroom environment where is safe for our kids to take risks.  If they don't feel safe, number one above will never be possible.  
  • Be deliberate about everything you do.
  • Four areas to start the desperately needed change:
    • Curriculum (cut what you don't need)
    • Instruction (get better at questioning, planning, etc.)
    • Assessments
    • Professional Culture
  • Google PISA released items
  • Google balance assessment library
  • Video tape yourself to give yourself feedback
  • Go visit other teachers while they teach.  Invite them to visit you
Next week sometime, I will be sharing this with my department.  I will ask them to start incorporating some of these changes because it is what is good for students.  It will take some time.  This will not be a sprint to the finish.  This will be a 1500 km race, not a 100 yard dash.  I will be there to model it and to support them.

Math classes today can no longer be taught in the "sit down, shut up, and learn this" method.  It is not effective.  Let me rephrase that.  It. Is. Not. Effective.  For those teachers who are ready, I will ask them to read a copy of the book.  For those who say they don't have enough time, I will ask them to watch someone who does and who is trying out the strategies in the book.  Being mediocre at teaching math is a battle.  I have suited up and am prepared to conquer the ineffectiveness in my own classroom, in my school, and in my district.  

My students have no idea what they are going to walk in on Wednesday when school starts.  May God have mercy on them.  And for the love all that is holy, order the darn book already!

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