As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to share my reflective practice with the world. Hopefully, others can learn from my reflections and ideally provide advice. It’s important for educators to put themselves out there. I’m reminded of Scott Todnem’s “Monday Mistakes” video series whenever I reflect, even if it’s not about mistakes. Student names will be changed. Below is the first set of entries from my Google Doc. In the future, I’ll post these as I write them.
Thursday, September 21 2017
My seventh graders began working on their analyzing influences/relationships project today. Danielle and I have talked about differentiating our projects, in the way of providing students with more options to complete the project objectives. I don’t know if students will take us up on it, but in addition to the usual Google Slides presentation, I threw in the options of completing the project as a poster or as a Google Site. It might not be a specific differentiation based on specific learning differences, but having other options that accomplish the same objectives is a way of differentiation, too. This was the first time this year of differentiating a summative assessment for students based on their IEP/504 plans. G-Suite makes that easy to do: just sit down with the student and change some of the requirements on their Doc. Danielle’s done a great job creating modified documents for the class cohort that is currently our 8th grade class, and I think we’ll eventually do that for 7th graders, too. But, I like having to sit down with the student and change things on an individual level: it gives me some one on one time to go over the instructions a second time, and it challenges me as an educator to re-explain instructions in a new way. This helps me with ALL my students, because often I realize I’ve explained things in a manner that is more complex than I realize, and I can take time during the next class to explain instructions in a new way.
“Joe” is a student in my D Blue class. He has an IEP, the details of which I don’t need to go into. I felt bad last class because I didn’t give him enough support while he was practicing the skill of analyzing influences, and I was so hyper-focused on a different student who also needs a lot of support. I was challenged to think of different strategies to assist him. Today, Joe didn’t seem to be into the whole school thing. Here’s an outline of my attempts to work with him:
- We first looked at the practice document, which he had trouble with last class. Joe had a difficult time thinking of someone to analyze, and I had his older brother a few years ago, so we decided to see if we could use him.
- The next step of the process is to describe the influence. I wanted Joe to think of two words that could describe his brother.
- Joe was having a difficult time, so I asked if he thought looking at a list of character traits would be helpful. He said no.
- I said we should give it a try, and he decided to give it a shot. We used a list from the ReadWriteThink website.
- I had Joe look at the list of character traits to see if there were any that made him think of his brother.
- He didn’t see any that made him think of his brother.
- So, I moved onto the project planning sheet, which breaks down the skill into a more concise format, as a chart.
- I asked Joe to look back at the list of character traits to see if any of the traits made him think of people in his life: friends, family members, etc.
- Then, class was over.
This was all sandwiched between checking in with other students. I have other students with IEPs/504s that needed different levels of support, and other students who were finishing their planning sheets and needed feedback from me. I enjoy project work because it keeps me moving around the room, checking in with students at different times, and glancing at their work with the opportunity to make suggestions.
Project work isn’t a time for an educator to sit back while students spend class time working on their projects. If anything, project work required the teacher to be more mobile, more verbal, and more on top of their students. I don’t know how some can just sit back. Yes, at some point students are independent and need to do their own thing. But, even just making sure students are on task, redirecting them when they’re not, and letting them know you’re going to keep them accountable…that alone requires the teacher to be in the trenches with their students.
Monday, September 25 2017
I had Joe again for 7th grade today, and things went a little better after I tried to focus on his self-esteem and pumping him up a little before asking him to do more. It’s going to be a process, and one that will probably vary by the day, but I think that approach is worth continuing.
I had another subpar lesson with sixth grade today. On Friday, I chalked it up to it being lunch block and the general rowdiness of the class. Today, it was clear I need to revamp the activity. The Friday class is dropped tomorrow, and will have sub plans on Thursday (Danielle needs them too) so I also have to figure out a way they can do that activity without me there. For today’s class, when I see them again I plan on making the following adjustments:
- Have a checklist with what I’m looking for, for verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Similar to a project planning sheet.
- A brief outline of what should be in each mini-script.
- An opportunity for peer feedback…really just a checklist. This way, when students share, their audience knows what to look for. If they can identify what skills are there or missing, that will make them more efficient, too.
So, I’ll give each group a specific scenario (or options) and then they’ll fill out a template to create their role play. I’ll have to check the notes from SHAPE Boston (Jess Lawrence’s session) on role plays and make any changes based on that, too. I think giving students more structure will help in the long run. It is practice, after all. I need to figure out what that will look like…it’s in my head, but not on paper.
Monday, October 2 2017
Danielle and I decided to wait to fully implement the changes I mentioned above, but we both realized we need to allow students an opportunity to practice using communication skills while actually communication among their peers. We tweaked the “What Would You Do? What If It’s You?” activity to add nonverbal communication skills to it. I also added a mini practice/feedback loop. In their groups, students practiced speaking an I-Message and using nonverbal communication skills from the perspective of a victim and a defender, and another group member was providing feedback to their group members. Peer feedback is so important with SBHE, and it’s something we need to do more of: students become more proficient at using skills themselves when they can observe their peers using them and provide feedback in a safe, supportive learning environment.
Wednesday, October 4 2017
Danielle and I continue to discuss different ways (better ways) to implement projects. Our revamped SMART Goal Game Plan assessment could have been implemented in better ways. We are finding that our students are completing their planning sheets and checking in with us with problems that began from the first page on the sheet and affected the rest of their assignment. For the next trimester, we’ll make sure to have students check in with us after they complete the following sections: the intro. letter (check in #1), after the “Specific” and “Measurable” pages (check in #2), the “Adjustable” and “Rigorous” pages (check in #3), and the “Timely” and “Impact” sections (check in #4). More frequent check ins will enable more conversations with students while they’re in the middle of their work. This will eliminate the longer, end of planning sheet conversations that can create a lengthy line of students waiting to check in with us as we work with students one at a time. This will help students and give this project a more consistent flow and timeline. Making mistakes is a part of teaching, and Abbey, who is completing her fieldwork with me from SSU, was able to observe a great conversation between Danielle and myself as we discussed what went wrong and what we could improve upon for next time. I showed Abbey Scott Todnem’s “Monday Mistakes” video series to demonstrate that even veteran teachers are constantly working through mistakes and thinking about how they can do better.
Yesterday I had “Joe” again in class, and I tried a technique I learned about from the Slow Chat Health blog, written by Andy Milne. Essentially, you ask the student a few questions:
- On a scale of 1-10, how are you today?
- What can I do to help you get to a 10?
So I asked Joe this when students began working on their projects. He answered he was probably at a low number; I think he said a 3-4. When I asked him the second question, he was surprised. He kind of looked at me, and said he didn’t know. We came up with an idea or two, and he got some work done. I’ll still heavily modify his grading, but progress is progress. This is something I want to use with my other students, too. I don’t think students are used to being asked questions like that, along the lines of “How can I help you, the student?” So much of teaching is about relationships, and this is one way to develop positive relationships with students.
Thursday, October 5 2017
Our 7th grade students began presenting their Analyzing Influences/Relationships projects today. I’m always positively surprised by quiet students who ROCK their presentations in front of the class. At this point in the trimester, I’ve been able to interact with every student one on one, but some more than others. After these first two classes went, we discussed the presentation aspect of this project. Every now and then we do have students who are anxious about presenting. Typically unless a student has a specific IEP/504 plan/need, we have all of our students present. Danielle and I were discussing some strategies that we could use in order to help ALL of our student feel more comfortable presenting. Some students are fine with presenting, but feel embarrassed at the way their slides look or don’t feel comfortable discussing their families/peers in front of others. These would be in an attempt to be fair to all students, and what’s fair is not always equal. It’s a never ending attempt of the fine art of balancing student needs/concerns and pushing them out of their comfort zone. Here are some options we discussed:
- Students could record their presentations with a screencasting tool like Screencastify. The 7th grade geography teachers used this last year.
- Instead of presenting in front of the room, students could decide to stand or sit at their desk.
- Students could hold their Chromebooks in front of them, and simply read off of their slides. We noted this would assist students in making eye contact and looking out to the audience.
Before we move forward with these changes, we’ll have to consider exactly what we want students to get out of the presentation, and what we want them to demonstrate by doing it. Once we have that figured out, we can go ahead with implementing changes that give students choice while presenting. Although none of my students took me up on the options to differentiate their project, a few of Danielle’s students did. I think differentiating the presentation aspect could be nice, too.
Tuesday, October 10 2017
Today’s day long professional development had me thinking a lot about what we do in health class, particularly around objectives. I left today really wanting to focus on nailing my mastery objectives for units moving forward, and maintaining the “What? Why? How?” template I’ve been doing. In reading from “The Skillful Teacher” today during PD, there are two questions I want to keep in mind as I write my objectives:
- “What exactly so I want my students to know and be able to do when this lesson is over?”
- “How will I know they have learned in, that is, what will I take as evidence the objective has been met?” (p. 375)
I think it would be beneficial to print these quotations out and keep them by my desk, within eyesight of my computer so I can see them while I’m writing objectives. As Danielle and I work to streamline our objectives, I will make sure we remember these two lines.
I was perusing the chapter of “The Skillful Teacher” on assessment, and found a great diagram about response categories. The three types include: Feedback (value-free, objective, description of performance in relation to a goal or set of known standards or criteria); Guidance (advice, questions, suggestions, encouragement); and Evaluation (praise, judgement, criticism, grade). I looked at what I had been writing for feedback so far this year, and found examples of all three. If I leave a comment specific to evaluation, I try to have a comment about feedback in the appropriate spot of the rubric. Evaluation on its own doesn’t tell the student anything, and although it may look like I only provide that on some rubrics, I’ve also made notes elsewhere specific to guidance and feedback. This is something that’s important to keep in mind as I grade projects: feedback I leave for students should be focused on feedback and guidance, with evaluation thrown in when necessary. I think adding the evaluation humanizes the response a little bit, and including the student’s name does, too.
Tuesday, October 17 2017
Over the last few classes I’ve been able to utilize formative assessments to adjust and re emphasize different aspects of my teaching. Linking a formative assessment, even a small one, directly to a lesson objective has been a valuable exercise in planning. My 8th grade students, for example, were not entirely hitting the objective of one lesson recently. Instead of describing, as the performance indicator requires, they were merely identifying. This formative assessment asked students to describe two different health enhancing behaviors individuals could use to protect themselves from the sun, based on a specific scenario. In looking over the student responses, it became clear they were able to identify health enhancing behaviors/sun safety action steps without issue, but the description was lacking. Some students did explain in detail, but most did not. At the start of class, I made two columns on the board: one side said “identity” and the other said “describe.” I gave an example of a health enhancing behavior (use sunscreen) and mentioned that I simply identified it. I had students then describe it to me (Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 and reapply every two hours). I pointed out the difference, and we went over a few more, taking them from just listing/identifying to being able to describe the health enhancing behaviors to me like I was an alien or a third grader with minimal knowledge. Those changes aren’t examples of rocket science, but just some thoughts about formative assessment and actually using that information in future classes.
I added a ticket to leave/formative assessment to today’s 7th grade lesson, too. I had students content the content of alcohol with the skill of interpersonal communication. The content piece of today’s lesson asked students to record information on specific alcohol “terms to know.” As a ticket to leave, students were asked to use on of those terms while writing a complete STOP method response to someone offering them alcohol. I haven’t examined them yet, but I mentioned this to Danielle and we agreed to add it for all classes to that lesson.
I’m seeing the value in quick, ungraded formative assessments. I’m not giving students specific individual feedback, but at these points while introducing skills I think it’s good to keep it general. Once students practice these specific skills as individuals, I can provide more specific one on one feedback. But, I’m also finding that depending on the skill, having generalized feedback that the class goes over together isn’t a bad thing. I can’t find anything bad in having ALL students be aware of common errors their classmates are making. It saves me some time, but it also brings ideas to light students may not have thought of, and can limit future mistakes students might make by addressing things globally as a class. The only downside I see is that specific students won’t always know or remember what they did/didn’t do if their formative assessment isn’t in front of them.
Thursday, October 19 2017
Danielle and I have been having some difficulties with the sixth grade curriculum, and decided to switch the order of unit moving forward. Some of the difficulties are out of our control and some are in our control. The current first unit (interpersonal communication skills and anti-bullying) makes sense as a logical starting point, especially for our students entering middle school during the first trimester of the school year. However, there are two main concerns with having this unit first: one being group dynamics and the other being the Stone environmental trips. The Stone trips always occur during the summative assessment of this unit, which is a group project. Groups are missing students for a majority of this project, so it drags in on a fractured state, essentially wasting valuable class time. Our main concern is focused around group dynamics. Because this assessment is a group project, we feel it’s important for us to know our students to we can appropriately group them. This assessment comes a little too quickly for us to feel like we have a solid grasp on the dynamics within our classes. This is not a concern for our 7th or 8th grade classes because we’re familiar with most of the students already. Our hope is that by shifting this unit to be the second unit of our curriculum we will have groups that are better functioning, more prepared to the challenge of the assessment, and that are consistently in class.
Without going into details, today was a reminder of the importance of setting an appropriate classroom tone and environment when we’re teaching about sensitive topics, in this case alcohol or other substances/substance abuse. Sensitivity is a huge part of maintaining a respectful atmosphere, and not all students understand that their classmates may have had personal or family situations relating to alcohol use that were not positive. Although I did make a statement about this at the start of the class, today reinforced the importance of doing so and why we need to make sure we do it at the start of every class moving forward.
Tuesday, November 14 2017
Yesterday in class I tried to mix up a formative assessment by using technology instead of “old school” whiteboards and markers. Sixth grade students were tasked to create an “ideal lunch” which includes food from all five food groups, as well as an explanation as to why their meal would be considered healthy. The original plan has students working in groups, writing down their answers on mini white boards. I decided to mix it up by creating a Google Slides deck which the entire class could edit. My intention was to increase the likelihood that ALL students in the group could contribute, and give more of a voice to students who are quiet. I was specific about instructions: each group would add their own slide to the deck and they would only be editing their own slide. Despite the best intentions, some students decided to interfere with the slides of other groups. When I do something like this with 8th graders, I don’t have to worry about that happening. This was a reminder that not all activities are appropriate at all grade levels. There’s a chance that during trimester two or three sixth graders will be able to handle an activity like that, but for now, when I teach this lesson again I’m going to keep it to the whiteboards or paper. I brought this point up to my student teacher, Abbey: whenever making modifications to a formative assessment, or really just designing one, make sure that the format of the assessment does not limit the student’s ability to demonstrate what they know or can do, or interfere with the ability for you, the teacher, to gain the information you need from the formative assessment.
On a related note, I did get the information I needed from the formative assessment. Danielle and I are trying to cram in the rest of the sixth grade curriculum in the few classes we have left, and after seeing the results of this formative assessment, we know our students are ready to move on to our summative assessment and we can move past one of our other content and skill practice lessons. I guess that’s just a classic example of a formative assessment doing exactly what it should do!
Now, about that grading…