Monday, September 29, 2014

Formative Assessment in ELA


Be honest. Would you grade a paper if you knew it would not make a difference your students' grade?
As an ELA teacher, I regularly struggle to stay afloat and on top of student papers. I have difficulty grading and returning papers in a timely manner. So why would I take time to grade something that will not impact my students' grade?  Well, because 1). I want students to know exactly what my expectations are for written assignments and 2). Students need the feedback so that they have several chances to practice before they are graded on a performance. Now, in my 17th year of teaching, I have finally found a way to incorporate formative assessment regularly into my classroom! This one is a keeper. Rather than assign a grade to student writing, I assess the writing and then assign it a code. EE=Exceeds Expectations, AE=Approaching Expectations, ME=Meets Expectations, and DNM=Does Not Meet Expectations. This has proven to be beneficial in a few ways.  First of all, the students who do what is required (and nothing more), will receive a ME. The students who push themselves to do more than what is required by using powerful imagery, literary devices, sophisticated vocabulary or complex ideas can receive a code of EE, since they have Exceeded Expectations.  Never before have I received a close reading as in the picture below. Amazing! Now, students get the feedback they need to succeed and I am making expectations clear. And while it seems like too much "grading"
I find that it takes less time  to assign a code. I can distinguish a paper that Meets Expectations quickly from one that Exceeds Expectations or Does Not Meet Expectations. It is definitely worth a try!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ugly of 20% Time

RTwenty-percent time in class does have its ugly moments.  Currently, I am teaching a new elective called "My 14% Time." It is the 20% time model adapted to my middle school schedule. This class is composed of seventh and eighth graders.  Many  students are working on projects with a clear purpose. I have one student who is in the process of learning all about binary code. She is attempting to write her name using binary code by the end of the course. Another student is creating something I can't even explain (a phrase I find myself saying often) using Java 7. I didn't even know they made a Java 7 (or 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 or 2 or 1)! Yet another student is learning to speak Taiwanese with the goal of a video tutorial by the end of the course.
While all students have received feedback about their projects, as well as suggestions from me, it is noticeable that not all students have the motivation or passion necessary to work on a project every day for a semester.  I have found myself in the role of a babysitter--ensuring that students aren't just playing games for the period, but working on achieving the next SMART goal. Several seventh graders spent the period today switching from an irrelevant game to something that looked like their project (only when I was nearby). I have conferenced, suggested, and even restricted computer use until I could see concrete goals. Some students still don't seem mature enough for this type of self-directed class. And while several seventh graders do have projects that are interesting and purposeful,
far too many are playing the game of let- me- see- if- I- can- play- a- mindless- game- until- teacher comes- by. I enjoy the role of facilitator far more than that of a "sage on the stage." But what do we do when students aren't yet ready for the responsibility that is necessary for succeeding in a self-directed, teacher-as-facilitator course? I would like to keep this course open to anyone who would like to take it, but I also think it could improve the class as a whole if an application was prepared by students wishing to take this kind of class. This could give students a chance to think about a project idea before the school year begins. If the student is dedicated to a project and demonstrates that they commit to an idea for the semester, perhaps it is most suitable for this student. Maybe, even though we'd like to think that all students have the motivation and passion to pursue a goal, some students are not quite ready for this kind of independence. Some have not been introduced to enough to know what they are truly passionate about. When I think back to seventh grade, I can't honestly say that I was passionate about anything other than Jolly Ranchers and Days of our Lives. On the other hand, I'd never had the opportunity to consider what I really wanted to learn about. Maybe it is this opportunity that creates a spark for some?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Close Reading of AoW #1 (non-fiction article)

A seventh grader demonstrates a close reading to his table. 

       Yesterday, students watched me demonstrate a close reading and then demonstrated their own. Today, students used the same reading performances to demonstrate a close reading of our first AoW (article of the week, courtesy of Kelly Gallagher). The article was titled "12 Things We Know About How the Brain Works." In order to prepare for the reading, students write in their writers notebook everything and anything they knew about the human brain. After writing for about 5 minutes, we watched a brief TED video (sponsored by Toyota, I think) all about how the brain functions while we try to multi-task. Students were surprised to learn that multi-tasking only ensured that two tasks were completed inefficiently or inaccurately.  Taking time to build up some context before diving into the AoW was an excellent idea. Students wanted to share their own experiences of their own brain under stress or while trying to cram before a test. It felt great to talk to the students about this issue that is relevant and important to us all-- how we, humans, learn.
      After sufficient context-building, we started our close reading of the article. While students worked quietly, I demonstrated my own close reading on the overhead projector to get them started in the first paragraph.  Students were very engaged. A few tried to use highlighters rather than making annotations, but I was able to intervene. I explained to them that the process of highlighting what is already on the page is not the same as rephrasing the material and then annotating. This is actually a different cognitive process.
     After about 20 minutes, I gave students a chance to share a favorite annotation and then I showed students what a demonstration of close reading looks like if you have EE (exceeded expectations).  We talked about the difference between work that met expectations vs. work that exceeded expectations. I explained that this meant that you didn't simply do what was required, but you pushed yourself to ask many thoughtful questions with possible outcomes. While I think that this new way of grading will be very successful, I won't know until I see the student work on Friday.
    At the end of the period, I tried to sneak some web literacy into the lesson by asking a student volunteer to step up to play "researcher." Because students were to highlight words or phrases that caused confusion, the researcher's role was to research the meaning of "fluid intelligence." After searching Google, most students suggested clicking on the first entry. Can you guess what it was?
Wikipedia, of course! After explaining that .com and .org can both pay for a domain name, another student demonstrated a Google Advanced Search that only searched for domain names ending in .edu. After this, I had a few more students demonstrate the Google Advanced Search. This was awesome! Thank you for the ideas Alan November, author of Who Owns The Learning as well as
Web Literacy for Educators. This felt great!

September 9, 2014

Student demonstrating a close reading
Close Reading of "Masks"
Shel Sliverstein