Are you a 1, 2, 3, or a 4? What’s numbers got to do with it?!?

I, along with a couple of other teachers, are piloting a grading strategy that is generating some interesting conversations on a DAILY basis with our students!

We’ve all read that grades do not improve or motivate learning. In fact, once a grade is given, the student assumes that idea is ‘done’ and drops it, moving on to acquire the next grade.

What I am about to share with you has MY KIDS talking about how THEY can improve their learning… 

First, I have to give credit for the base of this idea to an amazing educator that I work with every day: Rebecca K. She, of course, credits it to an idea she learned in a workshop some years back. Anyway, she started the year off with a cool bulletin board, that looks something like the image above, which I used to create a powerful way to motivate my babies to take more responsibility for their own learning!

The students I am talking about are your average 9th grade (yes, FRESHMAN!!) students, that run the gamut of every freshman stereotype you’ve ever met. Really. (This includes students with personal learning plans and students whose first language is not English!) AND  we’ve got them talking about growth – THEIR growth – as learners. When we hand back a paper, instead of the ‘crumple it up and put it in the bookbag or the trash’ mentality, the comments are varying forms of, “..tell me what these results mean!”

Here’s how it works:

Four numbers, four learner identities:  1. Novice, 2. Apprentice, 3. Practitioner, 4. Expert

Novice: I’m just starting to learn this and I don’t really understand it yet.

I explain to the students that this is where everybody in class starts out. Algebra I will have lots of things that are new to them, and we expect that they won’t be familiar with the material! We don’t expect them to know it all before we teach it. Sounds obvious, right? Sometimes you have to be explicit with Freshmen. I think that’s where the name originates!

Apprentice:  I’m starting to get it, but I still need someone to coach me through it.

The apprentice is the beginning of the learning phase. When a student gets a 2 on a problem or a whole assignment, they are in the initial learning stages. As a teacher, I’ve just told them (by marking it a 2) that I know they still need help with the concept, and that I will be supporting their learning. This also tells them that they are not there YET – and that they have room to continue learning. Sometimes we have to give kids permission to not know things YET!

Practitioner: I can mostly do it myself, but I sometimes mess up or get stuck.

This is a proud moment for most of my students. That little 3 next to a problem or on a paper, tells them so much more than a traditional grade. This sends them the message that I get it that they’ve got it! This affirms their learning. This affirms their work. This is personal. Better than that, this motivates them to keep going, to keep learning. They ALL want to be….

Expert: I understand it well, and I could thoroughly teach it to someone else.

Isn’t this where we want our babies to be? You know that if they know it well enough to teach it – THEY KNOW IT!! That peer tutoring thing is for real! Please notice that there are TWO parts of this level: knowing and teaching.

How does this work? 

My (totally awesome) co-teacher, Stephanie W.,  and I, use the following grading process. Feel free to modify it to fit your students, and what is happening in your classroom. We know that what we are doing is working for our kids – you may want to start with this, and then modify as you see what is working for you.

We give an assignment or quiz. We grade each problem with a 1, 2, 3, or 4. We add up all the grades and divide by the number of items. That gives us a number between 1 and 4. Many times that will generate a decimal, say 1.8 or 2.5, or even 3.8. Here is an important point: we DON’T ROUND UP! We DO EXPLAIN the process to our students. It is important for them to understand that this is not arbitrary. They must own the process for this to work. These conversations happen EVERY time we return an assignment. That’s a GOOD thing!

Our goal for our students is mastery, so unless the resulting average is an actual 2 for example, the child is still a NOVICE (1, 1.2, 1.8, 1.9 – doesn’t matter. They are still a 1). Same with 2 point anything – they are still a 2, same with 3 point whatever – still a 3. The ONLY exception is 3.8 and above. If the student has one or more 4+ answers, with clear justification statements, then, and only then, will we round up to a 4. See below for the PLUS explanation!

Our evaluation goes something like this:

a) Answer that is incorrect, No work shown, or No answer at all: give it a 1.

b) Answer with some work shown (they attempted a solution) but it is incorrect in major ways and answer is incorrect or incomplete; give it a 2 (remember they are still learning and need more help!)

c) Answer given is incorrect, but work is also shown. (OR answer is correct, but NO work shown to support the answer). Student did pretty good, but minor errors and/or mistakes caused the incorrect answer; give it a 3. This student is obviously getting it, but he/she is letting errors get in the way. Maybe they are lazy, maybe in a hurry. The 3 tells them that they are getting it – but they NEED TO BE MORE CAREFUL! (The 3 for NO work shown is to allow us to ensure students are not ‘borrowing’ answers from another student! We are giving them the benefit of the doubt until further notice.)

d) Answer and work is shown and is completely correct. This baby gets the 4!  The student can feel the glow of being an expert. But wait, there’s more! This only satisfies HALF of the description. What about the ‘teaching’ part?

Four “+”? What is Four Plus??? 

‘Four +’ is that special designation for the child who not only knows the material, but can prove to us that they are able to teach the material to another student. Time dictates that we don’t have the opportunity for EVERY student to demonstrate teaching ability (although we do try to build in those opportunities!). We have explained to our students that the way to demonstrate this ability is to justify the work they’ve shown, with brief written explanations.

Written Justification sets the student up for PROOFS in Geometry

Algebra I is a class of foundations. It is important to teach with an eye to the future courses our kids will encounter, and proofs are some of the most difficult lessons for students. One of the Algebra I standards is to be able to justify the steps taken to solve simple one step equations. This is an important step to understanding that there is a mathematical reason for being ABLE to take that step – and not just because the teacher said so! By building this into the idea of EXPERT, we are modeling the concept that understanding – that is, the realization that there are solid REASONS for why math ‘works’ – is a valuable part of the learning process.

What WORDS do you use to tell a parent how their child is doing in your class?

I know this is just a brief overview of this process, but I wanted to share because I feel it is the first solid step in moving towards talking about GROWTH and LEARNING, instead of grades. I believe it is important that we take the focus off of grades, for students and parents. To do that, we, as teachers, have to stop using GRADES as the unit of measure in communicating with our students and parents. Unfortunately, our grading systems, and I’m talking the actual computer systems we have to use, are not set up to show mastery – they are set up to show GRADES!

I already changed my conversations, my wording, my language,  with my students. It will happen with my conversations with parents in my next phone call/email home, as well. Will YOU?

What’s the downside?

My school still uses a grading system built on averaging traditional grading numbers. That means I can’t just put in 1, 2, 3, 4, or 4+. I have to turn these numbers into a grade between 0 and 100 that will accurately translate and describe my students’ mastery of the curriculum.

My solution is two-fold. The grades in my gradebook are tied to one of the required standards, and each of the above levels is tied to a number that has already been given meaning by how it is used as a grade. While the first is fairly easy to accomplish, the second is based on how parents and students interpret grades. A 100, for example is the ideal. That sends the message that the student has mastery of the assignment, or the course. In fact, anything above 93, in my County school system, is an A, and as such, denotes pretty much the same thing as a 100. Same for a B, or a grade in the 80 range. Those two grades are obviously acceptable to most parents and students. The grade of C is a little more ambiguous. The C denotes that the student is somehow less than perfect, but still passing.  While a student may be GLAD to have a C – it does denote that the student is doing the work and IS mastering the concept – it doesn’t have the same cache’ as the A and B grades.

So how do I reconcile the grades with the numbers? 

A novice receives a grade of 65. The Apprentice receives a 70. The Practitioner has earned an 80, and the Expert, a 90. The 4+ student will earn a 100, as long as all problems on the assignment or quiz show justification, evidence that they have not only mastered the concepts, but have gone above and beyond to be able to communicate their knowledge with others.

The final issue I will address here: What happens when a student makes no effort at all. Our students never do that, do they??? In that instance, the student has given us no information on which to base a grade. Effectively, they have NOT TURNED ANYTHING IN. The grade in the book becomes an NTI, and we are made aware that we need to step up our efforts with that student. An NTI is a zero, until the student completes an assignment on that material, and we can assess mastery. From there, the averaging work of the gradebook takes over, and the grade reflects the whole course mastery. Grades in this context are fluid, and can be changed by future mastery as evidenced by quizzes or testing situations.

The system is not perfect, but the teachers with whom this is working believe that we have created a system that truly tells us where our kids are with the curriculum, and allows us to modify our teaching darn near immediately, so that we can address the areas in which they need further help – which is the actual point of all this grading, isn’t it?

Here is the poster we use in our classroom to explain the levels. Our students get their own mini copy for their notebooks. We utilize a small chart of “I can” statements for each unit – no more than 3 – 5 statements – that allow the students to chart their progress. Here is the chart for our Unit 1 standards. The kids get this, too. You can use any “I can” statements you need for your particular units.

At the beginning of each unit, the STUDENTS determine their pre-assess level, the quizzes give them the mid-assess levels, and then the unit tests are the post-assess level. The students keep track of these themselves. We incorporate a running conversation DAILY of what their goals are, where they think they are with these goals, and how they are going to get to the 3 and 4 levels. I have personally found this is a great way to have the students tell me where they are at the end of instructional and practice periods throughout class. I simply ask them where they think they are – 1, 2, 3 or 4. The majority of students are incredibly honest, because we are all speaking the same language. The ability to quickly assess and modify my teaching is been made incredibly easy! Grading has become a process of assessing growth, not despairing over what they don’t know. I LOOK FORWARD to grading the work, knowing most of my students WANT to have a conversation about where they are, and what they need to do to get to the next level. Let me know if you would like the rest of the “I can” levels we are using with this course. I’ll be glad to share!

 

 

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How do you tell parents to expect less from their children?

A recent article on the upcoming Common Core assessments that will be administered in 39 states this spring (2015) predicts that student scores will suffer. The writer cites the experiences of Kentucky and New York, where the new testing took place this past Fall (2014), two very different places and two very different results. The difference? Continue reading “How do you tell parents to expect less from their children?”

Paper Cup Probabilities…

This is my first entry in #MTBoS30 Today I asked my 10th grade geometry class three questions (review time!)
1. What is the probability of rolling a one (using a regular six-sided cube)?
2. If you flipped a coin, would you expect it to come up heads?
3. What is the probability that a paper cup tossed in the air will land on its side?

The ensuing discussion involved certainty. First question:
1Ss: one out of six
Several other students chimed in in agreement.
Me: who can tell me how you can be so sure?
2 Ss: because the cube has six sides, and the sides are numbered one, two, three, four, (she is ticking off on her fingers; other students were nodding in agreement and telling her what to say) five, six, and there is only one side with one!
This class is usually not this involved. I think it had to do with the fact that they really KNEW this! (Confidence is a wonderful thing!)

Second question (key word here”” “expect”)
1 Ss: yes, well, no, (???) it could be heads or tails. I mean, you could expect a heads or a tails.
Me: why can’t you expect just heads?
1 Ss: because it’s 50%. (At this point, other students begin chiming in:
“Yeah, it’s 1/2!” “A coin has two sides” and similar statements.) The question wasn’t a straightforward question about a probability fraction, so I think that caused them to not feel as confident with the answer, until one student decoded it. Think: lemmings!

It was the third question that really threw them. I held up one of those small cups, like you find in a bathroom cup dispenser. I asked them to tell me what they thought the probability would be of the cup landing on its side when tossed. The guesses ranged from 1/2 to 340/500. As we looked at the cup, the guesses got more specific. Several students noticed that the cup had a top, a bottom, and a side. The reasoning followed that there should be a 1/3 chance of landing on its side. At this point there was quite a bit of agreement. This seemed very logical (and if the strongest kids in the class said so, it must be right! Lemmings, I’m telling ya!) Multiple students jumped on the bandwagon and agreed. (No one talked about surface ratios – I figured we could tackle that later!) Then I gave each student a paper cup and asked them to create 20 trials each. I deliberately refrained from telling them instructions for tossing the cup. I just walked around and watched. Some kids tossed (across the room!), some kids tossed on their desks. Some dropped the cups on the floor. I heard disappointment as Ss complained, “it’s landing on its side every time,” how do you make it land on its top?” “There is something wrong with this cup!”

The trials were listed on the board and tallied. The students really seemed puzzled as to why the results weren’t anywhere near what they expected. They were already arguing why this was so, so I put them in groups with the instruction to:
1. Compare the actual probability from the trials to the expected.
2. Come up with some reasons for the difference.
3. Pick a spokesperson to share their ideas with the class.

Then the bell rang! Okay. The debriefing happens Monday…

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Be Less Helpful

“It is not as important that managers have succeeded with the problem as it is for them to have wrestled with it and developed the skills and intuition for how to meet the challenge successfully the next time around” The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor The above quote applies to hiring good people to help businesses grow and succeed. I could change the word ‘manager’ to ‘student’ and define exactly what the career ready student must look like! Good companies know they will never find a perfect experience match, but instead will look for skills that allow the transfer of abilities. In math having the students actually work at solving math challenges will give them those transferable skills – and the confidence to use them! What does this process look like during an actual lesson? The initial introduction to this problem-solving task ‘stuff’ might present a challenge for both you and your classroom. It did for mine. I was following the pattern of ‘tell students the goal of the lesson’ (i.e. factor polynomials); run through the lesson with questions and discovery (felt like pulling teeth!), work problems with them; give them practice. My frustration was in the students’ comprehension- I could tell with my questioning that they didn’t ‘get it.’ ” Why don’t you just tell us?” one student even said. There was no desire to look for possible solutions. they just wanted me to give them the answers and accused me of not teaching them. The frustration on all sides stopped the learning process. I was asking them to do something they didn’t have the tools to do. I failed to train them in the method I wanted them to use! I’m here to keep you from making the same mistakes I did. Lay the groundwork first with mathematical thinking. Then get out of the way and be less helpful! Be Less Helpful I first heard this phrase while watching a TED talk by Dan Meyer. The genius of his approach, letting students look at a situation and decide how to solve it, was breathtakingly simple. It pinged deeply against what I was beginning to learn about in the common core ‘key task’ ideas. It fit in with my own ‘questioning and discovery’ method. I had to know more. What I found was a community (blogs and on Twitter!) of teachers who are committed to teaching their students through challenging tasks, and giving the students lessons as the child decides they need the skill to solve the assignment!” The difference? Nobody asks, “When am I ever going to use this?” They are putting their hands out for the teaching. They are engaged and interested because they are in charge of the process. The key to success is in choosing tasks that are going to teach the standards you want them to learn. Here is a good checklist for the tasks you want to use: 1. Identify the mathematical goals for the task: what standards will the students experience as they solve this task? 2. Identify how prior knowledge will be scaffolded. 3. Identify how students will demonstrate that the mathematical goals have been met. 4. Work the task in order to anticipate possible solution paths; ensure a variety of representations and/or strategies. 5. Identify common misconceptions. In other words- everything you always do for a lesson! Here is the difference: you are not going to tell them how to solve the task, or what methods or formulas to use. you are not going to remind them of where they have already seen the material or tell them how to start thinking about the task. You may or may not provide an illustration- the following task requires they visualize the triangle themselves. This is not the time for remediation lessons for kids missing skills. Let them struggle. As much as you want to give in and tell them what to do, don’t. Ramp up the questions to help the student find the entry point that fits their skill level. No, they may not get as far as the rest of the class today, but they will be further along than when they started! The task allows students to explore, investigate, and make sense of mathematical ideas on their own. Let it provide personal challenge and productive disequilibrium, too. Be less helpful! Here is an example of a key task: Teaching the Converse of the Pythagorean Theorem Students are told to envision a triangle, sides a,b,c, where side c is a specific given length. The task is to use various lengths for sides a, b and determine what effect the lengths have on angle C. (You may specify that sides a, b must be shorter than C, as an introductory exploration, but that is all.) As you go around the room, looking on as students individually engage the task, remember that you are not allowed to tell anyone where to begin. You should be ready to ask prompting questions (prepared beforehand) to give students ideas about entry points if they can’t get started. Have advancing ideas for students who get done quickly, (ask them to come up with a different method to do what they did, or ask them what happens when a,b are longer and shorter, or longer and longer). During the group work, listen for everyone sharing. Require that students justify and defend their work to the group. Be prepared with clarifying questions. If a student is changing their work because of another student, ask them to tell you what changed their mind- this articulation of ideas is critical. This is a good time to decide on selection and sequencing for the whole group discussion. Your goal here is to assess their learning and advance them toward the mathematical goals using questions (to prompt, to clarify, to restate). The whole group discussion is the opportunity for summarizing the learning from the groups. Encourage every student (I utilize Accountable Talk) to participate, either by sharing ideas, or restating comments from others. This is the place to make connections among solution paths- let the students make the connections (remember, we are being less helpful!) Don’t forget to tie in what they have done to the vocabulary. In the converse lesson, this is the place to tie the mathematics the students have used into one of the three versions of the converse theorem, (and to the standards goals for the lesson). It is important to have another problem or two that require similar (but not exact) engagement for ‘setting’ the skills they just used, and expanding on what they just did. Don’t forget this step. I believe in having students talk about what they have discovered- not to me, but to another student, or in a journal. This would be yet another step in formative assessment for learning. Or, I could have just asked the students to use the Pythagorean Formula, given the measurements for sides a,b,c and asked the whether angle C is 90 degrees. What do you think?