Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

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Clog: Unguided Work Time

Dealing with work time has always been a big problem for me. Kids don’t always take full advantage of the time they have when they are working independently, and it leaves me l feeling like the time was wasted. This year I’ve tried doing a lot of ‘launching’ the work time. When class starts I’ll give everyone their folders and then I’ll give a speech detailing what a productive period would consist of. “Hey guys. The project is due next Friday, that means today would be a good day to work on the missing assignments, plan presentations or writing up the project. Missing assignments are over here, and let me just clarify a couple things about the project before you get started…” These ‘launches’ would end with my promising to do a little mini-lesson late in the class, so look through your folders and let me know what it is I should do a mini lesson on. After I say all this I then run around the room like an old man with a broom trying to get all the little birdie off of his own and flying through the sky. This usually results in checking in with kids about particular issues, and after all the running and the checking, there’s only 15 minutes if work time before I have to stop and do the mini lesson.

Today was a little different. Four students finished their drafts early(!) and I needed to give them feedback so I tried to grade them quickly before class. I set up the files and the missing assignments and just sat in the front of the room grading papers as class started. Kids trickled in, and eventually got to work, so I decided not to do the typical ‘launch’. Instead, I called over the 4 kids whose papers I wrote on and told them what they needed to do. Well wouldn’t you know it, the class didn’t devolve into bedlam. Some of the kids who don’t start without some old-man-Carl-broom-shaking actually came over to me to figure out what they needed to get done!

Eventually I got out of my seat and touched base with all the kids I usually do, but in a few of the cases, it felt like I was not igniting their work, but more like interrupting their work. I was really shocked to look at the clock and see more than half an hour of class left, I honestly didn’t know what to do with the time!

By being in front and working on my own I think I modeled the independent work that students were supposed to be doing. I will try to do a more deliberate ‘un-launch’on Friday and see how it goes.

Clog: Firing up the project

It’s time to start the project for this unit, and also the final unit for the class. It is a weird wrinkle teaching here. Our only big assessment is usually the first substantive assessment. Our school has had to race through a number of classes in order to cover the material and our projects are involved so we also need to start them as early as possible. We have a rough problem in terms of content coverage.

Does our scant amount of time for content coverage mean we also have a problem with assessment? It feels at times that the only assessing we do is formative. What can you really assess after only 2 weeks in a meaningful way? It’s a difficult question. But it also means we aren’t giving much to students about assessments either. This means the students don’t have a lot of clear signals that they are being learning. Maybe having a successful assessment early would be good for morale.

As an experiment, maybe next cycle wet could do assessments every 2 weeks, or even every week, or even every day! Make sure kids know they are learning something, and hopefully they could be a good motivational tool. In fact, if they are smoothly integrated, it may keep the class from getting slowed down as well.

Helping My Student Assistants Change Their Thinking About Math

A number of kids this cycle came to my desk begging to have a teaching assistantship to fill their schedules.  Since I have boundary issues, I now have to plan for these kids on top and their learning as they watch the rest of the class learn.  These teaching assistants are not student teachers from a local college. They are high school students, who are not necessarily stronger than any of their peers.  One student said they have a really bad history with math and another had not passed a class in over two years.  With these student assistants I could have pursued very talented math students, but they usually don’t have any trouble filling their schedules, nor would they have as much to gain from the experience.

Why have assistants at all?  Isn’t just more to manage?

Having assistants is certainly a job, and it is not worth doing if you do not have goals for them.  My goals for them is to have them view math from my perspective.  They will help students in class, grade the assignments that I grade, and talk with me about misconceptions students might have before giving feedback.  At the end of this I hope the students take a different view of mathematics.  Perhaps they could go on to take a serious interest in math in college, but I would be happy if they just approach the subject differently.  At the least, I hope the students would view math as something they can work to improve, and mathematical “bad”-ness isn’t a terminal illnees, but can be treated through correcting their misconceptions and developing a productive disposition.

For the rest of this cycle I am excited about getting them to finish the rest of the work for the class.  I want them to have a working version of the project that the rest of the class.  In addition, they could learn a lot from having to think of ways to scaffold the project, or re-word the current project.  Lastly, I will ask them to write about their approach to math, and if it is different than it was when we started. Their reflection will be informed by Approximately Normal’s posts on student teachers, but I’m open to suggestions…

We’ll see if any of the kids want to follow their teacher’s footsteps and teach a lesson their peers, but if they do I hope they will be able to get through it.


#19/33* MTBoS  *I took two days off over the weekend, and I missed another one a week ago, so I am going to keep this thing going longer to make up for it (Or maybe I’ll just be one of those once-a-day bloggers).

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