What’s More Important

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At the end of a unit, a decision must be made. As the teacher, you have the power to decide which mindset you want to encourage. Fixed mindset says this is the end of learning for Unit 1, show what you know and if you don’t know it too bad so sad. A growth mindset says, I know you may understand some concepts more than others. Learning is a process and you have until the end of this school year to master these standards.

I believe these mindsets are communicated to students through what we allow and disallow during the unit test/common assessments. So what did I allow for my first common assessment for my new students?

Our anchor charts we developed as a collaboration of 4 classes. Most math teachers have store bought posters hung in their classrooms. These posters remain up throughout the year and probably very rarely do students refer to them as a resource. Our anchor charts on the other hand are interactive and we refer back to them constantly throughout the learning process. And just as those store bought posters aren’t removed, our anchors are not removed during our unit tests.

I allowed students to ask me questions. Many I couldn’t answer such as, “do I multiply or divide for this question”. But for questions like, “I don’t understand what this question is asking me to do” were used as a teachable moment to apply the 3-Read Strategy to make sense of word problems. Questions like, “what’s a terminating decimal again” I answered because students were introduced to the term only a day before the test and I had yet to put it on the word wall. Here’s a note on word walls.

I helped kids use functions on the calculator. In 6th grade, students are only allowed to use 4 function calculators. Then in 7th grade, they are given TI-30s to use. And we all know the calculators don’t give correct answers if the user has incorrect thinking. So when they ended up with a SYNTAX ERROR message, I explained they had to use a different button from the subtraction symbol to input a negative number. When they tried entering a mixed number, I explained what buttons to push to get the template for mixed numbers.

I feel it’s important for students to have some success on their first assessment to help with math confidence. So on the 1st assessments , I go around checking over a few answers and encourage students to double check their thinking on those the answered incorrectly. In most cases, students have already applied some form of process of elimination and they end up with the correct answer. In other cases I can see their misconceptions even when the question is multiple choice. What I’ve found with using this method is in general students become a little more confident mathematically because of the overall success and they also become more prone to automatically review their answers before submitting their test.

And what I feel was the most important thing for them was, I asked, “is everyone doing okay?” Those that were pressed on. Those that weren’t looked up at me wide eyed and shook their heads no. Imagine the anxiety they were dealing with prior to my question.

At the end of our common assessment yesterday, I shared the class average with each class. We had a brief talk about how hard they’ve work over our two weeks together and how their hard work paid off. We discussed how our timeline for learning differed from the other math classes and how we will continue to work with the concepts to begin to commit them to memory.

I’m sure you have your own opinion about what was discussed within the post. And before you question what I’ve done, may I pose this question to you. What’s more important to you, politics and their rules of engagement or students and their overall mindset?

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The Best Laid Plans…

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For me, formative assessment is not just one of the latest buzz words I use to sound like I know what I’m doing. It’s what I actually use to “know” what I’m doing. Without feedback from my students I feel like I’m walking in the dark, alone. 
So I formatively assessment more often than our required Friday CFAs, common formative assessments. 

In addition to the ticket out the door, observation rubrics, FALs and FAs of that sort (which never, ever count for a grade and still my students do them without griping or apathy…but I digress) I use weekly concept quizzes to capture student understanding of the concept of focus for the week. These are entered into the gradebook. 

Here lately, I’ve been using Google Forms to create my quizzes which provide a wonderful spreadsheet to which I can add conditional formatting that gives me this look to easily identify students’ levels of understanding. 

Therefore, as I go through a unit, I have a pretty good idea of who will show mastery on the common assessment (our unit test) and who will need more time before reaching mastery. This year, the FAs and CQs have been accurate. That was until this Unit 6 assessment. Although all signs pointed to majority of the students showing mastery, this data proved differently. 

Yikes!!  My knee jerk reaction was to have students complete test corrections, discuss common misunderstandings as a class, get student feedback on the test and reassess. The retest results further proved the lack of sense making of written scenarios and the confusion between rate of change and initial value on a graph. 

Does this prove that formative assessments aren’t useful and don’t help prepare students for success? Not at all. Is this an opportunity to reflect, adjust and grow as an educator to help my students be successful? Hell yes (sorry mom). This is clearly an instructors error as proven by the data from both the FAs and the CA. As we build more understanding by looking at this concept through a different lens, I’ll post about our accomplishments.