Monday, August 24, 2015

SBG - Putting it in Action

In 2014, I posted my first post on Standards Based Grading. I had done my research and wanted to make things work within the confines I felt I had at the time and, while it worked, and my students and parents were happy, I still felt like I wasn't fully committing to SBG. This year, Rachel, I and our colleagues have made the decision to use SBG fully, along with untextbooking. So, here is our update.

After doing my research (shared at the end of the post), I took a look at some examples of how it was being done. The issue I ran into is that we are required to use a certain percentage spread in our gradebooks. So, I got a little creative. I knew I wanted to incorporate our county standards as well as some national standards. So, what I came up with was this:

  1. Final Exam - remains the same; most counties dictate this anyways, so I did nothing to it. In the gradebook it will read "final exam".
  2. Summative Assessments - county/state standards; these are the things that we have to justify if someone were to ask what we were teaching. We don't teach a textbook; we are held to the standards. Most of the time your school will have these ready for you on paper or online. If your county doesn't have them, you might look at state standards. 
  3. Formative Assessments - commonly called "classwork"; ACTFL can do statements; I have really been pushing myself towards using the standards more often. I want kids to have useful tools for evaluating themselves and I want my evaluations to mean something. 
When I presented it to my colleagues, we were all in agreement that this would work as long as each grade counted just enough to make a difference. Nothing gets to kids more than working hard on an assignment and not having it count at all in the final grade. When we broke it down, the standards came out to Summative Assessments being about 4% each and Formative Assessments being about 3%. This is just enough to count and make a difference. 

Tracking Tools
We all have different ways of tracking kids progress, but we all agreed to record our grades and notes into a program called Active Grade. Here's a good analysis of Active Grade. We settled on Active Grade because it let us put in actual assignment grades, but grade standards within the assignment. We also liked it because it allows students to see their progress. It is completely customisable to your grading preferences and I've found it easy to move between classes, transfer students, and enter grades.

In addition to this, we all have our own methods of tracking kids in the moment. So far I've discovered that using SBG makes grading a lot easier, even though I may be assessing more than one standard:
  • I can easily use Active Grade and assign some high flyers a single assignment and give them a grade for moving ahead without penalising others.
  • I can quickly make marks in a notebook on student comprehension and activity and quickly translate that to the Active Grade gradebook.
  • I can separate tests into the standards they work with. Students, parents, and myself are all clearly aware of what skill eat item tests. If I do it before giving the test, grading is simplified as well.
  • Students can come in for very specific help, knowing exactly which skill they need help with. I can easily track that if I wish as well.
On Monday, we are going to have our first check in meeting where we'll see how we are all doing with Standards Based Grading. So far, I've gotten good feedback from the kids which I'll share in my next post on this. There are, however, a few things we're going to try and address over these next few weeks. My next post will not only be an update on how things are going, but about the problems we've come up with and how we've addressed them. My question to you all is this: Would you try SBG? Why not? What's your biggest concern about SBG?

Research Links and Resources

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Some Bumps on the Road to Teaching a Novella

I have never taught a novella before. Okay, correction, I've taught novellas and novels in Language Arts (mostly in students' native languages), but I've never taught a Latin novella before.

Because I've never had one.

There's a plethora of Latin out there--endless tomes--and there are some (by no means a plethora) Latin adaptations of modern materials, so it would seem like I should have taught a novella before. However, none of those materials are good for beginning students, and even though thanks to embedded readings and comprehensible strategies I'm using authentic works, they are short passages and sections of larger works, not extensive in nature.

Needless to say, there have been a few false starts, and I can't even guarantee that I'm on the right path even now, but here's things I have tried and what I'm currently trying:

Groups decoding with reading aloud after

The very first thing I tried was to have students in groups translate (aloud, not written) the first scene of my novella (technically a play, but at 37 pages, it counts as a short novel) together and, once they had worked out the meaning, I read the scene aloud to them with emotion, since it is a play and therefore meant to be heard.

Pros: Students were tackling longer readings than they ever had in Latin I. There was laughter (good, because the play is a comedy) and students generally had a good idea of what the main struggle between the characters was.

Cons: While students had a good idea of the basic plot and struggle, they missed a lot of the detail and did not gain the level of review and reading fluency I was looking for.

Groups decoding with whole-class review after

Because I was worried about the level of comprehension after the first scene, I moved on to doing a whole-class review after students translated in groups. I simply went through lines, clarified meanings, and made sure that the play-by-play was perfectly understood.

Pros: Students knew what it said, if they could stay focused the entire time I talked. There was laughter (but not much).

Cons: It just seemed flat. It seemed to ruin the scene, honestly, and the scene became less enjoyable for all of us. In addition, I felt the comedy was getting lost.

Reading to the class with circling

Instead of letting students work their way through a recent scene first, I read the scene to them, worked them through the meanings of every line, asked questions about every line for clarification, and then discussed cultural necessities to help students understand the situation and humor.

Pros: Despite having each line talked into the ground, students seemed to enjoy this scene more. We even played VINCO (inspired by Martina Bex's strip bingo post, but regular bingo boxes that were marked off as we progressed through the scene) during the scene and some students forgot to mark off vocabulary because they were so involved in the story. Helping them find that humor angle and helping them understand the lines very thoroughly (and acting my heart out as an ugly-crying-unreasonably-unhappy Adulescens) really made the experience much more enjoyable for both myself and my students--while they had a secondary task (VINCO).

Cons: Without the secondary task (we didn't finish the first day and I didn't want to break out the VINCO cards for just a quarter of the scene), this began to fall flat. Also, my throat very sincerely hurts because booming through that scene so repeatedly after only a week and a half back to work did a number on it.

What I think I'm learning:
  1. Students are dealing with longer readings so much more positively than they did last year and that is the only kind of reading they are doing. I have three guesses as to why:
    1. They haven't been in class since last year and have forgotten the average length of the stories.
    2. When they see 37 pages, any time I'm just focusing on two pages seems like a small amount.
    3. The scenes are all based on review vocabulary, so perhaps there's just ease in the reading that keeps them from worrying about the length.
  2. A secondary focus is helpful.
  3. Cultural context is a must. They need to know that it's extra funny for a slave to talk back to his master in Ancient Rome and that crying incessantly over a girl is very unmasculine especially when most marriages are arranged and love is not a normal life goal.
  4. I naturally think in terms of physical comedy (competitive speech student here) and forget that my students probably don't. I need to help them fill that gap.
What I'm doing next:

After I finish reviewing the current scene (we're doing a read, draw, and discuss of the scene--a description is included in Miriam's post over reading activities), I am considering setting up jigsaw experts: students in groups work to really know a section of the scene, then are remixed into groups so that each group has experts for every section of the scene. I'll do an updated blog to report how things progress!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Archery Lesson: A Short Reflection

Today, while I was watching my son at his archery event, I couldn't help but notice a young lady who was struggling. She was young, like the group my son was shooting with, but shooting from much farther away and aiming at a smaller target than they were, like the older archery kids. She only rarely struck the target. She did not look like she was having fun.

After the ten rounds were done and the kids were tallying their scores, the coach (who deftly manages to balance the emotional, developmental, and archerial (?) needs of kids between the ages of 8 and 18) approached her, and I heard this conversation (which I immediately wrote down):

"I did horrible."

"No you didn't. This is your first time to shoot [a] 40 centimeters [target] and your first time to shoot 18 meters [distance]. How do you know what horrible is? You scored 78. Now that's your baseline. We'll look for improvement. So if you score 82 next time, that counts as a good score." [It may help to know that 300 is a perfect score, and most kids there were scoring in the 200s.]

Aside from reinforcing my already good opinion of him and his coaching, this conversation struck home (and inspired frantic note-taking) because it's exactly what I wish for education. Exactly. Personal, progress-based goals that take into account where students start.

Instead I teach in a national system that believes if we tell students how much they should know at what age, that's the best way to Race to the Top with No Kid Left Behind. If we keep throwing tests their way eventually students will just give in and learn on our schedule instead of their own.

I love what I saw demonstrated today. I want that for every kid in every subject in every school.

I'll continue to focus on progress within the structure of our current educational system.

I'll continue to share ideas and hope for change.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Making the most of my classroom

This year, I am starting out at a new school after 5 1/2 years in a single school. This pre-planning week has been a whirlwind of information and names (which I'm going to get down, I swear). This week, also, has been very reflective for me on how I'm going to make this new classroom mine. It is very different from the classroom I had at my old school and I want it to reflect so much; not just what I'm teaching, but also who I am as a teacher, who they are as students, our school, and I still want it to be useful to them.

I spent a good deal of my summer looking at ways to make my room visually appealing and organised while keeping in the back of my mind my goals for making my room useful to my students, especially as I continue with my colleagues into the world of untextbooking. Here is what I've come up with:

My Game Station

  1. Game Station - This is a brand new idea I'm trying out this year. We all hear about things like remediation, differentiation, review, etc. I've spent years searching for a way to make all of these easier in my classroom. Since we are also trying out Standards Based Grading this year, I thought of this new way to do all these things, while still giving kids a choice.

    In the game station, I've included culture books in English, books in Latin, card games, a board game (although I want more), and vocabulary books. When we have "remediation days" (I'm playing with names....) students will choose to work on a standard, for which I've set up groups and activities or, if they and I are happy with their proficiency grades, they may choose an activity from the game station (more to come in an SBG post). My goal is to keep students focused and learning, and allow students to improve proficiency in the standards, while still allowing some freedom and options for those who are happy or who get done early. The game station might also be used on substitute days, or when a student finishes a test early.
  2. Student Supply Center - I've done this for years, but this year I'm expanding it a bit more. A few months ago, I came across this list, and it validated my thoughts on my supply center. I don't know what my kids walk into my room with. Some have lots of money, some participate in extra curriculars, some are failing half their classes, etc. I want to do what I can to make my classroom a safe place. Further, I want the focus in my room to be on Latin, not whether or not Johnny has a blank sheet of paper or Misty has a pencil.

    I don't tape big objects to my pencils or stamp my paper with "property of" stamps. My supplies are free and clear. They have signs that say "take one". They also have signs that say, "provide one if you can." I've done a student supply center for years and I've found that it is one of the easiest ways to foster a sense of community and good will. Just as there are kids who have no paper ever, there are kids who have an over abundance of paper. They will donate it if they can. Students leave pencils behind all the time. My students know that if they do that, the pencils and pens will go straight to the supply center for them or someone else to use. This year, I expanded the center to include a student stapler, a hole punch, and sticky notes. It has always had, and continues to have, paper, pencils, pens, highlighters, and index cards. 
    Student Supply Center

    I know this topic can be controversial to some people. Students need to learn to be prepared. Students will take advantage. Teachers don't have a lot of money to spend on this. These are all true to varying extents. Sometimes kids do take advantage; and sometimes, taking advantage is a cry for help. Just because Misty has taken a pencil every day this week, doesn't mean she is lazy or forgetful. It might mean that she really truly has none, or that she goes home and her little siblings need one. Students do need to learn responsibility. I try to model that through caring.
  3. Posters
  4. Motivational Posters - I chose these carefully this year. I didn't want them  to motivate kids so much in Latin, but to motivate them to enjoy life and be proud of themselves. poster envy has lots of great posters for around $8 each. The two I've purchased so far say two of my favourite things: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid." AND "Life is about using the whole box of crayons." I think the things we choose to put up on our walls greatly influence our kids. I know that I, as a student, always looked around and see how a teacher decorated his/her walls. Was his/her focus on getting my to turn in homework and walk in with a smile, no matter what? Or, was his/her focus on helping me feel better about myself, be confident, and enjoy school?
  5. Bulletin Board - I was blessed this year with two bulletin boards. It does take up valuable wall space, so I decided to do as much as I could to make the most out of it. One board I dedicated to student work. I went a little pinterest crazy and painted clothespins to hang up and pin student work up because I hate having too many staples in a bulletin board. The other I divided into three sections, only one of which I'm focusing on in this post: first, a wall of victory, second, a Junior Classical League section, and third, a place for school news and announcements. 
    The orange is our wall of victory

    This will be my second year implementing a wall of victory. I had great success last year. The wall of victory is designed by me, but filled by students, and is a place for them to proclaim their victories. Last year I had everything from high test scores, first occurrences of Bs and As, finally understanding certain topics, sports victories, vacations, and even thank yous. Thank yous for supplies, food, and even for telling a kid his shoe was untied. These victories may be huge or they may be small. They may be school related or personal. I don't require names. What I've found from this is that it increases morale in the room tenfold and kids love reading about each other. I also get to know my kids more and, on some occasions, pull information from that to email parents or build stories in class.
  6. Word Wall - Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this yet, but when I do, I plan to make a whole post on them. My word wall may be one of the most important visual features of my room this year. In the past, I've organised the word wall alphabetically, and by theme. This year, I'm doing it completely differently. I'm organising it by question word, but more on that in a later post. No matter how you organise your word wall, no matter what language you teach, no matter what subject you teacher, I encourage everyone to have a word wall. There were countless times as a student when I was writing on a test, or an essay and I couldn't recall a certain word. My teachers were, mostly forgiving if I got it slightly wrong, but my stress level sky rocketed when that happened and I am most certain that my test or my essay suffered for it. As a Latin teacher, my goal is to get kids communicating, not hung up on a word, so I have a word wall. I really do want a separate post on this, and since I don't have pictures yet, here are some ideas for a word wall and its organisation:
  • organise words by part of speech
  • colour code words by part of speech
  • organise words by unit, or lesson
  • have students write words on paper for posting, instead of you doing it
  • have students draw pictures to represent each word for posting
  • take words down that you are 100% sure all students know
  • update it daily/weekly
  • have a student update it for you
  • use the wall to create quick review lessons or activities

I am writing this post because I believe classroom organistation is important. I often joke that I got my organisation from my elementary school mother because I really do like things colour coded, symmetrical, and pretty, and I do tend to make Pinterest my best friend, technologically speaking. This year I've really tried to hone my skills and make my room truly useful, not just pretty. How do you organise your room? Go sit in a student's chair and see what is really visible from it. Are the things you want them to see actually easy to see and read? What message do you send your kids about your class by the things you choose do show?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Untextbooking: Getting Ready for School Part 3

I wish I had more to update, but I've really been overwhelmed in adapting the play and getting my room ready and teacher meetings (my school is one of the best about keeping meetings to a minimum, but they still have kept me busy).

The Novella

The play is adapted! Achievement unlocked! It's a relief and also a new kind of pressure, because now that I've bothered to create a usable novella to begin class, I have to figure out how to use a novella to begin my class. Tonight and tomorrow I'll be reading resources like crazy (and still setting my room up--somehow that always takes longer than it should) about teaching novellas in comprehensible input classrooms.

It's completely new to me because I'm a Latin teacher and we haven't had any comprehensible novellas to use before.

But I'm excited. I adapted all the language yesterday, kept track of the vocabulary like I told you, and today I finished formatting the play to be a lovely book with icing vocabulary on pages facing each of the scenes. It's also 36 pages long, but that will be nine pages once it's printed.

I also used the vocabulary list I created to add a glossary to the end of the book, as I've seen in the TPRS and Fluency Fast books. That way, if a student is really stuck, he or she can just flip to the back of the book to find a word rather than flip through notes.

However, I have another plan to help my students with the vocabulary, which is my other main topic for the evening!

Word Wall

I have a huge wall in the back of my room that I usually put random posters on until I have student work to use as a decoration. But I have decided to use it as a word wall.

This is not a new idea, and Miriam has been using a word wall for years, but I've never really been able to figure out how to make one work for me. I tend to need to soak in an idea for a while (in this case, years) before I can make it my own. This year, for some reason, it came to me that a word wall is the perfect solution for a problem I recognized as I adapted the play. I am doing the adaptation to help students review vocabulary that we learned last year that is high frequency and useful later in their Latin careers. I worry, however, that those kids who struggled by the end of the year with vocabulary (for some students, 200 words in a year is 50-100 too many) will end up overwhelmed and shut down.

This is a failure on my part; I felt pressured by the test to push the kids faster than I knew some students were ready to go, but when you have to cover material instead of work towards proficiency, that is always the result.

My plan is to put all of the review vocabulary up on that wall, but cover it so students can't see it until we're about to use it in the play. I even thought very hard (sadly) and devised an ingenious way (folding and then unfolding paper!) to simplify the reveals.

As students demonstrate complete knowledge of a word on the wall, I can take it down, and put up any new vocabulary we're working on. It's not new or mind-boggling, but I am excited about my word wall.

Aligning Daily Vocabulary Across the Classes

The last thing we've been working on as a Latin team (because there are four of us at my school) is aligning vocabulary and designing a class opening that is simple but helps students develop comfort with naming the days of the week, simple conversation, moods, and weather. Miriam has really been developing this for her class, and is letting me join in, and luckily the other Latin teachers are on board. So now my class greeting will have four-five sentences, instead of my simple "Salvete!"