Thursday, November 20, 2014

80/20?! What about 20/80?

Do you follow the 80/20 rule in which you expect 80% of your students to achieve mastery of a standard, skill or unit?  I do...mostly.

When starting a unit, I pre-assess my students to find out their understanding of the topic.  After the unit, again I assess and measure growth.  We began two-digit addition with regrouping 5 weeks ago and the results are in folks...only 37% mastery.  Honestly I feel like a failure.  You have had those moments too....right?

So I can't sit back and allow that to be good enough.  I started reflecting on my craft right away and trying to figure out what I could have done and what my next steps are going to be.  I didn't get too far.  New solutions weren't calling out to me.

Fast forward to this evening when I called my dad and after a bit I started talking about my problem. Now my dad isn't an educator and sometimes I wonder if I bug him when I talk school but he had a brilliant solution.  He broke it down and said,

                      "How many did you want to pass?" At least 80%.  
                      "How many did you expect to pass?" 70%  (that was a hopeful on my part)
                      "How many did you expect to do better than they did?" Four or five.

His advice after listening was that I need to focus on the students that I expected to do better than they did.  Seems simple, right?  I had a why didn't I think of that kind of moment.

Sometimes I get so caught up in supporting the lowest quartile that I let moments with the majority of my class pass by.  I don't think I will fix this problem overnight.  I want everyone to succeed and I feel like there isn't enough of me to go around.

What I can do is work with those students who I expected to do better.  The students that are so close to mastery but didn't reach it this time.  I can help them strengthen their skills quickly.

And I'll do what I always do when I don't know...get advice from an expert by reading.  So here's what I'll be reading tonight (it's a wonderful book).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


On Election Day, I left pondering my beliefs and convictions as an educator.  I am seeing so many articles, posts, videos, and papers sharing the unease in our education system.  I am watching teachers throw out what is working for what they are being told to do.  I am hearing teachers say that they don't want to do this anymore.  I agree, I've had quite enough.

BUT I'm not giving up (yet) because I have conviction!

                conviction: the feeling of being sure that what you believe or say is true

Whenever one person stands up and says,"Wait a minute, this is wrong," it helps other people to do the same. -Gloria Steinem

This post is more about encouraging to do what is right for each of your students.  You know them, you spend a lot of your waking hours caring for their minds and hearts, you think about them in your dreams, while you're driving the car, in the shower, while you're watching TV.  You become an expert on each child.  You are their voice in this crazy system.

It's about being alive and feisty and not sitting down and shutting up even though people would like you to. -Pink

I am encouraging you to teach!  I mean it...literally teach.  We have all done it but lately we are so focused on testing and accountability that the teaching is getting lost.  I get it, it's staring you hard in the face, and you have a lot riding on testing BUT what if you were teaching your students without being concerned about the test and gave them the strategies and skills to kill that test.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -Martin Luther King Jr.

The NEA has launched a campaign to end "Toxic Testing."  In their article, they state, "This is what educators can control — their practice."  You are an educated professional with a real, actual, growing and changing brain...you have so much to offer (think of all the hours you've spent becoming an expert at what you do). Don't let politics take that away from you.  Don't become a minion.  Stand up for your beliefs.  Speak with conviction.  Hold true to your values about teaching.  

To believe in something, and not live it, is dishonest. -Mahatma Gandhi

I know many of you think, "That's what I'd like but it's not reality."  Make it your reality...only you can. Let's break this down into making it a possibility. I wrote a post recently in which I outlined my non-negotiables called Nope, not going to happen....  In it I shared the seven things that I hold true deep down that I'm NEVER willing to give up.  Figure out your own non-negotiables.  Stick to those.  With other things that you don't have strong beliefs or opinions on let yourself meld a bit to what the expectation is from your school, county and/or state.  I say that with a bit of caution....still be a consumer.  Still shop like you would for a new cell phone making sure it is reliable, updated, a quality product and tested/researched.  Ask your co-workers, your trusted friends, your mentors or coaches.  Do your homework....don't just follow along without question.

Defend your beliefs with courtesy & compassion but defend them. -Jeffery R. Holland

I started to write the hurdles that I am facing in my own educational life, but then I thought this isn't a laundry list of my grievances...because lord knows we all have them!  This post is about empowerment and conviction.  This post is encouragement to all the teachers that aren't feeling good about what they are doing daily.  This post is about community and coming together for something more important than politics.  It's for our students, it's for our future, it's for the well-being of our nation.  So go all and TEACH!!

-Go to School Board meetings
-Talk to your union representative
-Join the NEA
-Write to senators, representatives, governor, legislator or commissioner
-Encourage your co-workers
-Talk to your administrators
-Plan a meeting with your superintendent
-Educate yourself on what the test is testing vs. the standards you teach
-Educate yourself on research about best practices
-Teach like no one's watching

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mathematicians at Work

I wanted a time during the day that the students could engage in mathematical activities that would support our previous learning in class.  Throughout the years I have tried many types of math stations/centers/rotations and many have worked very well.  This year I wanted to form partnerships in which mathematical understandings and discussions could take place at a deeper level. In the past, I think students thought they were just playing games rather than applying the strategies and understandings they have gained during our lessons. When students are grouped in twos, I feel that it is easier for both voices to be heard.  At the beginning of the year I had 22 students and wanting groupings of 2, that left me with 11 different activities.  I also knew that I wanted to give this time a title that was a reflection of what they really were doing.  So rather than centers or stations we called it Mathematicians at Work.

I am blessed to have a lot of time for mathematics...a full 75 minutes!  If our time was allotted differently I would tighten everything much more (see alternate schedule below).

Our schedule:
10 minutes - Number Talks
10-15 minutes -  Mini-lesson
20 minutes - Guided/Independent Practice
20-30 minutes - Mathematicians at Work (Small groups/Conferring)
5-10 minutes - Share

Alternate schedule:
5 minutes - Number Talks
10 minutes -  Mini-lesson
15 minutes - Guided/Independent Practice
20-25 minutes - Mathematicians at Work (Small groups/Conferring)
5 minutes - Share 

Here is what I have included in our Mathematicians at Work during our place value unit:

Click on the link to pick up all of these here: MathematiciansatWorkActivities

For this activity you will need numbers written on small bits of paper and crumbled up.

The materials needed for Monster Math are a small box, a spinner and 10 bottle caps.  Write numbers 0-9 on the bottle caps and place in small box.  Write 10 more, 10 less, 100 more, 100 less on spinner and you are ready!

I quickly made targets three targets, one for hundreds, another for tens and the last for ones.  I printed on different colored paper and  bought googly eyes.

 This activity is based off Bozo's Grand Prize Game. You will need small buckets (or any container), some post-its to label and ping-pong balls.  Write numbers on the ping-pong balls.

This activity was part of a freebie from last year.  Click on the link to pick it up:  Adding and Subtracting with Place Value

This is a great activity that gives me a lot of information about each learner.  They take turns being the teacher.  I get to hear their mathematical talk, hear how they formulate questions, watch them coach students, see their accuracy with problem solving and hear all about strategies.  The students LOVE this activity!

Get a deck of cards or two.  Write numbers on the jacks, queens, kings, aces, etc. and it is all set.  On this particular day, one student was absent so their partner joined in to play War.

You will need two cookie sheets, two tops and print out a grid of numbers on two papers.

You can tell that Mathematicians at Work have simplistic activities but the students really do get to apply their understanding of the concept.  Everyday we change to a new activity.  Once we finish a rotation we do it one more time.  So it last for 22 days...which is super nice for planning and preparing.

The other great thing about Mathematicians at Work is that I get time EVERY SINGLE DAY to meet with small groups or confer with my students.  I am very clear about where they are in math because I have the time to listen and understand.  For more about my small groups: Math: Guide Groups, Games and Resources.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Using Rubrics to Enhance Motivation and Student Success

I am passionate about rubrics.  What can I say...I'm a BIG NERD!  Truly it has changed my classroom instruction over the past several years and I realized I've never spoken to it on the blog. 


This is a quick video that I found helpful in explaining rubrics:

When I was in college, rubrics were used to assess teamwork and creativity but not really the standard or concept that was being taught.  I didn't see their value to my everyday teaching life.  Then a couple years ago my administrator encouraged us to use them during our lessons.  I fought her hard...it was the time, the effort, and I already felt overwhelmed.  Then I went home and really thought it through and I decided to give it a go.  Now three years later and not a day goes by that I'm not referring to rubric and discussing what we might do to meet the standard.

The goal is to meet the standard or where you are at within the progression of the standard.  This is what I generate first when making a rubric and it is also what I share with my students first.

Next, I move to exceeding.  I use the next grade level standards and what I know about consistently showing a deeper understanding of the concept.

Developing and Emerging are harder.  I refer to the grade level standards from the grade below and I also use what I know about my students developing within the standard and just emerging.  If you have a progression for the full standard it makes it easier to accomplish.

W. James Popham wrote that learning progressions are, "A carefully sequenced set of building blocks that students must master en route to master a more distant curricular aim."  For instance, in order to share a key detail about a character we must know what a character is, understand details, understand key details and then we can share a key detail about a character. If your county provides learning progressions, then it makes it extremely easy to write rubrics.  If not, just think about what a student must know in order to build the blocks to mastery.

Here are some pictures of how I use rubrics in the classroom:

At the beginning of our adding two-digit numbers we created this anchor chart with our essential question, the big concepts that we needed to understand and finally the kids and I created the rubric.  Below the rubric, we are adding strategies to help us do those things.

In reading, we are working on the main topic.  This chart is added to over time as we add things that readers do to find the main topic.  Below is the rubric.  I created this rubric and it correlates with the think sheet (see below) that they have been using through the course of this standard.

The rubric is at the bottom of the chart.  The focus of this lesson was to show students how they are already using a variety of techniques to elaborate but now we put a name to what they were doing. 
During the course of a standard, I observe the students work at least three times.  Some times it is informal observations that drive my instruction and other times I am having them show their thinking through writing.  Once I have assessed them I record it on a sheet that has all the standards listed for the quarter.
This is how it looks during the course of our work overtime.

I decided to create an assessment pack of each mathematical standard for second grade.  I was feeling the need for assessments that focused on a standard and looked for depth.  I wanted to make sure my students comprehended our deeper level of math and the chapter test just weren't cutting.  Every assessment has a rubric at the bottom.  The rubric can be used throughout teaching to help set goals, self-assess and drive instruction.  Check them out at my TPT store by clicking on the link or the picture!

Now I'm going to catch up on Orange is the New Black.  Night y'all!