How Was Your Year?
The end of the year often brings conflicting feelings to those of us who work in education. There is a sense of excitement for what’s to come next year and what we want to do better but there is also a sense of loss as we say goodbye to a group of students for the year. This is a natural time for reflection and planning for what we’ll tackle next year. How can we harness this natural inclination to think and plan and leverage it to help drive our own improvement as an educator? Here are some tips to help you launch into next year in a positive way:
| 1 |
For me, it was typically second quarter where I started to feel more like a chicken with no head than an actual teacher. The Thanksgiving and winter break made it hard to pace my lessons, my personal calendar was full with family dinners and social events, yet the assignments kept pouring in. Keeping up with my life and with the papers I had to grade often seemed impossible. When faced with a stack of 160 tests/essays/projects to mark, it’s frankly overwhelming. This is why I would commonly give such stacks rides home at night and back to work the next morning without ever tackling a single paper. It is also why I was always on the lookout for new ways to grade smarter, faster, and better.
Images by Heather Lyke
| 1 |
Don’t ‘Grade’ Everything
Most things we do in our classroom are designed to be formative, so why put such tasks in the gradebook? Sure, you’ll want to track students’ progress, but does all the progress you monitor have to be accounted for in Skyward? Does it have to be every assignment? What I’m seeing in a lot of classrooms in the district are students who are working just as hard, if not harder, for a comment in the margin or a verbal “great thinking in this paragraph.” So, if our students work harder for feedback that never goes into the gradebook, then why kill ourselves grading everything and then account for all of it in Skyward?
Want to explore this idea more? Consider reading the first two parts of our Grading for Learning series by Brandon Macrafic:
| 2 |
Provide Feedback Verbally
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- In class one-on-ones — Teachers meet with each student individually (either at his/her desk or by popping by each student’s desk) to talk over a particular task that’s already been completed, work through a problem together, or discuss the student’s thinking.
- Small group — Teachers pull students back in groups of 2-4, often pairing them with others who share similar struggles/successes. Together the students explain their thinking on a shared task, work through a problem that all of them are struggling with, or brainstorm solutions to ensure future academic successes.
- Scheduled one-on-ones — Schedule meetings with each of your students to have them discuss their learning while minimizing the distractions that come from having a classroom full of other students. These can be sessions for all students focused on their accumulated learning/skills, or make-up sessions for students who missed an in-class verbal feedback day or for those needing a bit of extra help. In fact, some of our high schools have weekly Academic Seminars which is a great time to ask students to come in for a verbal feedback session. (Don’t have Academic Seminar? I’ve also seen teachers opt to use their lunch period, Target hour, prep period, and/or before/after school for this same purpose.)
- Make the most of your time together by having talking points sketched out in advance.
- Let students know ahead of time the general area(s) that will be discussed. This limits anxiousness that can sometimes turn into poor behavior choices while students wait their turn.
- Ensure that students, when not being conferenced with, are engaged fully in the day’s activity before starting to pull individuals/groups back for verbal conferences. This often means a culture of engaged learning has been established earlier in the semester, prior to the introduction of verbal feedback conferences.
- Keep conferences short and focused on the topic at hand. It’s easy to let other concerns and agendas squeeze in, but then there’s a risk of students not understanding the purpose of such conferences as well as you potentially not getting to all students in a sufficient timeframe.
| 3 |
Have Students Assess Each Other
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Homework feedback — Rather than collecting and scoring what student did the day before, have them get together with a partner or a small group and go over the problems or questions you’ve assigned. Have them identify what answers they agreed on and then what answers they disagreed on. Have them compare how they came to their answers—whether they be the same or different. Then, facilitate a full class discussion on the elements that the duo/group struggled with.
- Essay editing — Whether you have partners swap, do paper rotations with no names attached, or have students get together in struggle-alike groups, this is a great way for students to learn from each other while simultaneously being exposed to others’ writings, helping them broaden their own personal understanding.
- Lab report evaluation — Lab groups commonly follow differing procedures, arrive at different results, and/or have varying degrees of details in their notes. Giving students opportunities to see other groups’ lab reports allows them to see their own gaps, struggles, and errors (along with their own successes).
- Project evaluations — Putting students into like-topic or project-type-alike groups and having them provide feedback often gives students a chance to see what they personally missed.
- Students don’t often know intrinsically what good feedback looks like, so first model what these conversations should sound like and consist of.
- Consider norming their expectations by having them look at a “high,” “medium,” and “low” example (specifically when doing peer editing or having peers provide feedback on labs/projects) and having them provide feedback as a whole class, then you can guide them into what feedback is helpful, on pointe, and constructive before they go it alone.
- Provide a guide, such as a rubric or a checklist, to help them stay focused on the learning at hand.
- Commonly teachers have students do this before they turn in the final, often graded, assignment/essay/lab report/project. Adding in this step helps students see what to change before turning in the final version—helping them achieve a better outcome on the final version AND making that final version easier for you to provide feedback on (since work done well is often faster to mark).
| 4 |
Have Students Assess Themselves
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Self-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, give them some possible correct answers or some specific questions to help them decide if they went down a path that’s viable. Then, have them reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Peer-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, have them join a partner or small group. Then, have them collectively decide on what answers are correct/viable. Once they’ve worked with peers, provide them with a key or detailed rubric, have them score their own work, and then reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Metacognition on processes followed/learning gained — Have students reflect on their score/answers/feedback after you’ve returned a marked homework task, quiz/test, essay, or project. Go over what parameters you used to score them and then have students agree/disagree with this score using the parameters you shared (debate—making an argument that’s supported with detailed explanations—also has a high effect size).
- The trick here is to not simply have students score themselves using an answer key, checklist, or simple rubric, but rather to have them really look at how the decisions they made, the thinking they followed, etc. lead to the outcome. So, while an answer key, checklist, or rubric may be the first step, it’s important to then have students identify areas of struggle, answer questions about how they studied, and plan for how their learning today will impact their actions tomorrow.
| 5 |
Embrace the Google Suite
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Quick individualized feedback— In Google Forms, when you turn it into a ‘quiz’, you can provide individual feedback. Students receive the feedback almost instantly this way. Plus, for many of us, typing feedback is faster than handwriting it. (Likewise, for many of us, reading typed responses from students is easier than reading their handwriting.)
- Quick rubric feedback — Especially with writing, timely feedback can be difficult. However, in 2017 many of us are collecting our essays online. If you’re not already, consider having students write their papers in Google Docs and then turn their papers in via Google Classroom. If you do this, then you can utilize the Google Add-ons of Doctopus and Goobric. When used together, this makes returning feedback via a teacher-created rubric quick, simple, and paperless.
- Unless you’re super tech-savy, avoid tackling both of these at once.
- Providing individual feedback via Google Forms is the simpler of the two ideas listed above. Want to start simple? Try starting there.
Ideally, some of these tools can help ensure that you have a holiday break free of stacks of tests to grade and/or papers to mark.
When you return from break, hopefully refreshed and ready for the new year, let your instructional coach(es) or one of us from the secondary C&I team know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas together. We’d love to help you save some time.
Originally posted on the RPS Elementary C&I website on 11.21.2017.
Examining a traditional lesson plan template forces us to consider who our students are as learners, the learning objective of each lesson, what mastery of that objective will look like, and the materials needed to engage our learners by differentiating for their needs. Your overall instructional plan will also include interventions and extensions for those who fall below or far exceed the learning target.
That’s a lot to plan for, and for some, our pedagogical tool boxes are just full enough to carry us through the instructional phase; however, mindfulness about the desired learning results and evidence of learning should not be overlooked as we plan. Through John Hattie’s extensive research on student achievement published in Visible Learning (2009), we know that there are some educational practices that are more impactful than others. He found, “effective teachers set appropriately challenging goals and then structure situations so that students can reach these goals.” Being mindful about what we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of the learning experience and determining what that learning looks like is what Hattie termed “teacher clarity.” Teacher clarity ranked in the top 10 or over 100 positive influences on student learning that Hattie studied. He further defined teacher clarity as “organization, explanation, examples and guided practice, and assessment of student learning,” which brings us back to the lesson plan.
What if my lesson plan included:
- Pacing targets
- Differentiated experiences based on students’ prior knowledge, skill level or interest
- More than one strategy for engagement
- Planned time for all students to speak or lead
- Plan B for students who need more time
- Plan C for students who need more challenge
You might be thinking: “Won’t this take a lot of time to plan? I teach many grade levels or different content within the same grade—I am not sure I have time.” Determining the learning objective and success criteria are often already embedded in curriculum; making a purposeful plan to share them with students in a meaningful way may take time. Most classrooms post daily learning objectives already; taking those visuals a step further to include what success looks like may be the first step you could take to make the learning more visible.
Planning instruction that engages students, increases student voice, includes instructional dialogue, and is differentiated takes time; however, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many instructional strategies work well within many different content areas and for various ages and can be used in rotation. See what works for you and your students. Knowing what it looks like when they have met your objective, though, is an important piece of the plan.
Making changes to how we’ve always done something is uncomfortable and can be difficult and overwhelming. Try not to take on too much or overthink—start small. Don’t keep the learning objectives and what success looks like a secret to your students—clarity precedes competence! Successful experiences builds confident learners and teachers.
Feel free to connect with Kari on Twitter @KollingAnderson, via phone at 507-328-4122, or via email.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement; Routledge, 2009.
This is what the first day of class looks like for students coming into my chemistry class:
The teacher (that’s me) greets students as they make their way to the door.
Students are a lot like adults in that their anxiety level is raised when they are about to meet a new person. By greeting each student, I take care of this anxious moment quickly and help the student put a face with the name. I continue to greet the students at the door as the year progresses. The greeting also allows me to give quick instructions to students who may have been, or soon will be, gone from class.
The room is arranged in double rows allowing for a quick share/pair with a partner or a lab group discussion. The student’s name is written on an index card on his/her assigned seat. There is also a handout entitled: “Class Rules for Conduct and Grading” set out for easy access.
Giving a student an assigned seat to start the period has many advantages that help to support student learning. The teacher knows where his/her students are so that (s)he can quickly and efficiently take roll and the student knows that you have a place reserved for them and that (s)he can quickly get started on the warm-up activity for the day. A seating chart gives the students a predictable starting position and allows the teacher to easily transition to the day’s activities. As opposed to a seating chart, a seating arrangement only informs the teacher and class of the location of desks. No matter the seating arrangement, I always have the students start the day in an assigned seat.
(To read more about various seating arrangements, please visit our previous posts entitled “Room Arrangement Matters”.)
“Objective: To learn the first few of our class routines as a foundation for future learning.”
“Assignment: Record the homework assignment in your notebook/planner..."
After taking attendance, I turn the class’s attention towards me with a raised hand and an attention getter. I pause for a moment and then tell the class that we will start each day with assigned seats and a warm up. I then formally introduce myself to the whole class and then state two truths and a lie about me. I pause for them to guess as to which is the lie and them talk about my truths.
I have students pair with their elbow buddy and take turns listing two truths and a lie. I give the students a few minutes to go through the process. I will use the same attention getter when it is time to end the activity. I collect the index cards and keep them for reference.
With this simple routine, the students see that there will be steps to follow when going in and out of groups. The same procedure is used for each activity that the class will do throughout the year. I describe the activity and make sure the students know how I plan to get their attention for transition to the next activity.
A well planned first day lays the groundwork for the coming days by helping our students know that you are a teacher who has a place for them in class and that you will use procedures and routines to assist them in their learning.
As a teacher, I like to start out in first gear just as school gets going, quickly shift into second, and then progress all the way into fourth or fifth gear by the end of first quarter. By second quarter, I shift into fifth (if my students aren't already there) and then into sixth. Once in sixth, I put my classroom on cruise control: speed down that learning highway at 65+ miles for the duration of the year. Of course, sometimes there is construction and I have to downshift mid-year, but as a whole I like to drive my students to their destination at full speed.
But summer: summer for me is for downshifting. Returning to first gear, regrouping, and maybe revving the engine just a little.
This first week of summer, while teachers are "off for the summer," I have had the benefit to work with teachers as they downshift. As they slow down to enjoy the view, revamp their routes, and then rev their engines a bit before we race off again in the fall.
Summer Curriculum Writing
Pages on the Patio
- I get my files and classroom materials packed, cleaned up, and in order.
- I prepare for the first two weeks of the next year by sending materials off to Paper Tiger for copies. Two benefits are garnered by sending for the copies in June vs. August; I do not have to worry about my copies arriving on time and can focus on my classroom environment and student learning once I return in August.
- Most importantly, as I input and review the final grade for each student, I reflect upon his/her learning and my impact upon it. For me, simply thinking about each student allows me to put closure on the many interactions, discussions, and lessons that we collectively have had.
Finally, with the year’s efforts in my rearview mirror, next year’s first two weeks in order, and mental closure with my students, I unplug for the summer by doing the following:
- Turn my nose towards the sky and shout at the top of my lungs… "Yeeeeees! We did it!”
- Turn my nose towards the sky and do a happy dance. (Think Snoopy.)
- Turn my nose towards the past year and promise to forget about it for a while.
My to-do list keeps getting longer and longer in the spring. Each year I put on my to-do list “reflect” and each year it gets shoved further and further down on my list. This year I am making it a point to keep it at the top and to do a better job of reflecting this year. I’m going to reflect in a number of different ways such as conversations with colleagues, writing down my thoughts in a Google Doc or in my journal, and turning off the music in my car to silently reflect on my drive home.
I’m going to use the following 10 questions to help me on my reflective end-of-year journey. My goal is to select one each day between now and the end of the school year.
- What was my biggest success this year?
- What was my most difficult challenge (or series of challenges this year)? Who or what helped me to address that challenge?
- What did I learn about myself when I overcame my most difficult challenge that I can use in the future?
- What did I learn about my students’ lives this year? Was there one story that will stick with me and continue to inspire me?
- How did I grow as an educator this year?
- Are there professional activities or readings that I would like to explore this summer or in the coming year to help me grow?
- Which colleague(s) made an impact on me and how can I show my gratitude?
- What brought me joy this year?
- How well did I nurture and take care of myself this year? What will I do (or continue to do) to take care of myself next year?
- What are some changes I would like to see in the following year in my classroom? What is my first step to make this change?
Will you join me? Will you take a reflective journey, too?
If you are looking for more questions to reflect on, see the Colorín Colorado article "Reflection Questions for Teachers and Students: A School Year Like No Other" by Lydia Breiseth.
If you’re anything like the me-of-two-years-ago, your desk has a growing stack of books and professional magazines that you keep intending to read and you’ve accumulated an ever-growing list of books and blogs that you want to check out eventually. Over time, your stack has grown and the list gets longer; in the meantime, you’ve rarely made a dent in the stack—rarely crossed a title off the list.
It’s not surprising that I, an educator, have a thirst for learning new things. A thirst resulting in tall stacks and long lists of ‘Must Reads’. However, since I am an educator, it’s also not surprising that I often find it a challenge to carve out the time to learn all the new things I want to learn—to carve out the time to read.
Lucky for you, the me-of-today has stumbled upon a few tools and structures over the past few years that have greatly changed my ability to tackle professional reading. My book and magazine stack has gotten shorter. I’ve actually begun to cross a few titles off my ever-growing list.
Rethink your Resources
My approch to during-the-school-year professional reading became much more managable when I embraced other ways to access new learning.
- Audiobooks make it possible to 'read' while I drive, while I clean the bathroom, or while I simply sit and enjoy the view from my deck. Many of the titles on my list are ones I can access for free: the Rochester Public Library and the app OverDrive (a free smartphone app for audiobooks and eBooks) make it easy to get my hands on audiobooks for free--you just need a public library card and a device on which to listen. When the local library does not have a title I want, occationally I opt to buy an audio copy: when I do this, I use my Audible app.
- Podcasts, similar to audiobooks, make it possible to learn hands-free. Suddenly, I can read while I simultaneously do laundry, drive around town running errands, or work out at the Y. Not sure where to start? To get started, take a look at this list of "16 Educational Podcasts to Check out in 2017" copiled by Jeffrey R. Young and Mary Jo Madda, or this list of "36 Educational Podcasts" compiled by Leah Anne Levy.
Schedule Time to Read
Sometimes, I need to sit down and read a physical book or magazine. When the book isn't available in an audio version or if I need to annotate the text as a way to read it critically, then I simply need to schedule time in my calendar to read. If I don't, it likely won't get read.
Some scheduling tips:
- Find chunks of time: it's often easiest to dive into a book when I don't have as many things on my plate. For me, this means reading a physical book or two during each break away from students and staff: I embrace winter break, spring break, and summer break as a way to cross a few titles off my list.
- Calendar reminders, whether you use an Outlook calendar, Google calendar, or a phone app like Streaks, it's simple in 2017 to have a reminder pop up on your phone or computer that reminds you to read. I have set a reminder to pop up every Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 AM, and again every weekday at 8:00 PM. Does this make it so that I read every day? Nope. But, because of those reminders, I at least think about it daily, which is a good first step.
Utilize a Professional Learning Network
- Building Book Groups: Many of our RPS instructional coaches host book groups during lunches or after school. If they do, join up! You can get your PLN by connecting with those in your home school.
- Online Book Groups: If physically getting together is hard, online book groups may be a better option for you (I personally facilitated two this year: one on Hillbilly Elegy and another on Innovator's Mindset). These online PLNs allow for flexibility in your schedule and provide you with a larger, district-wide perspective.
- Flipped Book Groups: Sometimes the book that will help you as an educator is vastly different than the books being read in building-wide or online book groups. If this is the case, join a 'Flipped' Book Group, such as Pages on the Patio which will begin this fall. In this book group structure, you get together with your PLN to read and discuss but everyone brings a different book to read. It's differentiation, book-group-style.
Looking for other ideas for how to manage professional reading?
Consider checking out our #RPSLead Twitter Chat that took place on May 17, 2017.
I was wrong.
Needless to say, this has been an eye-opening, learning experience. It has changed my thinking. Soon, when I return to “my own” classroom next year, it will change my actions. Here are some things I now plan to do:
Have a one-page summary of class policies and procedures.
If I were to go by what students tell me as a substitute, the teacher never collects homework, students work in groups while laying on the floor, nobody ever brings paper or pencil to class, they always work outside or in the hall, restroom passes are given freely to anyone and everyone multiple times, friends from other classes are welcome to join at any time, they always line up at the door 10 minutes before class ends, they always use phones and iPads, and the teacher plays music for them throughout the entire class period.
I know I won't be able to keep my students from trying to bend the rules, but it won’t be hard to create a list that includes the following:
- My definition of tardy (in the door, in the seat, a one–minute grace period, etc.)
- What materials students access through me (where I keep the classroom set of textbooks/iPads/calculators, where I keep extra pencils and paper should they be provided, etc.)
- My policy with passes (not given out during first/last ten minutes of class, written in back of the student planner, accessed via QR code on their iPad, etc.)
- My standards for how students do daily work (in pairs, groups, with/without ear-buds in, etc.)
- My flexibility with student movement around the room (there's a group that sits in the corner during work time, I don't allow students to work in the hallway, students can switch seats during work time but not before that, etc.)
- How I have my students turn in materials (basket on the front table, folder attached to the whiteboard, pile on the corner of my desk, etc.)
- Where my students find materials handed out previous days (on my website www. .com, in the binder at the front of the room, from their 'class buddy', etc.)
- A list of areas in my classroom that are off limits to students (my desk, a computer at the front of the room, the art supplies in the cupboard, etc.): believe me, students know where you hide your candy and they will take it or attempt to convince the sub that the teacher hands it out generously.
Have an up-to-date, marked or highlighted seating chart--with pictures.
Attendance is a nightmare for a sub. (Don't believe me, check out the Comedy Central skit "Substitute Teacher" by Key and Peele...) Names are difficult to pronounce. Calling roll is time-consuming and emphasizes the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, and gives the students a perfect chance to start the hour by playing all kinds of name-changing games. On the other hand, a great seating chart can be a sub’s best-friend. With a great seating chart I can get attendance taken in under a minute and know a variety of information about the students in the class.
When I return to the classroom, my seating chart will certainly include:
- Pictures (this is a must)
- Some markings on the chart (where the desks are in relation to the windows, my teacher desk, the podium, etc.) so the sub can get oriented: this is especially important should I have tables or desks that aren’t in simple rows
- Notes of any seating changes made since the chart was printed
- A key with marks to let the sub know:
- Special Ed students
- Students who can be trusted to answer policy and procedure questions
- Students who are most likely to need some redirection
- Potential conflicts between students
Have an assignment that is relevant to the class and for which students will be accountable.
This is perhaps my biggest takeaway from my experience. In the past I would either ask the sub to play a DVD of the TV show Numbers or tell the students to work on any missing assignments. There are problems with both of these: showing a video requires turning off the lights and it often becomes impossible for students to work on missing assignments because they have either finished it, left it at home, need the teacher to explain it, or have to work with a partner who isn’t in the class that day. Even if a class is not a management problem and the students talk quietly all hour, there is nothing slower than the minute hand of a clock when a sub is just sitting at a desk watching students talk with each other (plus, what learning is happening then?). Okay, there is one other thing slower--the clock when it is the fifth time the sub has watched that same episode of Numbers...
In the future, I’ll just ask the sub to continue with whatever assignment is next in my lesson plan. It may be a little rough, but if I teach the same course more than once, the sub will be great after the first time through. If it is just not possible, see my next suggestion.
Have a set of folders with a variety of stand-alone assignments.
When I return to my own classroom, I’ll be sure to have a variety of stand-alone tasks, and I'll mark each as 10-minute, 25-minute, or a full class period in length. For math, these will be an assortment of logic puzzles or real-world use of math that is at least somewhat connected to the course. It won’t fit perfectly with the day and current standard, but it will be something the students can turn in at the end of the hour for feedback that I can give them later. On the front of each folder will be the time needed for the assignment and a chance for the sub to record the date and hour it was used so I know what can be set out again in the future. (These are also great for when your absence is sudden and you have no opportunity to prepare for a sub ahead of time.)
Foster a respectful classroom environment.
I know this sounds like a cliché, but a class doesn’t change overnight. If I have a class that is built on positive relationships and consistency, I won’t have to threaten them to get them to behave for a sub. On the other hand, if class management is based on fear or there is no consistency, the class won’t respect the sub even if I, the classroom teacher, threatens to write up or assign double detention to every name the sub writes down. A sub can come in and work with any class that has a respectful classroom environment already established, but she'll surely struggle if there is not such an environment already present.
Oh, and one last thing: I’ll hide some chocolate and let the sub know where it is.
Feel free to connect with Dave Pugh via email
Enjoy our Blog!
Members of the Secondary C&I team weekly post useful tools, tips, and tricks to help you help students.
Analysis & Inquiry
Grading For Learning
Instructional Learning Formats
Planning For A Sub
Quality Of Feedback
Regard For S's Perspective