You Know That Feeling?

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You know that feeling that you get when the excitement wells up on the inside of you?  I’m talking about the level of excitement that makes you want to give out the most gitty giggle you’ll only do around those most closest to you?  I felt that this past week. What made me feel that way? Choice. 

I’ve tried to make levels of choice happen in my classroom before as explained here and here. This year, inspired by a visit to a Montessori school, I’ve tried upping my level of choice for students. I’m going to explain things in reverse. 


Every student was engaged and on task completing one of the activities within the calendar.  The options were: live mini-lesson or video mini-lesson followed by a Hands-on Standards worksheet everyone was required to complete on Line of Best Fit. As I walked around observing students working in small groups, pairs or independently, I felt the excitement welling up. Before I gave off a squeal that would have reduced my cool points ūüėé, I calmly stated, “you all are working so well, I’m so proud of you right now.”

We worked at this level of choice all week. I’ve coined it Choice Learning and the students caught on quickly to where to go to find the activities for the day. Most of them use their phones to access the materials. I provide 2-5 iPads and a desktop computer for students who do not have their own technology. 

This is where we started.


One day a student made a comment about having choice and I ran with it. Not a wise decision in hindsight. We were reviewing for our unit assessment which covered 6 concepts. I instructed students to develop a learning plan which would be implemented over two days. For the plan students had to pick 3 concepts in which they need more practice to “sure up” their understanding. I would pick a 4 which would be based on the data from their most recent concept quiz. 

Based on their learning plan, they would pick activities to work on while I pulled small groups for remediation. It was short of a disaster. Why?  Not enough support on my part. Day one I spent most of my time working at a station trying to help students understand how to find the missing coordinate when give slope and one point. I never pulled small groups and there was ALOT of redirecting happening. 

What did I learned from all of that?

  1. Too much choice can be chaotic and overwhelming. 
  2. Have support materials for students to access helps to free me up for small group instruction. 
  3. But most importantly, assess the situation in truth and make adjustments. (Don’t just strap the idea.)

Moving Forward

Here’s the plan for next week that has me excited all over again: 



Creating a Remediation They Want to Come to!

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At the end of every 1st semester, students who failed a course are invited to participate in Comet Academy, my schools grade recovery/remediation sessions. ¬†This year, those attending Comet Academy come for 2 1/2 hours for 6 consecutive Saturday mornings. ¬†During our first session on¬†January 30th, students were given a 30 questions, multiple choice pretest covering 5 key standards from 1st semester. ¬†I was assigned the 8th graders who failed to which I was very excited. ¬†8th grade is the one grade level I haven’t been able to infiltrate with the use of manipulatives and building conceptual understanding.

Students completed the pretest¬†in about an hours time, followed by checking the answers of a partner. ¬†Stunned by the results, I knew immediately, 6 sessions, even at 150 minutes a pop, wouldn’t be enough to get the students to pass the post test. ¬†The highest score was 11 out of 30 correct, ugh!

After proposing to the math AP about the need for a math boot camp for students who failed to stabilize their foundation for high school, I got busy planning.  8th graders who failed 1st semester, whether they attend Comet Academy or not, would be pulled twice a week for 30 minutes each time for 5 weeks.  This would occur during their Connections classes (electives, specials, not the core classes).  This boot camp would only offer additional support and would not be rewarded with a grade, extra credit or anything tangible outside of a better understanding of the content.  For students who are often motivated by outside factors, I needed to ensure the activities were enticing enough to get them to come week after week.

Meaningful Practice

The standards are not new for students, therefore a mix of meaningful practice and concept development is necessary.  In their regular classroom, students are subjected to worksheet after worksheet or textbook page after textbook page for practice.  In boot camp we used a Solving Equations Bingo game to practice solving equations.  Students filled in the answers: x=3, x=11.5, x= 1 1/2, x=5, x= 17, x=4, x=17 and -72 =x into the Bingo board.  Then I read off equations in which students needed to solve in order to cover the correct answer.

We also played a game of Knockout! ¬†This idea was taken from the basketball game Knockout! ¬†In the basketball version, participates line up behind the free throw line, the first two people in line have a basketball. ¬†The goal is for the second person in line to make a shot before the person in front of them in order to knock the player out of the game. ¬†In boot camp, students sat in a straight line and the second person tried to correctly answer the math problem before the person in front of them did in order to knock them out of the game. ¬†Here’s the PowerPoint with the game:¬†Boot Camp 2-9 and 2-11.

To encourage collaboration, students were grouped (they chose girls against boys) and given whiteboards to record the answers to problems.  The group representatives would hold up their whiteboard showing their answers.  In order to receive a point, teams had to get the correct answer, but also shot a tiny basketball into a toy hoop.

Concept Development

To help to continue to build student understanding of solving equations and integer rules, I used lessons from Hands-On Standards and incorporated color tiles and algeblocks with lessons like this Exponent Activity.

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Formative Assessment

I have to know where they are from day to day because I don’t have a lot of time to cover the material. ¬†Therefore, each session has a connected formative assessment. ¬†This helps me to plan differentiated lessons even within the small group of students I see on the different days. ¬†I’ve used a two question quiz, a portion of a FAL¬†and a Ticket out the Door pictured below. ¬†Students were able to choose what type of question they wanted to answer which is a formative assessment within a formative assessment :-).

 

Many Forms of Differentiation

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When you have 4 classes functioning at about the same level, it is easy to create a cookie cutter lesson and implement a “one size fits all” approach. What’s the harm, they all have to get it, so why not give it at the same time. After all, it can be a bit cumbersome doing different lesson plans for each class.

The truth is, although it may appear the classes are functioning at the same level because your team has the “bubble kids”, they really are not. And within your lesson plans across the classes there’s need for differentiation. And with that there’s an even greater need for organization.

This idea stems from a video I was encouraged to watch during the summer. Within the video, the teacher and the students referred to playlist to give order for the task at hand.

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I implemented a playlist at the beginning of the school year bto provide students with that same order. It quickly evolved to my differentiation display. All 4 classes were working on similar concepts, however the process and in some cases the products differed based on the overall need of the class. Off to the side is a key to notate which class is associated with each color.

Differentiation can sometimes be an overwhelming task. Beginning with the work of meeting the needs of individual classes can be a simple springboard to differentiating within a class and moving towards individualized instruction (or some form of it).

What’s New in 2015?

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I’ve gotten into the habit of layering on change for my students. This is mainly due to receiving feedback and adjusting classroom structure to meet the needs of students. This characteristic will not change in 2015. Here are the changes I’m layering on so far.

1. Using our overview documents, the “power” learning targets were identified. I went ahead and entered all of them into my gradebook. By doing this, I can group together the formative assignments (my checkpoints along the way) with the summative assessment score for each target. As students demonstrate their understanding of the target, I’ll enter the score. Students and parents should be able to see the progression of understanding reflected in the gradebook as they work towards mastery. My hope is assignments will not seem so individualized.

2015/01/img_1401.png Here’s a snapshot of my gradebook.

2. I’m introducing a new station during small group rotation. Now we will have a station solely dedicated to flipped learning. It will still be a four station rotation, but the teacher has been removed from the rotation. This idea stems from a vertical team meeting I’ve recently attended, as will as a conversation with a good friend of mine.
Here’s the new setup:

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3. Implement Nzmaths Numeracy Project. The plan of attack for this component will build one class at a time. With my 2nd academic class, I’m going to assess my lowest students using the GLoSS assessment. Once I determine their weakest domain and strategy stage level I will pull lessons from the book associated with their weakest domain. These lessons will be implemented in a small group setting. My lowest students will be pulled while we are doing small group rotation. Because I’m no longer a set station, I’m free to pull students from various groups for remediation/acceleration purposes.

For my 4th academic, I’m going to make the lessons from the Numeracy Project my main resource. Normally I use the GA Math Frameworks as my number 1 resource. And I will continue to do so for my 1st through 3rd academic classes. However, my 4th academic class is very unique and my instructional approach must be unique as well. My goal is to implement these lessons with built in scaffolds to build confidence, problem solving skills, number knowledge as well as strategy use, all things they are currently lacking.

4. So extrinsic motivation is in order for my 4th academic class. Therefore I’m instituting a “Superb” board and a no-hands community. I downloaded iLEAP Pick a Student app and entered each student’s name. This will be used to select students to share their thinking during math discussions. Everyone must ensure they are following the discussion in order to get a thoughtful response. When a thoughtful response is given, that student will be able to record their name on the Superb board. Once the Superb board is filled with names of students who gave reasonable and logical explanations, I will select 3 squares (like selecting bingo square). Those who have their name in one of the winning squares will be able to select a reward.

I’m open for feedback and suggestions.

It Isn’t For Everyone

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Small group rotation that is. It can be uncomfortable and cumbersome for some teachers to setup and implement. And as I learned from one student’s letter, the students have a difficult time adjusting.

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I love that my students feel comfortable enough to express their emotions and thoughts about the classroom instruction and environment with me. So I like to compromise when they, 7th graders trying to find their voice, come out of their comfort zone to share with me.

My Compromise
Alternating weeks we engage in small group instruction so those students who feel similar to my student above can¬†get the feeling of “familiarity” in my class. On the weeks we do not have small group rotations, we will work on tasks, play games, and do other practice activities in what feels like a whole group setting. Students will still work in a small table group, discuss the mathematics, challenge each other’s thinking and problem solve.

What I will not compromise is having a stand and deliver classroom. If I own all the information and disseminate it when I’m ready, no one wins.

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.