Catching My Breath

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How is it that we’re 6 weeks into the school year and this is my first time blogging?! It could be the fact we were out three days last week due to Hurricane Irma and the following two days were a whirlwind. Or the start of a personalized learning format has been taxing. I feel as though I haven’t been able to catch my breath.

My First Two Weeks

I wanted my Math Enrichment classes to be a place students wanted to come and learn math. I wanted it to be a place where they knew they had a voice and flexibility with a balance of structure. So we spent the first two weeks establishing our routines and procedures.

We had flexible seating in our classroom. Seats were assigned using playing cards. Students would enter the classroom, place their book bags near the door, find their seats and read the Daily Message. It worked well for us. Students never fought over who would sit where and they would have all materials needed for class before I was done greeting the last student.

Because students would work independent of my instruction, we needed clear expectations. What better way than for students to set the expectation for themselves. So each class participated in their own affinity map activity.

Each class had their own unique set of expectations in which they were held to during self guided work time. Of course I had to remind some that they in fact set the expectation they we currently not meeting. Ownership goes a long way.

The Work Began Week Three

We didn’t begin jumping into content until the 3rd week of school. The personalized learning curriculum developed for my course has 4 levels for each unit. I had all students begin at level 1.

Each day we were to complete self guided assignments, students would complete our goal setting form before diving into the assignments. At the end of the work session, students would complete a reflection form.

I was in a groove, and 5 weeks into the year, I was informed I was moving to 7th grade…

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Not Another Cliché

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Would I be wrong in assuming every teacher has had to do something in their classroom for compliance sake? Most of the time, it is a matter of paperwork to prove to someone, several years removed from the classroom, that you’re implementing what they have put in place, no matter how ineffective or illogical their initiative may be.

Would it be safe to assume most teachers feel stuck in this position with no room to continue practices that really meet the needs of their students? I was there a couple of months ago, feeling that very same way. Until I remembered how I’ve lived majority of my life out of the box, causing some people to even called me weird. But here’s what weird people do, they take what’s given to them and make it fit their lifestyle. Let me be a little more specific.

Every Friday, we are REQUIRED to implement a CFA over content in which the entire grade level showed an area of weakness. For the 1st twenty minutes of every class period, we have CQI time (I still don’t know what it stands for), going over previously taught or previewing concepts indicated as a low performance area. On Friday, we give an assessment to collect data, which I sometimes use to determine the learning targets to address in small group rotation.

Another thing we are REQUIRED to do is give a skills test called Big 20. It covers the main skills addressed in the 7th grade, many we have yet to discuss during the core lessons. The data collected from this has not impact what so ever on my instruction. Let me rephrase that, it has no positive impact on my instruction, it actually takes time away from quality instructional opportunities, leaving only 4 days a week for instruction.

This isn’t a post about complaints without action. This is a post about how to take life and make it what you need it to be.

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Friday’s now are sort of self directed. I normally post a flow chart of options for students. The CFA and Big 20 are staples per directives from administration, however there are many other options once students have completed them. Students have the option of taking mastery tests, completing assignments, working on the Question of the Week, playing a math game and even coming to work with me at the small group table. Often times, they end up helping one another leaving me to be the adult supervisor in the room.

You can insert your favorite related cliché here.

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).