Saturday, May 26, 2012

An adventure in self-pacing

I've been very intrigued with mastery teaching lately (as you might have noticed in my last post), but I've not been sure where or how to start.  I decided that one of the best ideas was to ask my students.  During class this week, I talked to my flippers about mastery teaching.  The whole process of trying to go to mastery teaching, self-pacing, etc. is a little overwhelming for me right now, and I wanted their opinion.  I passed out a sheet that had every video/assignment for our last unit (unit 11) on it, and I basically asked them for their help...what did they think I could do to make this work.  The conversation that came after that was so interesting.  Below are some of the ideas that they came up with:
"You should make groups on Edmodo for each unit, then post all the videos within that group."

"You should post all the videos at once so we can just keep moving through them."

"You should give us a packet that has everything we'll need for a whole unit so we don't need to go searching for materials."

"Maybe we can have a quick check at the beginning of the lesson to see if we really need to do it, or if we already understand it."

Notice how they were all talking in present tense...and this is our last unit together :-( Makes me sad these kids won't be able to see how this turns out.

And one of my favorites:

"This isn't fair, if you would've done this this year, we could've been done in March & been working on extensions!"

From that point on, my flipping group were working at their own pace.  Some students are almost done with the entire Unit 11.  Some students aren't even started because they weren't ready to test yet on Unit 9.  It was very nice to not have to make everyone test when I knew they weren't ready yet. 

Here's what I've discovered so far...
First:  Holy cow have I been holding some kids back by making them stay with me @ my pace.
Second:  Mastery teaching is going to really require students to manage their time well.
Third:  Mastery teaching is going to teach students A LOT about themselves as learners.  Already I've had a few students think they were ready to move on, when it was very evident that they were not.

I look forward to some more experimentation, and the summer, where I'll have some time to create some quizzes to use with my math lessons.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oh mastery teachers...a little help here!

My students are wrapping up their unit on multiplying fractions, so we are now doing some quick review before we take our assessment.  I had 2 students who did an entire review page without missing a single question.  The rest of the class...not so what do I do with them?  Make them sit through review that they don't need?  That brings me to my current issues, which all surround mastery teaching.

I've always been frustrated with the fact that as a teacher, I'm almost forced into teaching to the middle kids.  Going too slow for the high kids, and often too fast for the low kids.  I've found that my flipped class (as I currently teach it) allows me to reach out more to some of the students who are having issues.  It also allows the higher kids to proceed to extension projects.  Now I'll be the first to admit, my extensions need work (right now it's limited to things I can find on-line that are already created because I honestly just don't have the time to work on them).

I'm also finding that when it comes time to take our assessment, the students either totally get it, or totally don't-there isn't much in between.  Typically I spend a week reviewing before the test, in hopes that the students who didn't get it yet, will understand when it's not new content.  I think that catches some of the kids, but again, not enough.  Plus, what are the kids who already have it doing?  Twiddling their thumbs (obviously I don't have them sitting there twiddling their thumbs, they are most often helping other students).  But is that the best use of their time?  For some kids, maybe it is.  They thrive on being able to help others.  For others, perhaps not.  Their time might be better spent moving on.

So back to the topic...mastery teaching.  I would LOVE to have the freedom to let kids truly learn at their own pace.  I would REALLY LOVE it if my students took ownership of their learning.  Take the assessment when they are ready, when they truly have mastered the content. 

I brought this up to my principal, and I think I might have him on board with it for next year.  However, that makes me very, very, very nervous for several reasons.

Reason #1:  What if a student doesn't get through it all (all meaning the content)?
Reason #2:  What if a child lacks self discipline and doesn't do anything all year?
Reason #3:  What if a student gets through everything with a month left?

And what about these potential issues:
Issue #1:  How in the world do you keep track of where every student is at in the curriculum?
Issue #2:  Holy cow!  I could see having to have 5 different sets of materials ready for each day.
Issue #3:  Will I now need to make quizzes for each lesson objective to determine if the students are ready for the "assessment"?

Added bonus:
Bonus #1:  With the flipped class, assuming I use the same videos, I should be able to meet each kid at their level/content area.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We all make mistakes...what I learned from mine.

Last week I finally hit my limit...I decided I was done chasing kids, done forcing the flip down some of their unwilling throats.  I blurted out in class, "You know what, maybe we need to go back to traditional for those kids who aren't doing their video homework." As soon as it came out of my mouth I realized, crap, now I really have to split the groups & I'm not sure it's what I really want.  Long story short, I ended up splitting the two 5th grades into my flippers and non-flippers.  The flippers class consisted of roughly 32 students.  The non-flippers had about 20.  Here are some observations: the good, the bad and the ugly.

#1  I now totally remember why I decided against the traditional model.
#2  The kids who did their homework before, do their homework now.  The kids who didn't do their homework before still don't do their homework.
#3  I had been having a lot of guilt about the kids who weren't watching the videos at home.  Were they still getting the material?...Was them watching videos during class helping them more than I can if I'm teaching in the front of the room?...Is that really what's best for them?  As it turns out, while I don't get as much of a chance to work one-on-one with the kids (because they're watching the video during class), my video does a better job keeping them on task than I do.  That was kind of an eye opener.
#4  A few (3 of the 20 in the traditional group), didn't like it at all & worked really hard to move into the flipped group.
#5  While I'm not a fan of the traditional model, having only 20 kids in class is pretty awesome.
#6  The kids in the traditional group just seem to want to take notes & not do any of the actual thinking involved in class...makes me wonder how much of an issue this is with my flippers too. Next year I'm hoping to use a WSQ method of video viewing (WSQ stands for Watch Summarize Question & I am completely stealing it from Crystal Kirch, a high school teacher in California...more on that in another post).

On another similar, but somewhat unrelated note:
#7  For the most part, the behavior problem & low academic students were in my traditional group.  They are now 1 full day behind the flipped group in math.  They are 2 days behind in science (the class that they switch with during our block).  Is this differentiation, or is it ability grouping?  It just doesn't seem right that my traditional group is 100% composed of "at-risk" students.  Won't this have the opposite effect that I wanted.  Now the high kids are getting farther and farther from the lower kids.  I had hoped to close the gap, not widen it.

So where do I go from here?  Well, as there are only 3 1/2 weeks of school left, I am not going to make any drastic changes.  Next year I plan on keeping with the all flipping schedule.  My hope is that while the kids who need to finish the video, finish the video, I can get to the other students.  Then once they're done I'll be available for questions.  We shall see, but one thing I love about blogging is it gives me a chance to admit my mistakes, and learn from them!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Times, they are a changing!

I have been doing a lot of soul searching recently in regards to my students who aren't doing their work.  Perhaps I need to find some experts out there & see what they are doing in this situation, but it feels like there is an epidemic in my class right now in regards to not watching videos at home.  After much contemplation and frustration, I decided to try reverting back to traditional for some of the students.  I let them know about this change this past Friday.  I looked back at the work turned in on time, and if they had more than 2 late assignments, they were put into the traditional class.  If they had less, then they remained in the flipped class.  Their eyes got quite large after my announcement.  Being very honest with them, I told them that I just didn't think it was working for those kids who weren't doing the work.  Then, we set off for the task of the day.  As soon as the kids were working, I had about 15 of them swarm me...Do I get to stay in the flipped class?  Honestly, I hadn't made the list yet, so I turned it back on them...Did you come to class prepared?  Many of them looked so disappointed.

So here's the deal.  I truly feel that flipping my class has allowed me to reach so many students that I couldn't otherwise reach.  Overall, I'm seeing tremendous strides in both classes.  However, I am spending way too much time chasing after students who didn't do their work, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it.  I don't want to use flipped class as a carrot to make them do their work, I want them to do their work because they actually see it as important (a girl can dream, right).  What I'm struggling with is getting them to care.  I should also mention that if students want back in the flipped class, they just need to complete their homework on time for the week.

Anyhow, as it stands, I will have 32 students in my flipped class on Tuesday, and 22 in my traditional class.  I look forward to seeing how this plays out during the week.

Anyone reading this who is also a flipper...what do you do when this becomes an issue.  It used to be only a handful of kids not doing their work, now it's almost half!  I would LOVE any ideas you might have.

Study Hall...Why didn't I think of this before?

I've written in the past about my frustrations of retesting.  My frustration lies in the fact that the kids who need to retest (mostly) are the ones who didn't complete the videos before coming to class.  They are also the same students (mostly) who don't study for the regular test or retest.  For the past couple of units I no longer required students to retest, instead they had to earn the privilege to retest by putting in time during lunch to study.

It is appalling to me how many students were "fine" with a failing grade...ugh.  When I was a kid if I didn't do my homework, or failed a test, my parents would have been irate!  I was telling my students last week about this blog (which they already knew about), and how sometimes I use it to voice my frustrations and they seemed shocked that they frustrate me...yes, I rolled my eyes quite visibly when they said that...  I tried to explain why the whole doing your homework & studying for tests was so confusing to me & they were blown away.  I actually had a kid say, "Huh, your parents really got mad at you if you didn't do well...weird" At that point I began banging my head on the wall.  However, I digress, I shall now remove myself from my soapbox & talk about what happened this week that I thought was pretty cool.

My "study hall" wall.
After I put the "study at lunchtime" into effect, I realized that I was missing A LOT of my lunches.  Not a huge deal, but there just weren't enough of me to go around, so I decided to try something different.  I put a sign up sheet on my classroom wall with different dates and times for studying (either before school/2nd recess or lunch recess).  Then the students who didn't pass were required to sign up for a time slot.  I then opened up the "tutoring" job to the rest of the class.  If a student got 90% or better on their test, they had the opportunity to tutor a classmate.  It was absolutely NOT required, as they had clearly earned their recess by being responsible, studying, yada yada yada.

This is one of the sign up sheets for study hall.

I was very pleased that I ended up only having to help maybe 1 student each session.  I saw some pretty remarkable things happening.  First, the students responded very well to their peers, especially since they got to ask people they were comfortable with.  Second, the students who were tutoring almost visibly inflated with pride.  They weren't cocky or rude about it, they were just proud of the fact that they had something to offer.  (I'm totally patting myself on the back right now).  While not everyone passed the retest (in fact many still didn't), I looked at how much improvement they made from test to retest and the average growth was just over 10% (I had one student double his previous score).

Looking back, I know something I would change.  On our next unit I intend to continue the same method, only after a student is ready to retest, I'll retest them right away.  This time they had Monday-Thursday for "study hall" and then retest was Friday.  What I found was that the kids who studied on Monday & Tuesday didn't do as well as the students who studied on Wednesday & Thursday.