Friday, September 28, 2012

Standards Based Assessment Exit Interviews

I currently grade on a Mastery Based grading system. I really like it because it allows students to reap the benefits of time spent relearning material and also allows me to see what they are struggling with and what I can spend more time going over with them.

Their current "Mastery Tests" at the end of a unit are essay based. They are usually asked to define terms by explaining their relationship and significance to larger historical events and write essays that synthesize the information from a particular unit into a well crafted written piece. Only once they demonstrate an understanding of the key concepts of the unit and the ability to synthesize, rework, and produce information do they "master" the assessment.

In order to master an entire unit they must, in addition to the Mastery Test, complete all of the work associated with it. This includes watching lecture videos, filling in two-column notes, answering section review questions, creating flashcards, completing Critical Reading's of articles and finally completing their in class work which is an in class project each week based around an essential question they receive. Its a lot, but manageable. 

I have been struggling to find a way where I could give students another opportunity to demonstrate mastery that did add on to their current workload. I have also been looking for more effective ways to use my one on one time with them. Currently I can assist them with in class projects, or if they struggled with a particular concept and come to me, I can sit and go over it. I wanted a way however to suss out those that were too shy to tell me they weren't "getting it." Additionally under our new evaluation systems they are interested in seeing how we use data to assess and react to student learning. I've been wanting to do this for a while and this will be a good push.

I decided to create "exit interviews" for each unit. Currently a student must present me all of the coursework for the unit when they have mastered all of it, and I sign off that it is done and mastered and it goes into the books. I've decided to change this a bit and make it another chance to assess mastery.

I made a simple checklist (adapted from Frank Noschese's great examplehat I found through Brian Bennett ...yay for the power of networking!) that included all of the state standards for the course. The first column had the standard the second column had a simple "Mastered?" This year I'm starting with just "yes" or "no." I'm sure in the future I can find ways to show "working towards mastery" but for now I wanted to keep it simple. At an "exit interview" students will bring all of their work, notes, quizzes, tests, projects, flashcards, critical readings, etc. One by one I will go through the standards, they can either orally demonstrate mastery, or they may show me in some of the work they have done where they can demonstrate mastery of the concept.

I plan on making these "interviews" as comfortable and informal as possible. "No" answers under the Mastery column may be changed at any time, a student can bring me something that demonstrates a mastery of that standard and I will change it. This won't take away from what they've done, rather it will be one more chance for them to show master, for many of my students answering orally is preferable to writing. I am not lifting the required writing of the course, merely giving them another opportunity to clarify their thoughts.

While this will be time consuming and initially difficult to set up I think it will allow me to track where students are more closely and get a better sense of who is mastering things quickly and could be more challenged and who is still struggling. However I think it will be worth the time in the end. I will have a calendar where students may sign up for the exit interviews. They may sign up during class time (only 1-2 per class I want to make sure I'm still available for the class at large), during our SSR (a silent reading period...a post for another day), or before or after school. 

After they've received "Yes" on everything for the unit, they will have truly mastered it, and I have decided to print out "mastery" certificates for the units. After all, it is still seventh grade, and everyone likes to be recognized for their efforts!

 Here is an example of a checklist for our Early Man unit, taken from the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks: 

7.1 Describe the great climatic and environmental changes that shaped the earth and eventually permitted the growth of human life. (H)

7.2 Identify sites in Africa where archaeologists have found evidence of the origins of modern human beings and describe what the archaeologists found. (G, H)

7.3 Describe the characteristics of the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleolithic Age (their use of tools and fire, basic hunting weapons, beads and other jewelry).

7.4 Explain the importance of the invention of metallurgy and agriculture (the growing of crops and the domestication of animals).

7.5 Describe how the invention of agriculture related to settlement, population growth, and the emergence of civilization. (H)

7.6 Identify the characteristics of civilizations. (H, G, E)
A.  the presence of geographic boundaries and political institutions

B.  an economy that produces food surpluses

C.  a concentration of population in distinct areas or cities

D.  the existence of social classes

E.  developed systems of religion, learning, art, and architecture

F.  a system of record keeping

So as an example for checkpoint 7.1, they could tell me orally, show me an essay they had written on a test where they already did this (everything will have been graded at the interview), or show me a project that they created in class dealing with that standard. 

I really want them to reflect on why they are doing what their doing, and really realize how much they know and are learning! 

Do you do any kind of standards based assessment? What do you do to encourage students to reflect on their own work? How do they demonstrate they've mastered something?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Our In Class Archaeological Dig!

I think sometimes in the Flipped Class community we can spend a lot of time discussing the out of school part- the creation of videos, the work that goes with them, and what to do with students who don't always watch them. This is fantastic and helpful, but I think its also important to share what we do during class, since this is the whole point- freeing up this time and realizing what we can do with it.

This week I had two great experiences. The first was a discussion of our "critical reading" article. Students read an article about stolen artifacts and we had an in class discussion surrounding the idea of returning objects to their home country, preservation of artifacts, private owner rights..etc. IT WAS GREAT! Sure it took a few minutes to warm up, but once we got going to students had a lot to say. I got to hear a lot of opinions and spend an entire class period taking an idea and fleshing it out from start to finish- I never had time to do something like this prior to the flip. This was a topic related to Ancient History (which is my core subject that I teach) but tied to the modern world, it was something interesting but not something that we would have had the time to spend on before.

The second thing we did was an in-class archaeological dig. Students were broken into teams. At each table I set up a "mini dig site." A tray with brown sugar, corn meal, or flour filled with artifacts, and an iPad. Students had to map the dig site, divide it up, and excavate and record the artifacts they found in the site. They also had to record "soil conditions." They used the iPad to take pictures of their artifacts and ultimately put them into a presentation. I put all kinds of things in the trays, spoons, paper clips, necklaces, cupcake wrappers. Teams then had to determine what they thought the site was and ultimately present their findings and information to the class in a Powerpoint presentation.

Here are some pictures from our team dig:

How are you using your class time? Do you find more time to do hands on activities? Has flipping your class changed the type of activities you run? 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Mice and Men: First Day Hurdles, Week 1 of the Flip, and the Positives of a Negative Twitter Experience

Warning: Lengthy post ahead.  I haven't posted in a while so this post will be three posts lumped into one.

First Day Hurdles

After two days of staff meetings and logistical meetings my version of New Years Day finally arrived: The First Day (with students). The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new denim filled the air as the kids bustled in for their first day of seventh grade. Homeroom seemed to last forever as we explained all of the paper work that the students would need to bring home that evening (Google Docs would simplify this process so much, but alas thats a discussion for another day).

I was extremely excited about the activity I had planned (see my previous post). I went to the main office to pick up the laptop cart, brought it to my room and plugged it in, and with that lost power in my classroom. Apparently our 1960s era school did not anticipate the toll that computers, ipads, and the like would take on the circuit breakers. Incidentally I also caused the Vice Principal to lose power..oops! So there I was on the first day with no power and an awesome lesson I couldn't implement...what's a teacher to do?

Well we proceeded anyway sans technology, I'll admit the first few classes did not go as I hoped since I didn't have the ipads to do the online portion with them. I have a prep in the middle of the day and was able to print out the materials, so things went MUCH smoother the second half.

In terms of the tape and straw activity, the kids LOVED it and I think they were really able to see how it connected to the flipped class and how the flipped class was going to help them. I will definitely be using this again next year, with a few minor tweaks. One being that in all the excitement I forgot to go over names with my kids (oops sort of a big deal on the first day). I felt a little like a first year teacher again. I guess in a way I am since this is my first fully "flipped" year. A lot of what I'm doing is reminiscent of my first go around.

What I learned from this? Technology is great, iPads are wonderful, but sometimes they fail and don't work, so don't forget to have a paper back up! Incidentally, don't we tell our kids this all the time!?!

Onward and Upward: The First Week

Overall this week wasn't the most exciting for the kids, I went over how to watch the videos at home and did a lot of checking in with their passwords and such. I handed out the coursepacks and went over how to use them. I also lectured in class so they could see how I explain the powerpoint slides that they would be seeing in the video and made sure they knew how to follow along with the notes.

What I learned: Students adapt quickly. I was really worried that students would need a whole week to get used to me and my note style before they started to watch the videos at home, I think all they really needed was a day. Next year I will probably start with the at home videos within the first two days, that way we can get right into the fun stuff "doing" history instead of listening to me talk about it.

My First Negative Twitter Experience

I was participating in a Twitter Chat and I used the word "irregardless" I hadn't even realized that I'd used it. Now, trust me, I am fully aware grammar is one area that I could really improve on (you read my posts so you're aware of this) heck I'm sure this post is filled with errors (I'm not saying this is OK, just that I'm aware it happens). However, I am fully aware that "irregardless" is not a word. I honestly, even now cannot tell you why I used it. I was tired, it was the end of a long day, none of which excuses using a made-up word, but my point is it happened, as these things some times do. I was alerted that I had a new tweet and when I looked someone had replied with a statement that "irregarless is never acceptable for an educator to use." I froze, I realized my mistake, I was mortified and embarrassed. She was right of course, how could I as an educator have made such an error? Would people still take me credibly on Twitter? I pulled the offending statement from the interwebs hoping people hadn't seen it. As silly as it sounds, this woman's tweet sat in the back of my mind the whole next day at work. I began to question myself. I suddenly pictured my tweet getting picked up by some organization as an example of an ill prepared educator. I started to wonder if I could call myself an educator. I couldn't get past those words "is never acceptable." Someone in my profession should know better, should never have made such a mistake. Beyond all that my feelings were hurt, I had been trying to make what I thought was a really positive point on education and this woman zeroed in on my mistake, broadcast it to the universe and really made me feel like I had no business being a teacher. I felt judged it was "never acceptable" for an educator to make that mistake, therefore, I am not an educator, I am a fake.

I realize this may seem very silly to some of you (I can hear you now: for goodness sakes it was JUST a TWEET) but it honestly really really impacted me...and then it hit me....words are powerful...words hurt....we as teachers use words all day every day.

How often do we quickly correct a student's error without looking past it at the point they were trying to make? If this woman via cyberspace that I have never met in person could impact my feelings in such a negative way, imagine what I could do to a 13 year old sitting in my class. If she could cause me to question my abilities within my profession...what could I cause my students to question?

I firmly believe in making mistakes, I believe that you learn from them and that failure can lead to great outcomes if you choose not to accept it. However I also believe there is a way to correct my students without causing them to question themselves. I realized I need to approach how I correct students very carefully and so I came up with following to guide me this year as my students (and I myself) inevitably make mistakes.

1. Absolutes do not encourage improvement. I would never tell a student "it is never acceptable for you to make this mistake." Rather I would tell them that it is acceptable, they are human, they are learning, they are incomplete in the best possible way. Together we will learn how to take mistakes, learn from them, and implement change from them. We will look at why we make mistakes, what preconceived thoughts we have about things, and realize that sometimes, we just make them, and as long as we are willing to fix them, and try our best to not make them again, that's ok.

2. Public correction of a mistake is more about the corrector and less about the learner. It's one thing to realize many students are making the same mistakes and going over them together, but announcing a students mistake in public is going to do little more than embarrass them and make them afraid to make another one. All it will serve is to make the teacher look "all powerful." Socrates was famous for purporting that the first step to becoming wise is admitting that you don't know everything. I'm not saying we should let mistakes go and never point them out, but rather I think it is important to allow students to learn of an error in a comfortable private environment where they are given the opportunity to fix it.

3. Words have power, negative words, positive words, all words. I need to choose them wisely and be aware that constructive criticism while far better than negative criticism can still hurt. It is essential for my students to realize that I am correcting their mistake and not personally attacking them. I believe strongly in the use of positive language with students and will continue to look for the meaning and the message first and foremost before I go about correcting the incidentals. I don't want to miss out on a student's brilliant ideas because I'm stuck on a spelling mistake. Praise the idea first...privately correct the spelling mistake. I need to make sure my words are about empowering my students and not phrases meant to only empower me as a teacher. A private message from this woman pointing out my error would have been welcomed, but I guess I wouldn't have learned as much from that.

I thought about tweeting back to this woman and telling her that she'd hurt my feelings, telling her that I hoped she would never correct her students publicly like that, but finally I realized that I need to get it together and grow up. I'm an adult, I've been avoiding Twitter, I've been ridiculous. I made a mistake, I fixed it, and now I'm returning to probably make more...but that's why life long learning is so great! In the long run this woman did me a great favor, reminding me of the power our words have.

Ok way too long of a post. So as you can see I've learned a lot these last two weeks. How are things going in your first few weeks? How do you handle things like technology and power failures? Have you had any negative experiences on social networking sites? What are some ways you help students realize their mistakes without making them feel poorly about themselves?