Friday, December 7, 2012

Formative Assessment & Feedback

For all of the PD days that I've had, the most beneficial to me have always been about how to provide the right types of formative assessments, and how to assess them so as to increase students learning instead of extinguish it. What I mean is this.....

A student completes a project task, whether a brief writing or a few mathematical problems, and they turn it in. As a teacher, I look at it, make a few marks, say "good!" a time or two and put a score at the top. 2.5 and circle it. Then, I write some feedback on the bottom or back of the page explaining my thoughts and how they could improve. Does a student read it? Likely not. They've seen their score, accepted it and are ready to move on. The learning has extinguished.

This is not a new thought or story by any means, but it is a valuable one to consider. With my most recent project, Cyrano's Funk, I've gone through the various formative assessments (See previous post for more information!) and all I wrote were the comments.  Now, I kept track of what level of mastery I believed they were demonstrating, in my own grading spreadsheet, but I never shared that information with them. The next time I did a check-in with the students (a week after the first), I read through their work from the first check-in and they had almost all made corrections and improvements, AND it had helped their writings for that second check in. I can only imagine how good those second submissions could have been if I had seen the students improvements earlier and given even more suggestions before they started their second set of literary analysis compositions.

The key to feedback is making sure that it is timely and specific. (Don't believe me? Read this: Focus on Effectiveness) If a student has just turned in work to you, I don't care that your favorite TV show is on, or that you are feeling a bit sleepy, make sure you grade that work. Especially if you are in a smaller PBL atmosphere, this is easier to comply with (though I had 11 of my 15 students turn something in to me today, so I'm about to be up all night and super cranky tomorrow, but that's another story). If you aren't in a small atmosphere, then try to go through each item and assess it on only ONE thing. That is where the specificity comes in. I don't care that they misused the semi-colon, what I'm providing feedback on is their use of examples in the Columbian Exchange, and that is what I will provide feedback on. The rest can wait. OR even better, the rest can be peer-assessed.

Using peers as a source of assessment is a genius idea. Too often, we leave this method for the English classroom and have them "peer edit for grammar". What a shame! Students can offer such valuable insight to one another and speak it in relatable terms so that both students end up benefiting. We are starting a historical approach to a project in the coming weeks and I fully intend on utilizing students in peer-groups to assess one another multiple times before I even see their product. Now when doing this, you need to make sure that your feedback has a specific focus. Every time the students peer-assess one another, you should have them look for one or two main ideas to give feedback on. When I go over students work, I can see the feedback that they have been provided, and I can see how the student adapted (I can see their learning, how fun is that?!). I can then assess their

For more information on types of feedback, make sure to check out this article Types of Feedback and Their Purposes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Running Behind & Out of Time

Wow oh Wow. Cyrano is taking a little longer than I had expected. I was hoping to have the students finished by TOMORROW to be able to record all of their competencies. However, due to a variety of factors (including student laziness!) we haven't quite gotten there. Even with my checking in and providing feedback the last two weeks, and giving them time in class, the students are still about a week behind.

Here is a recap of what students have needed to submit to me as their formative assessments:

Competency 1: 
  • Pre-Project Activity--Timeless Themes in Society & Media. A pretty quick and easy write up of what kind of issues or themes are prevalent in their lives today, and have been around for years before. 
  • Active Reading Act 1 & Act 2. A quick activity students do while reading the Acts with the class that help them to understand the characters as they are first developed.
  • Character Analysis: Cyrano. Students were asked to do the Character Analysis for Cyrano only, even though the original PBLU project suggests doing one for each of the 3 major characters. However, after seeing the amount of time it was taking students to comprehend doing one of these analysis, the cooperating teacher and I decided to keep it at one character. Next time I do this, I will plan on giving this after Act 2 and allowing students to pick one of the three main characters that they felt the strongest connection with. I think this would provide an interesting insight into my students, as well as produce better quality of work. Two examples of Cyrano follow below.  Keep in mind, these are works in progress and this is after the first submission to me. Students have only worked on their drawings at this point, and not their written analysis. 

Competency 2:

  • Analyzing Literature Acts 1-5. I decided to use the Glencoe (c) Cyrano de Bergerac Study Guide, with blessing from the English department, to help me determine students comprehension and analyzation of Cyrano. These were great study guides for the students and helped me to develop some pre-reading activities to get the students in the right mindset for the Act of the day. In retrospect, I wish I had done more of these pre-reading activities, as I know it really helped me put the students in the right mindset. I think it would have helped to have done this for all acts so that the students would have been more actively engaged. There were a few days where some of the students just weren't that into the reading, and I think setting the stage could have helped them to get there. 

Competency 3
  • Playlists for Acts 1-5 & Write-Up. Students were asked to really analyze the theme and compare how theme is represented in a classical piece of writing with contemporary music. I think that this is by far the coolest part of the project that we can do, yet my students are struggling to get it done. I'm not sure why they are struggling so much, though I believe it may have to do with their musical preference. I believe that the type of music they listen to doesn't reflect all of these themes, and they are nervous to expand their boundaries. Students are picking two themes prevalent in each of the acts and are citing specific examples from the text that represent this theme, as well as specific lyrics from their song. They are then asked to provide justification for how/why they represent the overall theme and how the theme is represented differently in both mediums. This is taking us the longest time right now, and is what students are finishing up for the week. Next time I run this project (next year, I can't wait!!), I plan on giving students the electronic copy of the Playlist Write-Up at the beginning of the Act and having them use their active reading to help track themes, as well as giving the students sticky notes to track the quotes that they would like to use. This would likely make this a quicker and smoother process for all. 

At this point, I've assessed their work two times. Each time, I've been providing feedback with a different colored pen indicating areas that they need to work on, or questions I would like more insight on. It seems to be an effective method for my students, because they are used to mastery-based grading, where they can continually re-do until they demonstrate the level of mastery necessary or that they would like to achieve. So far, I  have students asking me EVERY DAY what they can do to improve their scores. I have never seen that, even with other projects we have done. Previously, I've had a handful of students ask me one time each how to improve their score, they take my feedback and resubmit. This time, with two check-ins on all of the same material, students are asking each day as they go over their work and review it what could take them to the next level. Now I'm not saying this is the end-all-be-all: you must correct two times in different colors; but I am saying that I've had more than half of the class engaged in it, and that is a win in my book.

Aside from competency assessment, I've been assessing students in the following 21st century skills areas: collaboration, technology use, and critical thinking. The main one we have been working on here is collaboration, as we are trying to build ourselves a stronger sense of community.

Students are now on their third instance of collaboration, and I'm pleased to say it is working better now, even though I've changed students' groups each time. The first instance of (designed) collaboration was at the beginning of the project, where students were each reflecting on three timeless themes prevalent in their lives. Having a chance to think about it individually, write their thoughts, and then share, lead to greater collaboration and better products for their classroom posters on Themes Throughout Time. Students produced well thought out posters, even though they weren't the most creative or colorful. Students really enjoyed the opportunity to bond with one another over some of their issues and it brought the advisory closer as a group. Secondly, students have had the opportunity to collaborate on their playlist acts and give one another feedback, which has gone really well so far, but we are still in the process of finishing up. On top of that, they are meeting with their final product partners or small groups to discuss their performance pieces for next weeks' Project Showcase!

I think next time, I may try to have home groups that they can collaborate on any part of the project with throughout the project. I think the students would really benefit from having a core group of students to work with and reflect on their work with over the whole course of the project. This would be the group of students that feel most comfortable with one another, not necessarily the group of students that would benefit each other most academically or skill wise as we've done in some other grouping formations.

The hardest part to all of this? Time management. I totally thought the hardest part would be finding appropriate content to help my students (keep in mind I am NOT an English teacher), and maybe it would have been the hardest at another school, but with my awesome coworkers to help guide me in my searches, or give me their stamp of approval, I was able to come up with some pretty good material for the kids. Instead, the hardest part was making sure I managed MY time wisely to make sure that students received their specific and timely feedback in a timely fashion. It's a lot to read, and a lot to comprehend--I certainly have some more empathy for English teachers--but I'm glad I had the experience with them.

Sigh.... I can feel the project slowly wrapping up and I hate having to say good-bye to it. I feel an awful lot like I used to at my more traditional school when I would get to 5th period and think "Man.... I taught this lesson way better than I taught it to 1st and 2nd period." Well, practice makes perfect. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2 Projects & Only 1 Me

I'm so thankful that I have such an awesome team to work with. Everyone has been so helpful in creating pieces of the projets that I am implementing in the classroom. Both projects have BIG checkpoints today which will prepare them for the creation of their final products. Let's check it out....

Planet X-ers! Have been working diligently on researching key terms and phrases that they will need in order to successfully select a life-sustaining planet and create an ecosystem that would flourish there. Students are learning the different roles of organisms in an ecosystem and how they all work together. Our science teacher made some amazing research guides for the students that have students working on a core group of words in terms of definitions/descriptions and pictures, and he then has them writing summaries as to how they are all interrelated and how it corresponds to the project. I've been getting some awesome questions from students! They are very interested in making their summaries the best possible and are continually asking how they can improve. Not something I ever saw when I taught in the traditional system.......

The Funky Bunch has been working hard at analyzing each of the acts of the play. We found a great study-guide from Glencoe (seriously.... use all the resources you have!) which has given us some great opening questions and activities, as well as a few key questions for students to answer regarding each of the acts. Today the students took a min-lit. analysis assessment involving theme, style and syntax. I'm definitely NOT an English teacher by trade, so I'm glad I had a bit of guidance from our English department. I'm sure it could have been better, and I wish I had run it by them again before letting the kids take the assessment, but as with all things in PBL... you live. you learn. Now that the students are finished with lit. analysis and character analysis for Cyrano, they are ready to move on to relating it to their life and coming up with a production for it. They are brainstorming that over Thanksgiving Break and will be put into teams on the Monday after to determine which Act they would like to recreate.

Stress is super low right now knowing that most of the students have gotten to the checkpoint; but I'm sure it'll skyrocket again over break when I've got 45 different sets of project research or analysis to review and respond to. However, Timely & Appropriate feedback are SUPER IMPORTANT in teaching kids through PBL, so I've got my goals for the week and I'll do everything possible to meet them.

So excited the marking period is winding down. They can do this! We can all do this!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What did I get myself into?!?

So, just kicked off major project #2 today with ANOTHER group of kids. What on Earth was I thinking? (Ha.... what on EARTH.... I launched a project about other planets today!) My stress level: 11.5. WHat did I get myself into?! I haven't even finished one project successfully (though we are successfully through 40% of it!), and I start another one.... with an even LARGER group of kids.

Okay, so let's calm down here for a minute.... I've been trained. I've got resources. I've got a great support team. Stress Level: 9.0 getting better.

Update on Cyrano: Students are having a hard time turning things in. I've determined that with mastery-based grading, students don't feel the pressure to turn in the work on time. They say "oh I can do it again" or "what will happen if I don't?" There is a severe lack of intrinsic motivation. This is incredibly frustrating in general, but even more so because I spent time helping them to make connections to the book so that it would feel more relevant to them. Isn't that what PBL is all about? Teaching students how to take their interests and learn how to master 21st Century skills in a productive work-simulated environment? I thought so...

Anyway, back to the update. Students are working on analyzing the second act and completing a character analysis of Cyrano along with it. Many of the students have chosen to take on the artistic aspect with their character analysis and are creating collages or caricatures of Cyrano. I'm trying to emphasize with them that they simply cannot create large noses for Cyrano, because that does not fully describe him as a person. Walking around and discussing with students today: most of them don't have their playlists done, nor do they have their Act 2 Analysis done, and now they have the Character Analysis to do... A busy week a head for these hooligans, especially since we are starting Act 3 tomorrow!

On to the new project: Life on Planet X! I found the inspiration for this project from the book: Teaching Beyond the Test. If you are having trouble finding a way to jump into PBL, I strongly suggest this book. It has great ideas that are laid out for you including strategies for scaffolding projects and extending them to include other subject areas (perhaps have a colleague help you more fully develop some of these ideas, that's what I've done!). I had our lead Science teacher help me to better format this project for our students, as he hates using anything pre-made, and we had our kick-off today. We watched an awesome video clip and had a semi-productive discussion surrounding it. We are working this project with 30+ kids (instead of the usual 12-14), so we shall see how that impacts learning!

Students will be selecting their planets on Thursday and will then begin to develop a sustainable ecosystem on the planet: including creating organisms and defending their choices based on the environment of the planet. Students will be focusing on the study of  Energy Transfer and Ecosystems with this project. With any luck, we'll finish just before the Project Gala in December.

Stress Level: 7. Feeling like I can accomplish the day. Just need to remember to keep at it and that we aren't alone in our fight to reform education.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Entering the Battlefield: Classic to Contemporary Culture

Today, I finished my entry event for the Cyrano's Funk project I am implementing in my colleague's classroom. Based on my own thoughts, and having discussed the project with the hosting teacher, I've come to believe that this went over well with the students; perhaps not for the content of the project, but for the structure. Students at our school were more or less thrown into PBL, as were us teachers; and everyone has been in survival mode since. Let's break down my seeming success a bit....

"In general, how effective was the Entry Event in terms of student excitement and your delivery? Would you do anything differently next time"

For the Entry Event, I used the project packet as a guide, rather than as a script; so I was free to interpret it a bit more and make it more relevant to my students. I took into consideration the students that I would be working with, and discussed some of their interests with them ahead of time to try to reach as many of them as possible. We talked about their likes/dislikes as well as their interests in pop culture. With this information, I was able to come up with a rather large powerpoint that reached my students through some of their favorite facets: Funny Clips-Tosh.0; teen movies; music videos/song writing. While I knew that a powerpoint in general is not necessarily the most engaging, it was the medium I was most comfortable with using and I did not want my inability to use a technology to hinder my students' interest in the project. So, I made the best powerpoint that I could, using the information I was given from them.

Instead of just having students search Shakespeare on Twitter, I created a powerpoint that included short videos (a rap battle between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss) and had students analyze how the characters were represented (without their names having been said or seen in the video via "Who is this character? How did you know?"). After that hooked the students in to caring a little more about Shakespeare and authors in general, we went through some of their famous movies and as they would shout out the name, I would shoot them down. For example, when looking at one movie poster a student said "10 Things I Hate About You," to which I quickly changed the slide and said "No. Taming of the Shrew". This went on with a whole series of their favorite movies and lead to a brief discussion on how all current movies and themes draw from classic inspiration. Many were surprised that "The Lion King" was really "Hamlet". We also discussed some of their favorite musical artists and pulled out lyrics that were drawn from classic literature, ending with the ever-popular "Love Story" by Taylor Swift.

Students seemed excited by this and almost challenged to come up with their own original work and prove to me that there were plots and story lines that had not already been created. I felt excited that they wanted to prove me wrong, because it showed they were starting to care about the event--and possibly the project!

Many of my students were able to make deep connections to the discussion on themes throughout time. They were able to draw on their own experiences currently (especially loss, friendship and grief as many of them have just suffered through losing a dear friend), and find connections to movies, songs and writing from classic to contemporary. Students took this a step further when we did the social media exploration and were able to see that they were not alone in their feelings. Students were able to use these common themes/feelings as a springboard to open up and have discussions with students they had previously not had much experience working with; which is helping to build a community inside of the classroom.

In enacting this entry event, I think I would make changes to the groupings that I did. I simply counted off students as a way to get them to work with people they previously had not. However, I feel that this hindered some of the discussions that could have happend early in the process. The next time I implement this (as has already been requested by other teachers!), I would consider letting students choose a partner and then squaring off the partners with a new crowd. I think that this would give the students some support and confidence in speaking with their group, as they already know someone else feels similarly; which could help engender more thoughtful discussion.

"Were you satisfied with how you led the creation of the Need to Know List? Were you able to get the students to ask good, valid questions?"

This portion of the entry was absolutely my downfall. I've run Need to Know lists with students before, but always on a topic I was more familiar with. Not all students that were asked made the need to know list, as they were things answered directly on the spot (i.e. Do we need to dress up?). However, I think my students were able to come up with a list that helped them identify their shortcomings and how to serve them, as well as their interests.

My students struggle with reading decoding and comprehension and were inquiring about the style of the writing and if they were allowed to use Spark Notes. I've determined that they are allowed to use them independently to help them process their understanding of the play, but that we will be reading the true script together (and acting it out!) in class. This class is full of students who are very boisterous and will benefit from being able to enact what they read. Many of them are very excited about the ability to perform.

I was not surprised that the students did not ask me much in terms of English content involved (What is a theme? How do we identify a theme? etc), based on the discussions we had had earlier in class on identifying common themes through various media throughout time.

Overall, I wish I had known more about the play and had attempted the project before I did the N2K with my students as I think that would have better prepared me for helping to prod them for questions. I'm also, by trade, a mathematics teacher, so while I'm good at helping students to make mathematical connections and come up with questions, I clearly faltered in the English curriculum. When I do this again, I will be meeting with our English department chair to discuss questions that students will address through the projects and methods of getting students to ask these questions themselves.

"Did the students' questions adequately link to the content knowledge, skills and process required for the project?"

Again, having had good discussions earlier, I was not surprised that I did not have to adress any content knowledge questions with the class. However, I plan on going over various literary elements that they need to be on the look out for before each reading period. Students certainly adressed their individual skills, or lack of skills, when inquiring about the ability to use SparkNotes to help comprehend the text, as well as asking the the writing style that the text is done in. I was impressed with their ability to see their own weaknesses and ask ways to empower themselves throughout the project. Process questions were not directly adressed through the N2K process, however students did ask about the ability to work with partners and the types of mediums they could do their projects through. This information, however, was adressed through the powerpoint that the student went through with me.

Overall, I'm very excited to see my students' reaction to the project. They genuinely seem excited to be getting direct guidance working through a project and seemed pleasantly surprised at the connections they could make to their daily lives. I can't wait to see how things go next week when we begin reading/acting out the first Act! Wish us luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Diving in to Cyrano's Funk

Well, I finished all of my PBLU courses ( if you haven't taken them!) and I am VERY excited about this school year. I'm down to just my capstone left and I'm working with a colleague of mine to implement an English project into her advisory class!

Why English? I always wanted to be an English teacher. When I went off to MSU it was between Math & English or Math & Spanish. I chose Math & Spanish (or well, a coin chose for me!). So, I'm living out the flip-side of my coin through this project.

The project is called "Cyrano's Funk" and was developed over at High Tech High and I'm very excited and nervous about diving into this! It's been a long while since I've had to discuss literary elements with anyone, none the less try to teach them, so we'll see how this goes!

Other projects going on:

Working on developing "Life on Planet X" (not an original name, I know, but I'm technical not creative), with our lead science teacher here and I will be implementing that next week as well. Two projects in one week? Am I crazy? Yes. Yes, I am.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thriving in Chaos: The Importance of Planning

The key to being a PBL/Flipped Instruction teacher is organization. There is no way for students to be successful without having a carefully planned out idea of: the year; the curriculum; the standards; and the class. Below are copies of all of the curriculum planning organizational tools I use. 

 The document on the right is a list of my "competencies". Comepetencies can be equated to a benchmark or a standard in that each has a name, a description and corresponding CCSS or HSCE to support the idea.

The document to the left of here is pulled from the Understanding by Design book by Wiggin-McTighe which allows for me to dissect each of my competencies into information of various importance for the students to learn and master.

Once I know what my students should learn, based on the various Standards collections and close work with my colleagues, I then use the Marzano 4.0 grading scales as a guide to help me write out how well I believe that my students have mastered the material. 

The first document helps me to determine various ways to formatively assess students mastery level. 

The second document is given to students to see the criteria of understanding for each mastery level. 

 Once I've written all of my competencies (or refined ones that worked last year, but need some tweaking/updating), and I've set my mastery scales, I can then determine how long each of the competencies should take to master and how students could go about demonstrating their mastery of the content and I can start anticipating projects and lessons for the students to work on. 

Thankfully, my competencies are written for the year for the entire math curriculum (as I am the only math teacher, I am the math department, ha!). Now it is on to writing the grading scales. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Welcome to my World

Hi there and Welcome to my World,

My name is Kristen (soon-to-be) Moore and I am a new teacher. This is a picture of myself with my fiance. We are avid sports fans and love going to see the Detroit Lions, Tigers and Red Wings. Scott is my rock and I wouldn't be able to survive (and thrive!) in this crazy life of mine without his support.

 Last year was my first year teaching, and while I bask in the glory of having survived it, I'm anxiously prepping for year to come. I am currently the only math teacher at the Charter high school for nearly 250 students and if that isn't enough to make my life crazy, I'm fully developing all of my own curriculum for each of these classes, and creating my own classes on top of that. 

Things I'm hoping you all will get out of this blog:

  • Organizational Tips for the Classroom
  • Lesson & Unit Planning Tips, following Understanding By Design 
  • Strategies for implementing PBL, including designing projects, and flipped-classroom practices
  • Help understanding Mastery Based Grading and Marzano practices
  • Encouraging stories of real life successes and failures in the classroom
and most importantly, what we'll both get out of this:
  • Relief in knowing we are not alone on this crazy road called Education
If you've been teaching for 10 years or just teaching for 1, I hope that this blog helps you to stay encouraged and invigorated, in all that you do. Maybe you'll even get inspired to try a new "best practice" in your classroom.