Friday, March 20, 2015

March - PARCC Experience

     I made a poster for my students that says that PARCC stands for "Please Always Remember to be Calm and Cool." Now if only I could follow my own advice...
     Overall, it went well. My students worked incredibly hard, they used time effectively, they used their tools effectively, and their ability to navigate an online assessment was strong. I was incredibly proud of them in so many ways. I think as an educator none of us will ever be in love with "standardized testing" (no matter what test or format it might come in) because we know our students aren't standard. We know the purpose, we understand the intention, but when has testing become the definition of our third trimester. I will never be against assessment, but I am against the fact that it is eating into my time instructing and my time enjoying my students and our classroom community. 
    This frustration actually set in when I fully understood our remaining testing schedule. We have taken 5 tests so far (which timing wise sucked up my entire afternoon on those days), and we still have 8 sessions remaining between MAPS, CMASS, and EOY PARCC (on top of that, I have my own end of year assessments along with a District Writing Assessment as well). It may not sound like a lot, but when you look at the calendar after Spring Break it will eat up a considerable amount of days. My fear is not that my students will not rise to the occasion, because I know they will, my fear is that I won't be able to complete my instruction with all the interruptions. I still need to teach my entire Informational Writing Unit. I have two separate Book Clubs for reading, I still have plenty of math concepts to cover, and yet on 8 days over the next two months my time will be spent elsewhere. This is stuff I want to be spending my time on, this is my JOB as a teacher, giving my students genuine learning opportunities. My frustration is that it seems like my job title has changed from teacher or guide to proctor this trimester. 
    Moving forward, I know I will make the best of it, we always do, but I can only hope the quality becomes the goal instead of the quantity we are facing. I want to get back to my real job doing what I love so I can finish the year with my students the same way I started it, learning together and expanding our minds through hard work, success, and failures. 

"February" - Working on RAD Responses

     RAD Responses is the acronym we use 3-5 in our building for complete, short-constructed responses. The R represents 'restate,' the A represents 'answer,' and the D represents 'details.' We use this in every subject area for every question they need to answer. We are also using this work for our SLO and team goal too.
     When working with something everyday, you begin to become challenged on how to elevate your students work and get it to where it needs to be. Through a lot of brainstorming and discovering different tools, our team has come up with a way to track their work/growth and make sure we can compare our students work teacher by teacher. This has been invaluable in many ways. Not only are we able to help elevate each other's work and instruction, but we are able to find common problems and work together to solve them.
     One tool that has become very useful to us is Google Forms. We are able to have all of our students submit answers on a common form and then use the 'response' page to track their answers and compare them class by class. This has allowed us to not only grade them right on the response page, but we can then align our grading practices by seeing how each of us is grading a response. We can also use the response spreadsheet to keep track of data/scores as they progress throughout the year. Transparency is awesome on a team because we can all benefit from seeing each others work and each others student work.
     We have also given the students scaffolds to help with this work. As mentioned in a previous post, this is a scaffold necessary group! Having a clear 'layout' of what  the expectations are and how to achieve the end goal has been invaluable to them. It also helps submitting work electronically because we can look at responses whole group on the document camera and comment on them accordingly.
     Technology has really enhanced out ability to work on this skill and I am very grateful that new pathways keep opening.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seeing Growth in Writing - Baby Steps

     I think one of the hardest things about teaching writing is that "head-wall-bang" feeling you get when you have taught a concept whole group, instructed on it again in small group, and they still look at you like "What is indenting?" With many areas of teaching there are ways to see immediately if a student is making growth, but in writing it can feel like a slow going process with lots of hurdles along the way.
    To help myself get less frustrated, I decided to use their very first piece of writing from the beginning of the year to be my guiding light. Instead of focusing on the little details they aren't getting in the moment, I compare the piece overall to what they did at the beginning of the year - this keeps me hopeful. They may still have no clue how to write a great introduction, or the purpose of paragraphing, but man are there more details in their work than ever before, and woohoo they are finally ending with a conclusion that is not just "I stopped writing because I was done, is that not a conclusion?"
     The endless challenge that accompanies writing instruction for me is the intense amount of pieces they need to get right all the time. Sometimes it feels like a lot to ask of them, but then I remember what a foundational skill this is for them - it's how they communicate with the world. There are a lot of things to look for, but sometimes I need to narrow my gaze and focus on just their details or just their conventions so I see growth and feel some success with the direction they are heading.

"November" - Scaffold, Scaffold, Scaffold

     My realization this month as we step into multi-paragraph Compare and Contrast essays is that my group this year needs endless amounts of very structured scaffolds. It is amazing how much your dynamics can change from year to year - some groups are independent and require less hand-holding and some groups need constant hand-holding and repetition. While this shift can be difficult at first, I am definitely willing to do whatever it takes to encourage my students and push them towards success in writing.
     The best thing to have on my side through this transition is Google - Google Classroom, Google Docs, Google Drawing, etc. In 5 minutes I can scaffold a lesson onto a template that I can then send to all of my students through Classroom so they have their own copy. Many times I do this work before a lesson because I can anticipate what they will need, but I also like that I can create one in real time if I am sensing a need. By using tools that are all interconnected and easy to navigate I am not stuck saying "I wish I would have made a template for that," or "I will get you a template for that tomorrow." While no tool is perfect, I appreciate, and my students do too, that I can get them what they need in a timely fashion.
     I created a document that breaks down the parts of a introduction so they are typing it one sentence at a time and then cutting and pasting it together into a logical paragraph. I have created thinking maps for planning purposes. I have created tables to collect all of their topics so I know what they are writing about. All of these things, along with countless others, allow me to meet my students needs. Yes it is a year of scaffolds, but at least I have the tools to do it and it is helping my writers to better understand to format and structure of multi-paragraph writing.