Engaging students: to ask better questions, we must become better listeners


But, why????

When I was young, I would ask “why?” Not once, but Continue reading “Engaging students: to ask better questions, we must become better listeners”

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Standards Based Grading. Hmmmm.

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Standards Based Grading. Hmmmm.

I want to know how to use this particular beastie to my and my students’ advantage. What do I know about it?

(I sent out some tweets. #SBG and #MTBoS to find out more!)

It is based on the common core standards for my subject/grade level.
I’ve seen these as sets of “I can…” Statements- is there a list somewhere, or does each teacher create his/her own?

(I sent out more tweets: @TarheelMommy95 @algebrainiac1 @JustinAion @WHSRowe were a few of those who generously shared what resources, including two references I definitely want to read: Marzano’ Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading and Designing and Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives.

A score is given for each “I Can…” that reflects the student’s level of achievement of the standard, usually 0 to 4 or 5, depending on the teacher.
There are some great rubrics in the CCSS materials that could help me here- maybe there are teachers who have also simplified the rubrics for their students and parents – to help them begin the process of steering their own learning. (I feel another tweet coming on! I also remember a blog…. Mrs. Aitoro’s that might help me here. I will ask her to share…

I will want to have some kind of tracking system. That means that I will need to connect each task to the appropriate standard/skill. I will need to be able to identify what mastery is for that skill (oh yeah, the “I can…” statements and the rubric statements will help me there!)

How does the student exhibit improvement? I’ve seen a blog that explains the grade book set up – one grade per standard, it gets changed if the student exhibits improvement, but doesn’t get lowered. I like the idea of two tests with 100% success allows the student to not have to test that standard again. Can I assume mastery after two times? Will the rubric for mastery be clear enough? Will I run the risk of the student forgetting? Does mastery indicate memory or true conceptual understanding?

Thankfully, because of Task #2 and #MTBoS (thanks Justin @j_lanier and the rest of the MTBoS team!) I know I am not the only one out here asking these questions and I don’t have to re-create the wheel for my particular hamster cage! I really want to do this. And now I know I can!

Do You Speak Words of Life or Death?

“Thoughts become words, and words have the power of life and death. Think to speak life giving words to yourself and others.” Joseph Prince

These words put me in mind of how we as teachers have the power to create hope or plant failure in the minds of our students. Our students believe us. For good or ill, we hold all the answers (even when we don’t).

We can use that belief to inspire our students, to enable them to reach beyond anything they might be willing to do on their own. Here is one way:

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Do your students have a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset? Do they eagerly tackle problems, curiously start investigating the challenge placed before them, generate ideas for possible solutions?
If you give students a choice of assignments, do they pick the easy ones or the hard ones?
Do your best students want class discussion, or do they just want you to show them how to work the problem, so they can do their work and keep their A?

It breaks my heart when a student walks into class and says ‘I’m not good at math. Don’t expect much from me.’
Or the kid who told me, ‘whenever I’ve done enough to pass, I’ve been told that I usually quit trying.’ Or the A student who is afraid to try the problem until you have shown them how they are supposed to think about it. These students are exhibiting Fixed Mindsets. They have been given the idea, by teachers or parents or grouping or grades that they are dumb or smart or not good at math, or science, or too smart to fail at math, or science, or any other subject. Girls, especially, tend to get the message: math is not your ‘thing’; children are grouped by what teachers believe they can do: advanced, remedial or in-between – all a form of ‘silent’ stereotyping, as deadly as anything we say out loud. What message am I sending when I too quickly provide an answer, instead of asking good thought-provoking questions? How can I encourage a growth mindset?

What is a growth mindset, and how does it benefit our kids?

A growth mindset is the ability to see possibilities. It is a confidence in one’s ability. It is the MacGyver in all of us, to use a modern example. And it can be taught!!!

Teachers can encourage a growth mindset by changing the messages they give to their students:

“I believe in you”

Don’t let grades define your student. Instead of a grade, give specific feedback on problem areas. Tell them – put it in writing – that you are giving them the feedback because you believe in their ability to fix their mistakes.

Celebrate mistakes!

Your students are scared to death of making a mistake, getting it wrong, so they sit on their hands in class. Am I right? How frustrating is it to ask a question about the material and be greeted with blank stares?

It is time to celebrate (maybe even reward) mistakes. Sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out…

Tell the kids that every time they make a mistake and struggle with fixing it, their brain gets smarter. (Don’t worry, it’s true, check out this link: Brainology)

Reinforce the message:
Give them a picture of their head in profile with a brain drawn in it. Make sure the brain has lots of little empty spaces in it, like the one I’ve posted below (or break out the projector and let the kids make their own personal profiles on blank paper).

Tell them that each time they find a mistake, they get to color in a section of their brain. Celebrate the fact that their brain has grown! (Younger students like stickers; older students may want stickers, too! It doesn’t have to be anything huge.) I would even keep a big poster of a brain on the wall- on a really tough day, where the kids have made it through with lots of effort, color in a space on the class brain- they have become collectively smarter! This is also a great community builder. It’s like those scaling a wall, walking on ropes exercises where you can’t make it without everybody pulling together – without the parental permission forms!

And for those of you who aren’t sure whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, here’s a link to a great article, with a short mindset assessment at the end. Growth Mindset

And don’t worry if it tells you that you have a Fixed Mindset- it is only temporary!!

What did my results say? What do you think? Am I a Fixed or Growth mindset kind of person? I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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CCSS: Key Tasks and Scientific Method

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are lists of things kids are expected to learn in each subject during each school year. They are not the actual lessons. Your child’s teacher and school system will decide what lessons to teach and how to teach them.

Research shows that one of the best ways to teach children is to give them tasks and have them work through the solutions to the tasks. The child is given directions as needed, or small lessons on specific skills, but the child is allowed to figure out what skills they need, or what they need to know, to accomplish or solve the task. These are called Key Tasks.

To be able to participate in the process of Key Tasks, a child needs to have a way to approach and organize the information. In mathematics, this process is going to feel very different than the existing process of “show the child the problem, work the problem with the child, and then let the child practice problems. Without setting up the structure of the process first, students may feel that the teacher has abandoned them, is not really teaching them anything, or worse. It takes time to transfer responsibility for problem solving when a child has never been asked to shoulder the responsibility (except for remembering how to do some practice problems, or work a formula – not really learning, just memorizing and regurgitating information).

The process of approaching and organizing the information is very similar to the scientific method. Any teacher or parent can help a child learn how to approach these new key tasks by teaching them a “mathematical thinking” process. The steps in the process are simple ones: ┬áRead and think about the problem, draw the problem or restate the problem, discuss the ideas about the problem with others or use resources (group discussion), estimate the answer, “mathematize” the problem (a formula or equation), try/refine/rethink, see if the answer makes sense. These steps may need to be used more than once throughout the process. As you can see, the actual answer is only a tiny part of the process.

For teachers, here is a brief lesson for teaching students how to use mathematical thinking in the class. For parents, you can help your child use this pattern with their math homework:

I love the idea of math as a thinking process. Instead of just giving students the list of actions, , I would approach this the same way I like to approach setting up classroom norms. I would start with a sample problem and just have the students think about it. I would tell them not to try and solve it yet. Then I would have them verbalize their thoughts in small group and then whole group- we would write the thoughts/assumptions on a big sheet of paper titled ‘Thinking’ and tape it to the board. I would facilitate with clarifying and summarizing questions.

The next step would involve visualizing. Students would be asked to draw a picture to illustrate what they saw happening in the problem. Again in small groups, they would create a picture/illustration, titling the poster ‘visualize’. The posters would go up around the room. At this point, I would ask all students to move around the room ( in groups) and visit the posters to see if the illustrations made sense, and if they suggested any mathematical way to look at the problem.

Returning to their seats, each group would create another poster titled ‘mathematics’ showing the calculations / solutions that they came up with. Those would go up on the wall. Each student would then be instructed to visit each mathematics poster and decide if those mathematics/answers made sense in light of the problems. This might be a good place for the students to use sticky notes and place comments or questions onto the posters.

The groups would then go back to their posters, check out the comments (as would I, so that I could come up with more questions) and we would come back to a whole class discussion to examine the various mathematics and reasonableness of answers. I might put up an empty poster titled ‘revisions’ so that students could add ways that they will need to revise their own thinking to solve this and future problems.

The summing up of the lesson will not be right or wrong answers, but a summary of the process itself. The students will be asked to discuss with one other person what steps they went through to solve the problem, and then write a brief paragraph in their math journal about what steps they took to solve the problem.

The final poster, and the one that will remain on the wall for future work, will be the steps the students noticed were common to the process- maybe have each group list a step (different colors, handwriting?). This will give them a roadmap to solving future problems- and as the teacher, I will give them the time to use the steps as we move through the learning process.

Parents can help by giving your children the time to verbalize problems to you or draw what they think the problem represents. You don’t always have to know how to do the math to help your child think through the process. Even if they don’t come up with a “right” answer, or maybe all they have come up with is questions, the thought process is going to give them a way to get in on the next conversation in class.