Archive for March, 2012

Yesterday we had a full day PD where Spence Rogers from PEAK came and did a workshop. This is not his first time at our school and many of our teachers have been flown to his week long conference out in Colorado. But it was all new to me. A post on all the great stuff I liked and other thoughts that made me ponder to come but I wanted to offer a quick reflection on “safety.”

PEAK has the “six keys” model and one of them is safety – you can provide, break or use the safety key in the classroom by doing certain things. I thought a lot about how true and accurate my formative assessments are or could be based on the safety my students feel in my classroom.

I tried the following today. We are studying trig identities (simplifying, factoring and verifying) and students are struggling but getting there. I used the following phrasing

Raise your hand if you see the next step. I will not call on you if you raise your hand.

Ok, hands down. Please raise your hand if you’d like to explain what you notice.

It worked really great. A lot of students felt safe to raise their hands and let me know they see something (depending on the phrasing sometimes I asked raise your hand if you’re thinking of something that MIGHT work, etc.) but are not ready to share it to the class.

I have also been using thumb signals to determine if we need more examples, ready for individual practice, or how to proceed within the lecture. Today I asked them to close their eyes (and to actually do so out of respect for their classmates) and show me their thumbs. I saw a lot more thumbs down today than I have yet.

I am really excited for the feedback my students are giving me and am thrilled that I am learning how to create an environment that protects their safety and allows them to tell me what they need in many different ways. I keep reading articles, blog posts and asking my coworkers how they communicate with the whole group and I’m eager to hear more ways.


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A quick post today. My block three was bad – I had two kids get in school suspensions for the things they said to me in class. They were rough. Now, after returning from 2 sick days they asked how I was, said they missed me, and am really glad I got better! They also said a really mean teacher had my coverage.

But I thought I was the most evil teacher in the building?
You? No way, you’re really nice.

And there you have it. A month of detentions, rules, structure, high expectations and a month of meeting me at those standards and now hey – I’m nice! Rad.

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I was formally observed this week for the first time by administration. The principal decided not to tell me he would be visiting my class for an entire block and surprised me in the middle of my direct instruction and note taking portion of my lesson. We had just begun the unit on Exponential and Log Functions and were learning about the one to one property, reviewing a few exponent properties, and then working in groups on Kate Nowak‘s awesome awesome add em up activity. (On a side note, I will be using this activity again and again for many other concepts. It works GREAT!  I had students write their name in the box of the problem they chose to do – then only their handwriting was allowed in that box. This way if they were the one that got it wrong the students in the group couldn’t just fix it for them. Plus, the rest of my department loved the idea and they also have instituted it in their classroom, thanks for sharing!)

My principal had a lot of great feedback to share with me – all of the students were engaged, my DI examples were scaffolded nicely, my transitions were excellent, students stayed on task (i.e. my pyscho evil Ms. P management style is starting to pay off). The students worked well together and the activity was clever and creative (Thanks Kate!).

The one piece of feedback that I found most valuable was the feedback on what I need to work on – assessment. Mainly during my lecture and direct instruction time. He indicated the questions that I am asking during this time are not meaningful and don’t lead to valuable feedback from the students. I am not getting a true indicator at any given moment whether the students are following or not. He said there are lots of ways to determine if students are understanding the examples and if I need to do more, to do less or to move on. He made me a copy of Madeline Hunter’s chapter on signaling for understanding and the four useless questions teachers ask – “Do you understand this – Any questions?” (whoops).

And I think he’s totally right. I don’t know how to gauge the temperature of my classroom at any given time as a group. I need a meaningful way (or multiple ways) to determine if I can pick up the pace or need to slow down. How do I know if they’re ready to go off and do individual or group work? How do I know if they learned this last year? What meaningful questions should I be asking to help them tell me what I really want to know? How can I get more feedback from the class rather than just the same three students who want to tell me they’re lost or they’re following along?

He told me about “thumb signalling” and I tried it and it sort of worked – but how do I determine how many side ways thumbs are enough to do another example? Is that just something as a teacher I have to decide for myself? How do I help those two students who always have a sideways thumb and yet we continue to move on – how do I make them feel like their feedback is valuable even though it might look like I’m ignoring it!?

So basically – what are the questions, signals, or other ways you get feedback from your students during direct instruction that allow you to determine the level of understanding as a big group? How do you use this feedback to alter your instruction?

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I realize it’s an odd time to “catch up” with all my fellow bloggers and twitter friends out there but it’s 7:45 on a Sunday morning and I’d rather do this than the mountain of grading, weekly lesson planning, worksheet creating and respond to all those emails in my work inbox. So here I am. Running from all this great responsibility I dreamed of – and I have just one phrase to tell you all – I LOVE IT.

I am so happy to finally have my own classroom. It’s been a challenging 7 weeks but overall I believe I’ve had more success than failures.

The first four weeks were hell. As a mid year teacher I knew I would have a lot of push back from my students – mainly behaviorally and they did not disappoint. I was extremely strict and stern and adhered to the code of conduct in ways I didn’t believe were possible. I wrote so many detentions a day and students were always down in administration complaining about me. Is this a good thing? NO. I hated it. I was unable to build any personal relationships because the kids kept testing me. I tried to joke with them but every time I gave them a little leeway they would try to take back the classroom and not refocus. I realized I had to set up these boundaries and sacrifice the relationships for the time being. Maybe a veteran teacher would be better at this than I but in the end – I haven’t written a detention in 2 weeks and the students are acting appropriately and respectfully to myself and their peers. Do they like me? Hell no. Are they working well and doing better in my classroom? Yes. Trade off I suppose. What I’ve been focusing on the last two weeks is building relationships with students and my whole classes. It’s a slow process but hopefully we get there.

Why I am so happy at this school despite being the evil new teacher who just inhabited room 240:

  1. Administration backs teachers – all those complaints they never once (okay fine, once) asked me to pull a detention or took a students side. Because of this, students started to realize I had merit in my rules and eventually adhered to them. No one has been down to administration in two weeks (despite the girl with the attitude problem on Thursday who was told to talk to me after school and marched down to the Dean of Students).
  2. Collaboration and a spirit of support – The math department has been wonderful. Almost all the other teachers are around my age in their 4th-5th year of teaching and have a lot of support, materials, and advice to give. They’re fun and happy and not a lot of debbie downer talk over by the vending machines.
  3. I’m learning – PD every Friday isn’t a drag for this new teacher, I am learning new cool ways to teach materials in my classroom. I’ve adopted the idea of a “support station” in my classroom. This wall in the back of the room could range from being a solution station or a spot where students can check their work only on a multi step problem. This eliminates calling me over constantly and helps them feel in charge of their learning and lets them move at their own pace a little more than if I called back their attention to provide help to the class. I’ve also stolen the idea of “White Board” work from a few of the other teachers. By putting graph paper inside sheet protectors students have little white boards. I give them small expo markers and we do competitive group work review and just general class work on them for something different. New ideas from new colleagues.
  4. Resources – I have a smartboard, a classroom set of TI-84 plus calculators, and computer labs. May not seem like a lot but it’s a huge leap from the school I worked at before. In addition, the school is kept in immaculate condition.
  5. Mandatory Math Projects – We have to have a minimum of 3 performance based assessments per quarter. This means they encourage that discovery based learned and more in depth critical thinking rather just all summative procedure based learning.

A post on the struggles to come. Because I promise it won’t fit on here nicely.

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