Meditations on a Cogen (No. 14) • Thursday, January 27, 2022

During the 2021-22 school year, I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the 14th post in the series.

With minimal reminders, I had a whopping seven kids today. Two were old heads from the previous cohort who arrived on their own accord. Another was simply hanging out in the room as the cogen was about to start, fascinated as to why several of my students are sitting around a dressed-up table with snacks on a Thursday afternoon. I asked the student if he wanted to join and he happily grabbed a seat. I had another student explain our purpose of the cogen to him before we began.

With a new member joining today on a limb, it’s apparent to me that the cogen is starting to sell itself. Students see its value and trust the space — or at least these students do. The curb appeal also helps. I think my doggedness in meeting every week is paying off.

Choice Quiz
As we begin, I ask the kids about their week. Any midterms? Where have your stress levels been? They reply that they have been pretty chill — most had only one midterm this week. Curious, I do some probing into how their teachers went about reviewing for their midterms. What techniques did they use? Were they effective? One student saw where I was going and asked if I was looking for strategies to use in our class. I was (their chem teacher had an interesting idea that I might try), but added that I also wanted to help them reflect on their week.

The main course today is the Choice Quizzes that I administered this week. Select students in each of my classes were rewarded with these quizzes for achieving the class DeltaMath goal. The Choice Quiz — which I gave twice this week — consists of two problems. The students choose the problem that they want me to grade. It was my first time doing these types of quizzes (usually there’s just one problem that they solve), so I was eager to see how it went for the students. The Choice Quiz was the result of the cogen.

Their first piece of feedback they gave me had nothing to do with the choice aspect of the quiz: there wasn’t enough time to complete it. I administer quizzes at the end of the period and, in all of my classes, the students had to stay after the bell to finish the quiz. Of course, that’s on me. I felt bad about this during class when it happened, and offered to write late passes to any student who needed one.

That said, I didn’t fully consider the ramifications until today’s cogen. Soon after I brought it up, a student said politely, “Mister, I was in the middle of the quiz when the bell rang. I didn’t have enough time to process the question or think how to do it.” Another kid said, “That also happened to me. I heard the bell and my brain just shut down because I had a midterm in the class right after yours. I needed to get there on time so I rushed and made a mistake on the quiz.” And this isn’t a one-time thing because another student commented, “Every time I see a quiz in our class, I hope I have time to finish it. It usually runs over.” In hearing them out, I think about all that I try to fit into a class period and cringe inside. It’s inconsiderate of me to expect them to stay even just a few minutes past the bell.

Acknowledging that my planning needs to be improved, I pivot toward the content of the Choice Quizzes. How did they feel about the options I gave them? Did the quizzes meet their expectations?

I approached each of the two Choice Quizzes slightly differently. On the first (Type 1), the two problems on the quiz aligned with two separate topics that we are studying. On the second quiz (Type 2), the problems both dealt with the same topic. The students noticed this and had a lot to say. Their initial reaction was an appreciation for Type 1 because they could choose the problem that they knew more about (i.e. which one was easier for them). In this way, the students felt like they had actual options. Type 2, on the other hand, didn’t feel like it incorporated choice at all because both problems on it were linked to the same topic (they were very similar and resembled one we did in class that day — like all quiz problems do).

As their teacher, I expressed how giving all Type 1 quizzes can be problematic for me. If students only choose problems on topics they feel comfortable with, how will I ever know what they don’t know about topics they don’t feel confident doing? Type 2 quizzes allow me to target my assessment. They nod at my point but step up and deliver some potential compromises. They pepper the cogen with questions.

Could I hold off on Type 2 quizzes until the end of a unit so that the problems on them can be more diverse? What about mixing in ungraded (feedback) quizzes more often to help me assess what students know and don’t know? I only did one of these and haven’t gone back to it. Since students don’t know the topic that will be on any quiz, they also wondered if I could somehow “emphasize” which topic it will be before the quiz begins? What if I simply found a balance between Type 1 and Type 2 quizzes?

They give me a lot to think about, the most promising being that I should loop in low-stakes quizzes more often (i.e. feedback quizzes). I forgot all about these assessments and the students seem to appreciate them. I’m also thinking about how the balance of Type 1 and Type 2 is a strong idea. Of course, none of this matters if students don’t have time to complete them!

DeltaMath Day
As we head for the hills, I announce to the cogen that we will have our first “DeltaMath Day” next week Friday. Next week is going to be a 3-day week, but I think we can make it happen. They smile, glad to hear the news.

Feedback on the fly + math bingo
On Tuesday something insightful happened with one of the cogen members. He came up to me at the beginning of class and asked whether I could use more worked examples in the Do Now (the problem we start class with). I had been doing this regularly all year but hadn’t used one in a while. He said that he liked them and that they help him understand common mistakes. I thanked him and ended up using a worked example both yesterday and today. In the midst of our discussion today, I brought this up to the cogen as a great example of providing me in-the-moment feedback on what they’re experiencing. In this way, I encouraged them not to wait until Thursday to offer suggestions on what they think can be improved about the class.

Something else: the cogen students’ are running Bingo tomorrow! I’m excited — and a little nervous — to start this next phase of the cogen: co-teaching. Updates next week.


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