Monthly Archives: September 2015

9 things that happened when I let students take control of my class.

I used to be a traditional teacher. I stood in the front of my class while everyone stared at me. I demanded silence and for 40 minutes I would teach. I would call on students and students would take notes from what I lectured. While I thought otherwise, I am sure my class looked something like this:

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Then at the start of the 2014, I gave up my control to my students. I let them take charge of their own learning within the flipped classroom. Here is what happened when I let my students take control of my class when I stopped talking the entire period.

  1. They talked more. I talked less. The emphasis was no longer on me talking and students listening. I let them have a voice (and what a powerful voice they have)! I want to know what they think while they are working. I now have time to go around the class, listening to the math conversations that are happening.
  2. Students lead class. I strongly believe that if a student can teach a concept to someone else, then they have truly mastered the content. What better way to know if students understand the material than by having them teach each other. They love being able to teach each other, not only reinforcing their own understanding but conveying different methods to others.
  3. 20150921_085246Some students work ahead. Students who no longer needed to waste class time listening to me on concepts they already had mastered now could work ahead. They set their own pace and follow their own schedule.
  4. The students have in-depth conversations with each other. With no time in class spent on traditional instruction, they have plenty of time to argue their viewpoints or strategies in how to do something. It’s a wonderful thing to watch them reason with each other.20150917_113915
  5. Students love choice. When I give projects, I now give them a choice as to the method of deliver. They can create a movie, poster, brochure, etc. When studying for an assessment, I used to give students a review assignment. Looking back, what purpose does this solve? Students would do problems they have already mastered and don’t practice enough on the ones they haven’t. By giving choice, students now have no review assignment but an independent study. They choose what to study and what they need the most help with. Students now create projects of much better quality and do better on assessments.
  6.  They feel welcome. By taking control of my class, they can make the environment their own. Moving desks, sitting wherever they want or listening to music through headphones while they work gives them choice. With choice comes freedom and with freedom comes improved engagement and learning.20150219_083833
  7. I no longer have rules. I have expectations. I used to have a bunch of, “You can’ts.” Now there are no rules whatsoever. This in no way means that my class is a free for all. I now have expectations. The students know what is expected of them in their behavior and their academics.
  8. Students can’t hide. No longer can a student sit in my class without being noticed, being quiet the whole period without ever contributing to the class. Every student is now an active part of class, engaging in cooperative groups and conversations. When a student falters on a concept, I can identify it before the student is assessed.
  9. We have fun. What would an effective classroom be without laughter? I want to have fun just as much as the kids do. If class is not fun for me, then it definitely wouldn’t be fun for them. I love teaching students and I have fun doing it!20150522_084821

10 things that happened when I stopped grading and collecting homework

In my shift to standards based grading (SBG), I started this school year with a huge mindshift on class work. For the last 14 years I would collect and record grades for nearly every assignment I’ve given. This year I did just the opposite. I not only didn’t grade and record each assignment but I didn’t even collect them. Instead I give valuable feedback, both verbal and written, while students are completing assignments and after nearly a month, I’ve noticed 10 things that have happened:

1. The students do the work I assign. I expected my students to stop doing the work, however, they still do it.  It’s an expectation and they also know I wouldn’t assign something that wouldn’t be beneficial to them.

2. They revise their work. The students still correct their work. I post the answers and they now look at every answer they miss and revise it. No longer do they look at a “B” and file it away as a good grade, not even looking at the ones they get wrong. They now want to know why they got a question incorrect.

3. They don’t cheat. With no grade to earn, there is no incentive to cheat.

4. The quality of work is better. With no rush to complete the work for a grade they spend more time on it. They are more concerned about the content than a grade.

5. The feedback is instantaneous. No longer do students have to wait for me to pass back papers up to a week later after I have recorded grades. Once corrected, students can do one of two things:

a. Keep the paper and instantly have it for review.

b. Turn the paper in for more detailed feedback from me. I then will return by the next day. Without endless amounts of papers to enter into the gradebook I’ll only have a small handful of papers to give meaningful feedback for and am able to hand it back quickly.

6. I have a lot more time. Without grading, collecting and recording over 100 assignments a day, I now spend my time on other things. More time is spent on quality instruction planning than doing busy work. I also have more free time for myself.

7. Students are solely assessed on the content they know. No longer can assignments be a safety net for those students who don’t do well on tests.  The focus is solely on the learning of standards.

8. Students are not afraid of failure. Now that students know that they won’t be penalized for failing an assignment, they learn from their failures rather than being upset by them. Why should we grade an assignment over a concept if it’s their first try?

9. I am happier. I am no longer in this constant mode of trying to get assignments turned in or calling parents because a student is missing work.

10. My students’ achievement levels have risen. The quality of the work they now do far exceeds the quality before. Instead of never looking over mistakes they missed when they got an A or B they now want to fix every mistake since they are now learning for mastery rather than a grade.

Change is good!

Change. That six letter word that people love to hate. For many, when we enact change, there is pushback. I used to also dislike change and when confronted with change I sometimes put up a wall because I am unsure of what the future holds. I never used to like change. Over the past three years, I have have embraced change and have made quite a few changes in my own teaching while changing my mindset. But whenever I make changes in my teaching, it still can be challenging. Sometimes my natural instinct is to reject the change.

This past week Open House was held at our school. It was once again a great time and I was excited to meet all of my parents. As I was preparing my Prezi for my presentation, I noticed I was still using the same account since 2011 and my past Open House presentations were all saved. I decided to take a glance at my first presentation and what I saw not only gave me a good laugh, it was quite clear that I had a completely different mindset 5 years ago than I currently do. Lets just cut to the chase and take a look at this one wonderful slide…

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Yes, you read that correctly. I gave a detention if a student didn’t turn in an assignment but this slide doesn’t even tell how bad it really was. Not only did I give a detention, when the student turned in the assignment I only gave them half credit. If a child didn’t serve their detention within 2 days, they were suspended from school. Typing this now makes me cringe. It was a policy that I enacted and used for a good chunk of the first part of my teaching career. I wanted homework. I wanted compliance. Of course at the time I was doing what I thought was the best and didn’t realize I was striving for compliance. My kids even told me they liked the policy. Kids turned in homework and I was happy but truth be told, it was all about me. It wasn’t about the learning even though I thought it was. I spent more time trying to get compliance with getting homework turned in than probably anything else during these years. I was still considered a great teacher by many but I was a great teacher with bad policies.

I look back at this slide and I shake my head in disbelief. I remembered when colleagues and others tried to tell me they disagreed with my policy. I remember after each passing year I had to defend my policy more and more. I was stubborn and didn’t want to change. Eventually I let the policy go thinking homework would tank. It never did.

Thank goodness that this policy is long gone and I now focus on the learning and not homework. If I had not embraced change, where would I be? Now when change occurs, I embrace it with an open mind as we all should. Is it hard at times? Absolutely but this slide will be a constant reminder of where I am today as a teacher because of change. Change is what has made me a better and what keeps helping me grow.

Grading classwork: Just Say No!

As I begin a new school year, I look back at a very successful first year. I have grown and reinvented my class taking full advantage of the flipped model. This year, I am tackling grading and classwork. I am fully implementing Standards Based Grading and I did the thing that I thought I would never do. I’m no longer grading classwork and putting it in the gradebook.

Yes, that’s right. A math teacher that is not putting a single assignment into the gradebook. It sure sounds absurd and even when I type it sounds so weird. I was expecting a revolt when I was going to make this known to my students and parents. I envisioned my students taking this opportunity to never do classwork again. Since I’m not grading it, why would they want to do it? There would be no reward for them since they weren’t earning a grade for it. So earlier this week, I braced for the worst. I informed my parents and I told my students and so what happened!?  Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Students continued to do their work as if nothing had changed. There wasn’t even a slight bump in the road. When finished, they checked their own work and rather than turning it in they put it right back into their binder. They had no problem that I wasn’t collecting their work. Over the course of the last year, I worked hard at setting high expectations and letting students take control of their own learning in the flipped classroom. My students no longer needed that reward of getting a grade in the gradebook. They had put all of their focus on the learning and not the grade. They were intrinsically motivated to learn.

You may be asking how I know if they are understanding the material if I am not collecting and grading it. The truth is that I am actually assessing their work but it’s as I am walking around asking them questions. In addition, if they still have questions about a concept or still struggle after they’ve checked their work, they can turn in their work to me and I will now give them feedback. Feedback to help them get better. Feedback with no grade. Here is to another great year. A year ahead to engage, inspire and empower students.

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