It’s been…um a few years since I’ve posted on this blog. However, it has been a personal goal of mine to blog regarding teaching, even if I am the only one who reads it. That being said, summer is a great time for teachers to retool, rethink and reflect on the year past. There are so many things I love about my job, but my favorite is a new year–new students, new methods, a fresh slate. Who would like a fresh start at their job every year? Well, maybe not everyone, but I do. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections on things I love and things I’d like to work on this year, in particular. I’m sure I won’t hit them all, but if I make progress in just a few, that’s good too. A journey of a thousand steps begins with just one. Here are my reflections:
My classroom is a loud and noisy place and that’s the way I like it. I didn’t always like it. I used to be very uncomfortable with movement and talking–when it wasn’t mine. I felt like I might not be able to wrangle my students back to attention. Over the years I’ve picked up tricks that have given me confidence to unleash my student and know that I can corral them back in (3, 2, 1; music, online-timers; warning bells; etc). With that in mind, this is what I think works in my classroom:
Full Group Engagement/Accountability If everyone is not working and actively engaged then I’m not happy with it. I know teachers often play games (Jeopardy, etc.) where only one or two kids are battling it out for the win. If everyone is not busy, then I’m not happy. One thing I do to ensure student engagement is that I assign group roles or label each paper 1-4 and collect one for a grade at the end of the class based on the role of the dice. If everyone is engaged and working cooperatively everyone benefits. If everyone is not engaged, then everyone suffers.
Collaborate and Listen Research shows that students are more positive about school, subject areas and teachers if they work in a collaborative classroom (Johnson and Johnson, 1984). For that reason, I have several “go-to” activites when that involve active learning and cooperation, many of which I’ve shared in this class.
- Man Overboard
- Knotty Problems
- Speed Dating
- Challenge Me with Role Assignment: Scribe, Artist, Communicator, Quality Control
- “I say…, You say…”
- Collaborative Groups
Communicating Problem Solving Strategies Since the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice require students to “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” and “attend to precision,” I require students to present at least one problem per chapter to the rest of the class. While this is difficult for some students, they increasingly grow in this skill and I have scaffolding in place for students who struggle to encourage them to speak. For example, I offer students the opportunity for me to preview their work before they present. This gives them them a little added confidence to present.
High Level of Differentiated Accountability I place students in groups often and hold them accountable either by giving students roles or by assigning them a number 1-4 and then rolling dice at the end to collect work for activities. Ina ddition, I have students work on “bellwork” and then collect each one, check it and separate correct from incorrect work. If it is wrong, I like consult individually with each student or ask an “expert” student to work with them. In addition, I ask students to perform the objective task with a “Ticket to Leave” so that I know exactly who understands and who doesn’t. These tasks usually have students at 100% engagement.
Direct Instruction with Pizzazz I say “pizzazz” because I do not directly instruct in a typical, “I talk, you listen” fashion. It truly is a discussion. I pose problems that might have a connection but have a twist to former learning. I ask students to walk me through the process, asking probing questions. In that way, we are “discovering” together.
TI-84 Graphing Calculator I use the TI-84 regularly for classroom instruction. I feel like I have a good handle on its uses for Algebra II (and even some of the quirky technological issues that may arise) and how to use it for both group discovery and whole group discussion. When we use the calculator as a whole group, I have found it really helpful to have a student model its use on the document camera. I notice when I try to model it, I go too quickly and students find it difficult to keep up.
What Needs Improvement in my Classroom
For the most part, I like what I’m doing but I also know there is SO much that I can do to improve. That is what I love most about our profession—there is ALWAYS room for growth! The classes I’ve taken this summer have taught me that I have several weaknesses. I will list them in order of priority of implementation.
PBL Problem Based Learning, rooted in Constructivist thought, forces students to go beyond gaining proficiency in algorithms and mastering foundational knowledge in mathematics, students in PBL environments must learn a variety of mathematical processes and skills related communication, representation, modeling, and reasoning (Roh, 2003). This is, in part, due to a reluctance on the part of my district to wholeheartedly embrace the Common Core. There is still a “drill and skill” mentality and curriculum to support it. That being said, I’d still like to make room for at least one 3 Act type collaborative problem solving experience for my students per quarter. This would allow students to draw conclusions for themselves making connections to former mathematical learning.
Scaffolding I LOVE using groups, but I have been guilty of throwing groups together without the appropriate scaffolding and find that students are frustrated. I need to assign roles and, even more so, teach the skills of active listening and speaking, supporting statements with viable arguments as stated in the CCSS MP Standard 3. These can be taught to students and practiced. Ideas for practicing these social skills can be found at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-collaboration-key-rebecca-alber .
Variety is the Spice of Life I would definitely like to expand my toolbox of Kagan Structures so that I could create a more collaborative environment where, according to Kagan, students develop a personal interdependence and desire to help each other learn. Several structures I’d like to try in particular are Numbered Heads Together and Spin-N-Review so that students will have greater engagement and better performance.
Pit Stop In the middle of direct instruction I want to take a pause for students to “teach” one another or perform some other BRIEF collaboration like “mirror” or “think-pair-share.” For example, if I teach a difficult example, I might pause for each person in a pair to take 30 seconds to explain it to their partner and then switch. In doing so, students can reflect on their understanding.
Brain Based Learning Brain breaks are a useful tool for students to use to help activate, energize and stimulate their brains by improving information storage and retrieval. Research indicates that brain breaks also improve students’ concentration and relieve stress. I think it might be important for my regular Geometry students to have Brain Breaks and hand motions as well. I plan to use the website gonoodle.com and place them in the middle of the lesson.
These are just MY thoughts–share yours–how will you make this your #bestyearever?