End of the 2014-15 school year

Classroom Spring 2015

-1. Several weeks ago I began thinking about the end of the school year. I suddenly realized the startlingly amount of reflection that awaited me. Today is the last day of school and the only way for me to systematically get it all out is in a list. Here goes.

0. Leading up to this year, my school had a solid four-year stretch of low-turnover and highly stable school atmosphere. 2014-15 not only broke that streak…it was shattered and thrown it under a bus. Things were quite eventful.

1. With any change in leadership, one should expect adjustment in the day-to-day happenings. I found that I had grown too comfortable under previous leadership. Things and people change and I need to evolve with these changes so my productivity doesn’t stagger.

2. During and after vast transformations this year, my optimism was put to the test several times and, in some cases, folded. After scarring disappointments early on, it took a good amount of time to rededicate myself to the school’s mission. I let my frustration get the best of me at times – which I don’t regret. Live and learn.

3. What kept me going? What kept me from completely disconnecting from my school community?

4. The incredibly inspirational people around me. My students. My colleagues (in and out of my school). People I’ve never met. My family.

5. Teachers at my school are an awesome bunch. Despite the disarray abound, somehow they found a way to use their collective strength to keep us moving forward.

6. This was also my first school year blogging, which had a great deal to do with my naturally reflective nature this year. It framed my teaching like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I gained serious perspective by reflecting on my own practices via my blog.

7. I implemented standards-based grading. In terms of assessment, it’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I committed to it mid-year, which was tough, but it worked pretty much as planned. I had students assess their own retake exams, which was great, but I need to make a stronger push for retakes next year.

8. I helped plan weekly district-mandated professional development sessions for colleagues at my school. I found it both more engaging and challenging than I imagined before the year began. Professionally, this was an area of growth I didn’t expect. Thanks to MfA, I’ll be taking that a step further next year with my video club.

9. I absolutely struggled with four preps in the fall. The quality of my teaching was stretched thin and my students were shortchanged immensely.

10. I was entitled department chair in the spring. The math department had a tough year and we have a long journey ahead. I hope I am able to provide whatever leadership we need. That said, I passionately hate titles and the connotation that often comes along with them. They are hollow and irrelevant. I just want my work to be meaningful, collaborate, and help all of us reach another level.

11. Our robotics team made progress this year. We performed noticeably better than during the last two years of the program. Next year I hope to use class time (versus after-school) for competition preparation. This should afford the kids more time to build and tweak the robot. My robotics class expanded to include introductory arduinos along with the usual Lego Mindstorms.

12. My students did rather poorly on state exams. This is very disappointing given the amount of work both the students and myself have put in this year. So much so that I began questioning myself. How can I adjust to improve this result?

13. A woman leading a PD once told me “When my students don’t succeed, I look in the mirror and ask What could I have done differently?” This has stuck with me all year. It’s not about all the issues, setbacks, and lack of prerequisite skills that students bring into the classroom that hinders their learning. Instead, all that matters is what I do to meet their needs and get them to succeed. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But this perspective is key for me in my hopes of one day becoming a great teacher.

14. I could have been a better mentor. Despite many shortcomings, I have experience and insight that is conducive to the growth of colleagues new to this profession. I did a poor job this year mentoring a new teacher. She is wonderful and would never tell me so, but inside I know I could have had a much better impact on her.

15. I tried many new approaches this year to teach my kids. Just as importantly, I also implemented new ways to reach them. Whether it was friday letterspersonal notestwo stage exams, plickers, speed dating, problem-based learning, exit slips, or others, I can say that I have definitely made an effort to improve the happenings in my classroom.

16. Following up on a new year’s resolutionintervisitations played a significant role in my development this year. I discovered the need to not only get outside my classroom, but outside of my building, and explore the work of others. It helped motivate a colleague and me to apply for the 2015-16 NYCDOE Learning Partners program, which we were accepted. More to come!

17. I relearned how to be patient with my students. Big ups to my AP for pushing me to slow down the pace of the class and remind me to provide more scaffolding.

18. Goal for 2015-16: highly effective. Focus for 2015-16: to be better than I was in 2014-15.

20. Every school year seems to fly by when you’re at the end of it. This one was no different. It was a bumpy flight, but it was over before I knew it. Another one in the books.

Until June 2016.

 

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Traffic Light


Traffic Light

I’ve seen and read about many “traffic light” strategies used in the classroom. In most instances, its a label we use for a strategy thats helps us gauge student understanding or receive feedback. Here’s another twist on it.

I’m using it as a formative assessment strategy that I fittingly call Traffic Light. (Very creative, I know.) I’ve laminated red, yellow, and green pieces of paper and slid them into another laminated piece of paper that I half-taped to the top of each desk.

During any given lesson, I mention “Traffic Light!” and my students hold up a color corresponding to their level of understanding at that moment. Sometimes I see a sea of green, sometimes a mix, and sometimes I see so much red that I myself turn red. Either way, I have found the cards to be an indispensable tool to keep a pulse on how things are going and, if need be, change things up on the fly. There are plenty of instances where I needed to re-explain something, regroup students, or change the approach to a concept. And, without this in-the-moment feedback from the kids, I probably would not have been aware that a change was necessary.

I must put out a disclaimer. When I first started using the cards, I found that some of the quieter students would hold up a green to avoid me eyeing their yellow or red card – essentially making them “stick out” to me. I had a talk with my classes about how their learning is dependent on their integrity. We also discussed honesty as it relates to their understanding and how this is a driving force of everything we do. I did find that all this helped encourage the kids to provide more accurate responses.

Besides the obvious benefit for me, their teacher, the students actually enjoy using Traffic Light. At the end of the first semester, I asked each student to provide me with one thing they thought went well and one thing they felt needed improvement in our class. I was surprised by this, but several students actually mentioned the Traffic Light cards.

Feedback Traffic Light

(“the new grading system for exams” refers to my shift to standards-based grading)

It could be the interactivity. Students get to, essentially, voice their opinion…and teens love to do that. It could also the message it sends: that I’m willing adjust any lesson based on how they’re learning – and then to actually adjust it. Who knows. I’m just glad they’ve taken to it.

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The Quotient ~ 2.9.15

0. The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing. ~Socrates

1. That is probably my favorite quote of all time. It resonates with me so deeply because I’ve realized that every thing I read, write, watch, speak, do, and listen to is but a mere spec on the number line of infinity.

2. Despite confidence in myself and in my abilities in whatever the task at hand is, whether it be teaching complex numbers or overhauling a bottom bracket, inside I always understand that I can be better. There’s always someone or something with knowledge that I don’t have.

3. I have finally begun using exit tickets as they should be used. In other words, I understand their assessment value.

4. I once heard someone say that true innovators and learners engage with people and things that go beyond their area of expertise.

5. Real learners can take a seemingly meaningless or unrelated moment and relate it directly to something that is meaningful to them.

6. Quality over quantity. Always.

7. Being open and willing to accept criticism has taught me that I can be always be better.

8. I’m very excited to begin my (voluntary) intervisitations. I sense an immense amount of growth on the way.

9. Math teachers are always asked to incorporate more reading and writing into their classes. Why aren’t ELA teachers asked to include more mathematics in theirs?

10. If I pray for rain, I better be prepared to deal with the mud too.

11. I need to walk around with small slips of paper (or Post-its) and provide random instant feedback to my students.

12. Video in my classroom. Transparency. Vulnerability. Growth.

13. My standards-based grading has opened up areas of assessment that were simply not available to me before.

14. You have a dream, a goal. Each day, lay down a single brick. Work towards that goal. One at a time, work on perfecting how you lay them. Get better. Eventually you’ll have a great wall. Your goal will be achieved.

15. The wind howls, but the mountain remains still. Stop talking so much. Observe. Listen.

16. Don’t eat the marshmallow.

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Reward systems? Grades? I’m not sure anymore.

I’ve started to critically reflect on all the rewards systems I’ve ever used. Including every single grade my students have ever earned.

I am currently reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. The basic premise that Kohn makes is that “rewards” as we know them (token economies, grades, etc.) are not only ineffective, but can even be detrimental to the growth of students. Often times, teachers, including myself, use these systems because they “work” and rarely question them. (In fact, this is true for many things that we take for granted.) I have been relating this reading directly to my classroom economy that I have instituted in my class for several years, along with the many other positive reinforcement strategies that I have come across through the years. But even more drastically, I have begun to question every grade that I have ever assigned to an assignment or report card. Grades are essentially rewards for the work that students complete.

Instead of focusing on reinforcement strategies, which only focus on what students do, I could allow systems and feedback to drive my classroom practices. Instead, this would focus on who students are and what they actually understand.

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