Go Slow to Go Fast

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It was a month ago today that I lost control noted in my

I Can’t Sleep

post. Not by any means was it my yelling and ranting that got them to where they are today. It was the idea of slowing down to walk with them through this process and not being ahead of them calling them to catch up.

Slowing down looked like starting with five minutes of working independently, while remaining on task. At the end of the five minutes, students were given a one minute brain break time, where they could talk, walk around and for those who couldn’t resist, dance. It didn’t matter if we were conducting small group rotations or not.

The result…

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As well as students telling me they want to work through the brain break time or that they believe they’re ready to work 10-15 minutes in small group. Two Fridays ago I told them I was so proud of them.

Just because we scream, rant and rave doesn’t make students change. They may comply for the moment. Real change comes when they know you are invested, that you genuinely care if they get it. Dare to go slow.

Who Does Small Groups in Middle School?

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I do, I do! I’m not talking about pulling a small group of students together to discuss questions they missed on an assignment or test. I’m talking about, station rotation, differentiated, targeted assistance small group.

I started the year out by asking students what they expected out of math class. Many of them stated centers and games as an expectation, which made me excited. I knew at least I had buy-in.

The first couple of times we conducted small group there wasn’t a lot of differentiation going on. I didn’t have students sit in specific areas to complete the various activities, they pretty much had free reign.
I quickly learned that working independently was a struggle for many and without proper structure this element would not be effective.

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By the time the plans above were implemented, I established specific locations in the room students would sit to complete the assignment. By then, students knew why they were grouped in this manner and from where I got the data for the groupings.

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With each passing week came a new layer to add more structure to the process. Group captains were established for two purposes: keep their group on track and to be the “go to” person within their group for help. The captains were identified with an astriek. I tried to be strategic about who was picked. It ranged from the person who is normally off task and would benefit from having a job to do, to the natural leader in the group who can easily influence the other group members. I also selected those who like to fall back into the shadows of others.

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Students had to complete a technology contract in order to use the technology in my room. They are the ones highlighted for easy recognition.

And after my recent visit to #EdCampATL and speaking with @Natasha_Neffy about Transformational Teaching, I’ve implemented a new layer. Student selected groups. It came at a perfect time as we had just finished our unit assessment. I asked students to rate themselves on 3 learning targets. Using the ratings, students signed themselves up for the group which would focus on the their least understood target.

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Most students had an accurate perception of their understanding, while others needed a little help. Those students who did not pass the unit posttest were switched to a group focusing on the learning targets covered on the assessment. I plan on sticking with this concept of student selected groups. Eventually, I would like for my students to be such independent thinkers that they select their activities as well.

Bringing Your Best to the Table

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Over a week ago we implemented the use of portfolios. To introduce them, students used 140 characters or less to define portfolios and tell if they felt they were useful. Some students were able to post responses on Twitter via @GSMS7thMath.

After realizing that portfolios aren’t a new concept for students I went on to inform them their math portfolio will be their avenue to take charge of the year. Students collected work samples from Wednesday to Wednesday, an idea I gained from @turtletoms. On the second Wednesday, they reviewed their portfolios and selected at least one piece of work which they felt best demonstrated their understanding of the learning targets.

Wednesday the 10th, students submitted their first piece of work from their portfolio for scoring. A few revelations happened for students. Some students realized they had ample pieces to submit and turned in more than one, some saw they didn’t have anything of quality to turn in and other saw they had absolutely nothing to turn in. I’m reserving judgment on if this will be a turning point for those students.

The variety of work submitted ranged from the pretty good

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To good

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To down right…blank, literally no work:

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My hope is that the focus will shift from how students are performing on a particular assignment collected by the teacher to the students’ progression towards mastery of the standards. My hope is students will be more invested in the quality of work they produce because it is a reflect of their understanding. It is also my hope that students will stop asking, “Is this for a grade?” and begin thinking of each activity as a chance to refine their demonstration of the expectation, a Austin’s Butterfly affect.

The Oath of a Math Geek

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My oath to my students:
I solemnly swear to take you through the CRA process of understanding.

I promise to allow you time to develop your understanding and not force you into the abstract world before you are ready.

I promise to never use tricks that do not conceptually make sense or rules without your understanding in order to move on to the next page, task, unit, concept or prepare you for a test.

I will do everything within my power to help you never ever have a story that begins, “I was never good at math”.

Lessons from a Go-Go Hypeman

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Back when I lived in Maryland, I would listen to Go-Go music.  When I think back on my days as a “fan” this line always comes to mind is “Hold up, stop, pause, quit, change the bass and funk it up a little bit!”

Go-Go music, born and raised in Washington D.C.

I had to do just that with my instruction in my classroom.  With a moment to reflect, I realized my approach was not meeting my students where they were.  So how could I get them to where they needed to go if I didn’t first meet them where they were?

The Change Up

With my small group instruction, I implemented group captains, one person who would be the point of contact for their group.  The captain had to ensure several things, they needed to ensure their group was on task and they needed to make themselves available to answer questions of the group members.  In selecting group captains I had several strategies.  I chose students who were normally off task, I felt by being in charged they would be motivated to be on point.  I chose students who love to play in the background while the more assertive students take charge, in hopes they would have an opportunity to be assertive.  And I chose students who were natural leaders, which is pretty self explanatory.  

In addition to the group captains, I began rewarding the groups who were on tasks throughout the rotations.  Often times the students who do the right things are over looked because of the students exhibiting the negative behaviors.  I believe this is called positive reinforcement.  These ideas proved successful with most but not all.  I’m not ready to give up on that idea because it’s only been a week.

Go Slow To Go Fast

My good friend @turtletoms often says profound things, one of them being “You have to go slow to go fast”.  My toughest group, my 2nd academic class is a prime example of this statement.  They struggled the most being on task when doing everything except working out of a textbook.  Yes, I had them work from a textbook one day to show them what their year could look like.  Needless to say, they didn’t want to continue to do it.  Turtle reminded me of the importance of building stamina.  Fast forward to 2nd academic, our group rotations are 5-7 minutes long and in between each rotation students are given a 1 minute brain break to talk before getting refocused.  We had a discussion about what it means to build stamina and why they needed to do it.  The students were very candid about their experiences in math class prior to this year which was different from what they are experiencing this year (Thanks Evelyn Hines for this idea). This strategy was very successful.  By the end of the week I had students asking if they work through the brain break time, of course you can!!  As we continue through the unit and year, I will begin to add more time in which students should be focused.

Please stay tune as the journey continues.