Over the years, it became very clear that this question was ineffective. Wait time is very important and many teachers provide just enough time to avoid many wrong answers. Instead of listening and guiding the students to the answer collaboratively the class must go on based on the curriculum timeline of mostly “one and done” lessons. Many students do not know what to ask or are usually terrified to appear “dumb” by asking “stupid” questions in front of their peers. When the issue is pushed and students are asked what they don’t understand the general response is “everything”. I learned after a few years that I needed to think of another way to get more feedback and spark a little conversation about the topic.
Many students come to me from teachers that simply asked for questions (or asked them questions then singled them out for not knowing) so I decided to try a thumb system. Students would give me a thumb up for their perception of full understanding, a side thumbs for a so-so perception of understanding and a thumb down for no perceived understanding (clarification was given as students that were not focused at all could not just give a thumb down). This system worked a great deal more than simply asking for any questions as I would at least get more students that were lot to give the side thumb and I would be able to better target my remediation process. I always explained that if all students just decided to give a thumbs up then clearly we are ready to assess and move on. I discussed the importance of the students giving honest responses and not having my students go into bobble head mode give lots of agreeing heads shakes with no meaning. (Per my personality, I insert humor and analogies with students daily) I have used this system successfully for about the last five years.
In the middle of this school year (and in the middle of a class) I saw and felt the death of the thumb strategy. It seemed to be losing its effectiveness for student feedback and discussion. So, in that moment I just thought about what the students could use to better voice their perception of the material but not feel singled out as it was relative to their population. Just like that I changed the system and the classroom response and effectiveness greatly improved again. Instead of thumbs we used the classic rock-paper-scissors challenge rules. I say “rock-paper-scissors” shoot! The students would play rock for perceived solid knowledge, paper for shaky perceived knowledge or scissors for perceived choppy knowledge. My 6th graders were excited to use the new system and I started to get valuable feedback so that I could hone in on my remediation even better. This quick relative thought on my toes saved my lesson that day and the students couldn’t wait to be asked for a response the days moving forward.
In every questioning system that I have used to spark discussion and thought, I model and remind the students that it is very unlikely to not understand anything that was discussed. For example, they know what numbers are and how to multiply, add, subtract and divide them but in an order of operations problem they could have simply missed one single step that led them to the incorrect answer. We spend time discussing the problem, their thought process and steps taken so they are able to pin point what happened that got them off track instead of immediately erasing the entire problem. Sometimes they need to start from scratch while other times they need to mend a small mistake or finish the process of the problem to reach the final answer.
I realized that engaging students at the beginning of the class wasn’t enough. The entire lesson needed to have splashes of color more like an abstract not a color by number picture. Analogies that are relative to a student’s school day, social life, home life or even popular movies, television shows, songs and celebrities keep the students drawn into the material. I naturally insert my humor and quirky personality throughout the class period creating a different atmosphere within my room that encourages students to try which assists me in best helping them.
I love math and love winning over students who think that they hate it. Each class of each day is not guaranteed to run exactly the same way. I value wait time and I consider but don’t make excuses for individual student situation but I never lower my expectations. My strategies in the classroom are not always understood or supported by my administrative staff but I can see the successes even after struggles and failing forward. As I come up with abstract lessons I’d like to share them here in hopes of gaining feedback and/or inspiring others to leap off the pages in the textbook or worksheets.
I believe that if you make the learning relative and engaging then the students will take what they have learned and the passion to continue to do so with them when they leave.
Progress is being made daily and I attribute it to the Digital Leading and Learning course as I have really been immersed in the growth mindset and COVA method. My passion and nerdy excitement for learning has allowed me to reel the students then plant seeds of success within in them as they learn to love learning. 🙂
My students are starting to not only explore on their own but using “I’ll try” instead of “I don’t know” or “I can’t”. It’s very refreshing and beautiful to hear and see what they can authentically produce on their own. I’m really a math nerd so it’s very exciting to me when the students can connect to the content in their own way and see value as I do. I was starting to lose my passion for teaching which I chose to do and thanks to this course I can see that I have the power of “yet” to continue to share my passion and possibilities with more students and staff. It’s not time for me to jump ship just yet. 🙂
I am trying to lead my organization away from giving generic directives that are usually presented with an inspirational motto and a beautiful prospectus at the beginning of each school year.
Teach to reach every student! (empty motto number 1,272 and counting)
However, by the end of the semester it’s clear that plans weren’t followed and it’s too late to start because testing season is now priority number one. The previous year’s test scores were not where they wanted them to be for various reasons. There was one year where the staff was actually told at the beginning of the year that it was about the school and not about the students. This statement literally broke my spirit and heart.
I starting thinking then that it was either time to leave or lead. My introduction to the growth mindset ignited a spark that is helping me to aim for leading and I’m learning from the new wins along the way.
It’s my first year and teaching chose me so I am a nervous wreck trying to make sure that I learn everything to successfully teach each student. I have read every book that was suggested and assigned in my alternative certification class. I survived the first six weeks of being a 6th grade math teacher but I still feel like I’m not reaching every learner. So, I requested a half day from my principal so that I could observe veteran teachers to try and discover any strategies that may help me reach every student. However, I left my observations with no bright ideas to add to my tool belt. On top of being a nervous wreck, I was now confused.
I saw each teacher teaching the material per our required schedule set within our administration department meeting. I saw each teacher using the material that was discussed and suggested as a supplement to the adopted textbook. I saw some students learning and engaged but many were not as they seem to be the highest and lowest students in the class. One particular teacher ignored off task behavior and told me that she addressed it by answering questions from those who paid attention to the lesson first and if she didn’t get to the others then it was their fault. The higher students were done with the independent practice and were content doodling or talking amongst their friends. The lowest students (whether paying attention or not to the lesson taught) weren’t attempting to complete the assignment on their own and when the teacher did not address their hands up then they checked out. They talked, doodled, asked to go to the restroom, etc. There was one student that took her hoodie and folded it within itself to appear to be a bundled new born baby and she laughed with her neighbors as they made cute baby noises.
I understand that one glimpse into a classroom doesn’t represent all day or everyday since each class and student in it is unique. Therefore, I made sure to debrief with each teacher after the class to make sense to how it functioned, asked questions to clarify observations and of course asked for any candid advice that they teacher would be willing to give. I learned a great deal that day. The most important thing that I learned that day was that it was impossible for every teacher to teach the same content using the same book, worksheet/activity, class management and personality. We are human not a robot – even after presentation practice (the lesson). This discovery made me really think about downfall of even trying to make everything “aligned” between the 6th grade math teachers. Every student is different, each mix of students in a class is different, the reception of each set of content is different for each class, learning time is cut short for some classes due to school and federal holidays, etc. It goes on and on. I didn’t feel overwhelmed with the difficulties that were presented to me rather I was frustrated with how we were constantly given directives that clearly didn’t consider these things.
I have always thought of professional learning groups outside of the math department at my school as something that would have to be purchased and paid for annually to utilize. I figured that I could just use google to get or make some of the same connections or obtain information. The professional learning groups are going to help me to collaborate more and create low stakes islands for myself to accomplish some of my goals that get pushed aside in the daily whirlwind of work tasks.
I previously researched the ISTE conference that is being held this summer (2017) in San Antonio but I had never thought about just joining the free professional learning groups that are mentioned on the site. I honestly didn’t look into it because I thought that one would have to pay for the conference before they could have access to any of the “goodies” from the website. I’m glad that this assignment made me take a second look at the website. I joined the learning groups. I was also able to download a free e-book about digital connections in the classroom and there is even a section that details the development of digital citizenship.
When I first started teaching I was a consumer but as I gained my own stride I began to contribute. Once I started to share my ideas with anyone that I could I noticed something very odd and upsetting. Rejection of ideas that were not originated by the recipient seem to be the culture of the department. Collaboration was really forced teacher meetings where everyone had to pretend to care about other ideas when the administrator was in the room. Upon leaving our collaboration meetings the “team” disseminated to plan what they were really going to use for their lessons. This made me feel as if my ideas were wrong and I would secretly try them in my room but smile and nod that I acclimated with the plan when good assessment results came back.
As I take baby steps to put myself out there again with data that backs up my methods I can’t wait to share everything that I have tried whether it has worked or not. I also hope to gain insight into things that I hope to try which might assist me with planning or warn me against the possible pitfalls within my vision. I know that there is another nerdy math teacher (or a few thousand) that think of math as a series of beautiful engaging blocks that anyone can learn to love and connect to.
Current Professional Learning Networks (I’m hooked…more to come 🙂 ):
I have also been professionally developing myself by talking to professional peers and watching some great TED talks. I am currently more a consumer in the online professional groups that I have joined as I receive the email updates and check the websites periodically. I am hoping to post more of my ideas as I maintain my ePortfolio and share it out to the communities that I have joined with the hopes of contributing to anyone that can use it to help lead positive change in the world of learning.