Saturday, March 25, 2017

The (continuing) Evolution of Grading

Happy End-of-Spring Break!

I've had a great break with some much-needed brain rest. I got a few things done around the house and a nice chunk of National Board Certification renewal work accomplished.

I feel ready to tackle the last nine (YIKES! The school year is almost DONE!) weeks of the school year.

Before the break, I had a mini-breakthrough with grades in my classroom.

I've blogged about grading before. Most of my grading conundrums have continued since that post.

I don't grade everything. Much of what we do in class is practice, and I don't want to put a grade on practice. Many things we do are hard to quantify with a grade. When I give a grade for something, I want that grade to mean something. I want a grade to communicate what a student knows, not how compliant he/she is. As a result, I give relatively (or comparatively) few "effort" grades.

Thanks to my flipped classroom and the amount of time I spend with students as they work, formative assessment is ongoing. I don't necessarily need an end-of-class "exit slip" to know where my students are or what I need to do the next day.

My ideal world would not include grades.

But, unfortunately (or, fortunately), this is not Mickie's world with everyone else getting to live in it.

I have district requirements for the number of grades I must record each grading period. I have requirements for what percentage "tests" and "daily grades" must count.

And so, I grade.

But I continue to struggle with WHAT to grade. Summative tests are easy. But the stuff between the summative tests has confounded me for a few years, given how my classroom has changed.

A few weeks ago, a lightbulb came on.

I need some sort of check after each standard. Something more specific than the intuitive feelings I have after working with my students in class. Something that would give me more information about individual students that I might otherwise miss.

The check doesn't have to be long or hard to grade. It doesn't have to be a worksheet of 25 problems (ugh - for students AND me). It can be a few carefully chosen problems that let me know if students are able to do what they need to be able to do.

So, after every standard - or part of a standard - I give a "quick check." They happen every 2 or 3 days. They're similar to an exit slip, but they can occur at the end of a class period or the beginning of the next class period. They're usually three to five questions. I give them in whatever form works best for the standard, whether that is digital or paper. And they usually count between 10 and 20 points ("daily" points). They're easy to grade.

I like the idea and have no idea why I didn't think of it sooner. I'm getting regular daily grades that reflect students' knowledge.

A couple of things I need to work out:

Turnaround - for these to be effective and result in STUDENTS knowing what they do and don't understand - and take steps to improve their understanding - I will need to have each Quick Check graded and returned before the next Quick Check. They are NOT long or hard to grade; I just need to make immediate feedback on the checks a priority.

Redos - I have a broad retake and redo policy. Typically, for daily grades, students correct what they missed on an assignment and turn the corrections in to be re-graded. With the Quick Checks only being worth a few points and only having a few questions, I'm not sure corrections by themselves are the way to go for a student to improve their score on the checks. I'm thinking students correct the Quick Check and I have a second check ready for them to take, similar to a retest.

This actually moves me a little closer to standards-based grading.

The Quick Checks also work well with self-pacing, which I continue to try to develop in my classroom.

Sometimes I'm slow. But I'm thankful for the eventual "a-ha"s that come after I mentally struggle with an aspect of my classroom I desire to change.

UNRELATED to this post on my grading breakthrough and a shameless self-plug:

I was THRILLED to get to talk with my flipped classroom hero, Crystal Kirch, as a "Flipped Educator Spotlight" for the Flipped Learning Network. I had a hard time not turning into a complete fan-girl.

The interview is 20 minutes, and I completely understand that your time is precious, and 20 minutes is a long time to listen to someone talk about her classroom. But one of my favorite things to do is share my flipped journey, so here is the link if you'd like to see any or all of the interview. I haven't tried it, yet, but the posts says to go to YouTube to click on Time Tags and see only the portions of the interview that might interest you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reflections on a Surprising Unit

First: I am not happy it has taken me more than a couple of weeks to get to this blog post. I like to blog while things are fresh and I remember all of the little things.

I probably shouldn't even be blogging today. There are so many other things I need to be doing.

But this is a post that needs to be written, and it needs to be written before I forget EVERYthing (and I know I've already forgotten a lot of the things I wanted to write about).

It was just systems of equations. Nothing special. I teach it every year. I didn't expect anything too different.

But the unit surprised me.

This was the first unit I attempted some self-pacing. I have always struggled with how to handle the kids who "get it" quickly, finish the work I need them to do, and then have time to spare.

I don't want them to feel punished with extra (or busy) work.

I don't want them wasting time.

I don't want to lose whole class activities and discussions.

But I decided it was time to experiment some.

The way I approached it was having the "next thing" - the next video, the next activity - ready, and if anyone finished the day's work, I gave them the "next thing."

It worked well. No one got too far ahead. In fact, one day I had several ahead, and I knew there was a big thing for their English class they were working on, and I was able to give them time to work on it.

When it was a "whole class" day, we did whole class activities.

We all tested on the same day.

Overall, I was pleased with the process and plan to implement it some more. I would like to do as other self-pacing teachers have suggested and map out an entire unit with what needs to be done and give it to students ahead of time. I still have much to figure out about self-pacing, but I am happy I took the plunge and tried it.

The second surprise of the unit came when we looked at applications of systems of equations. Systems applications are so contrived and have little relevance to students. But they are a standard, and students need to know how to do them.

I began an Internet search for how to approach them differently, and I found these two gems:

Those Horrible Coin Problems (and What We Can Do About Them)

Piling up Systems of Linear Equations

I did the coin problem first. Rather than work an example (or three) of "how to work a coin problem" I showed Dan Meyer's video and gave guiding information and questions to lead students to the system of equations AFTER they had done some "guess and check" to find the solution. We got to talk about the number of solutions, which we later verified with Desmos.

Third Period (my first Algebra 1 class of the day) was magic. The students were making so many connections, and the light bulbs I was seeing all over the room were exciting. I am working on renewing my National Board Certification, and I kicked myself at the end of class for not recording the lesson.

Full disclosure, though: Fifth and Seventh Period were not as successful. It was a Friday afternoon, and they are tougher crowds to begin with. We completed the lesson, and some of them saw what I needed them to see, but I felt those two classes were more organized chaos than genuine learning.

I followed the Friday coin problem with the glue problems on Monday. Students were successful taking the information from the video and creating equations.

But after the two "Three Act" days, I found students struggled with written problems similar to the coin and glue problems. I did not do a good enough job of connecting what we had done as a class to how these problems would be presented in classwork and on assessments. I have an instructional video about how to solve systems of equations application problems, and I told students to "watch it if you need to." While I try hard to give students options and not make students who don't need to do things do them, this doesn't always work with the eighth-grade brain. Many students who do, in fact, need the extra instruction opt out and then struggle later.

We had a day with an altered/shortened schedule, and I chose that day to introduce Desmos linear "marbleslides." While not exactly connected to systems of equations, it was a way to review and reinforce why linear equations behave in a certain way. Many students found it enjoyable, and several worked on at home, even though it wasn't required.

I gave a reflection at the end of the unit. Student responses let me know how to change up the unit next year. Students told me they struggled most with solving systems by substitution and the application problems. I already knew the application problems were an issue, and I know why substitution probably presented some difficulties and how to do it differently next time.

The unit was a roller coaster (which is really not any different than this entire school year). There were days I was so excited at what I was seeing my students do and days I felt I had failed them completely. There were days I thought, "I have got to blog about this!" and days I thought "Maybe this unit isn't worth blogging about" (probably one reason I kept putting off the blog post).

But I did hear great things from my kids. When students use words like "magic," "math-gic," "cool," and "fun" over the course of a couple of weeks, the unit can't be all bad.