Monthly Archives: October 2011


One thing I realized early on this year with my attempt at SBG is that I had not planned effectively.  Though I had several resources available for different levels of learners, I had not thought of how to implement the different levels efficiently in my classroom.  I have made some adjustments, but in a couple of units, I have found myself “teaching to the middle” again.  I have made some progress, but know that it will continue to be an area of needed growth. 

When I give a pre-assessment, I feel I need to administer a bit earlier so I have time to reflect over the results.  Hmm.  How do I accomplish this, so I’m not spending my weekends reflecting over their results or loose valuable classtime on a busy-work to simply keep them busy while I look over their pre-assessments? 

My thinking is to:

  • give unit pre-assessment a few days ahead of the actual instructional part of the unit
  •  use a problem-based, small-group investigation / related activity to introduce the unit to students – the day after the pre-test…possbily a data-collection, sorting activity or something with analyzing patterns???

Would this allow me time to view their results and organize learning activities best suited for each class?  I would adjust groups based on pre-assessments similar to what Laurie Amundson shared in How I Overhauled Grading with her classes.   

Allowing students to work at their own levels eliminates some of the disciplinary issues for me.  I am able to let those who are ready to move on – experience more enriching activities rather than bore them with what they already know.  I give others the chance to be in a smaller setting and get the one-on-one needed to move them forward.  I am able to provide specific help with a foundational concept when I talk with a student about their approach to a problem. 

Suggestions of how you accomplish this in your classrooms are welcomed!




“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.”

Carole Tomlinson

In a couple of conversations this past week, the topic of pre-assessment has come up.  In both, it either wasn’t used at all or not on a regular basis.  Pre-Assessment can be formal or informal, individually or whole-class, there are many PreAssessment_Strategies we can implement that will have great impact on student learning, if used purposefully.

I am no expert by any means – but I do realize the importance of pre-assessment.  For example, this past unit – solving single variable equations/inequalities, I had several students who missed only a couple of problems on their pre-assessment.  I allowed them to venture on to more challenging problems, one being they were given the solution(s) and they had to create the equation/inequality that resulted in that answer.  A bit perplexed when they were given 2 solutions to a single problem – but realized (without my help) it could use an absolute value or quadratic. 

Giving them the opportunity to work on at their own pace – within a small group setting, with a set of resources, allowed me time to focus on students who were still at the devloping stage of solving equations.  If I had not given the pre-assessment, that group of students would have sat in my classroom, unchallenged for a few days, simply going through the motions of completing the assignments with little or not thought, at least no new knowledge/skill gained/developed.

So why pre-assess?

It gives me an idea of what students already know.  Yes, I know what they “should” know / be able to do – but just because it was taught previously by me or in another course, does not guarantee they’ve mastered/maintained it.

It allows me to plan and present appropriate, varied activities / assignments for different levels of learners.

It gives me a baseline to show growth of learning by the end of the unit.  I am able to show parents whether any learning/growth resulted. 

It shows students what they already know; what they are able to do; gives them a roadmap of sorts of what is to come.

Pre-Assessment may not only focus on upcoming learning targets, but if I plan carefully, it can show me any gaps in foundational concepts that may need to be addressed prior to the lesson/unit of study. For example, if students are unable to graph a line, I may need to review this skill prior to teaching solving systems of equations/linear programming. 

How I change my lesson presentations / classroom to allow for differentiated learning is an area I continue to grow.  I am currently reading More Good Questions by Marian Small and Amy Lin and part of a book study.  I am excited to start looking at how I can change something as simple as my questioning or how I can modify current resources into Open Questions or Parallel Tasks to provide more differentiation in my classroom.  I plan to write more about it as I move along..

Until then, I will continue to use pre-assessments to drive my planning and decisions for my students.    Pre-Assessment is essential to providing the best possible learning situations for all learners in my classroom.

Time to Think


As I read a blog tweeted by @bjnichols this morning – Holly Green shared how thought bubbles often show “our deeply held beliefs and assumptions – determine how and what we perceived and guide how we think and act.  They can limit our ability to achieve results.”  So often in education, we are set in our ways and refuse to hear others’ ideas / opinions that could refresh our way of thinking.

I went on to read another post she hade made Slow Down, So You Can Go Fast.  Though she’s writing from a business perspective – this truly fits what many educators have experienced/chosen for the their own classrooms. 

Doing some “fall-cleaning” at home this week, I ran across a small set of lessons which caused me to pause.  I guess I had kept them because of the feedback received from my first principal, Ms. Jenkins.  The thing I appreciated about her – she always pushed you  beyond what you thought you were capable of doing.  She didn’t tell you how to improve, she caused you to reflect on your own practices. 

This particular set of activities were presented as part of my PGP for the area of student self-assessment.  I’m sure the idea had come from an NCTM resource since we didn’t have internet in the school at that point in time.  One lesson was for a General Math class, we were adding fractions.  The directions read that once students completed the problem, they used a fraction wheel to verify their answers.  Another was a quiz on solving equations which required students to verify their solutions, and space to re-work any that were incorrect – no grading required for me.  A final activity asked students to reflect and write about their learning.

In my first years of teaching I took time for student self-assessment, I required students to “check” their own work and I incorporated writing into my lessons.  So why is this an area I am focused on improving so many years later? 

This past summer, I shared a presentation with my school district to begin a conversation about SBG.  In it I shared shared how by covering content for the external accountability – we have created an imbalanced system – skewed toward
summative assessments…we have become instructionally insensitive.  (Lederman & Burnstein, 2006, Popham 2003, 2008)

When we cover content:

  • ›Intentional scaffolding which leads up to the big ideas are reduced to a checklist of what we need to cover for the test.
  • ›Quality activities that develop student thinking “take too much time” and we eliminate them – by telling students how we want them to answer the questions.
  • ›Forfeit time to use the power of corrective, descriptive feedback which alters instruction and promotes learning, allowing students to make connections and see the why. 

I shared these things not being judgemental of what others were doing/not doing – but this was a trap I had fallen in to myself.  Somehow I quit thinking about what I was teaching.  Yes, I’m sorry to say – I started “filling-out” lesson plans just to fulfil a duty.  I was making a list and checking it twice, then moving on.    I relied on the examples in a text to guide my classroom – I had traded the “time consuming” activities that really allowed in-depth student thought for covering the content. 

In order to move students forward, I must focus on what’s most important – develop / find the tasks that allow students to really “get-it.”  I have to give them feedback – either written or verbal – yes, that takes time.  

I like the Frank Noschese’s idea of giving students the chance to check their own quizzes and give themselves feedback.  This makes me more of quality control – I can view their comments – verify or comment myself.  Students writing their own feedback requires immediate reflection of their own work.   I am able to get an even better view of their thinking. 

At KCTM last weekend, Jana Bryant (Daviess Co. HS) shared an activity she called “Math Hospital.”  She collected student samples with errors and compiled a worksheet – students were asked to “diagnose” what was wrong with the problems and make suggestions to the students. 

This idea is also supported in some PD I am taking part in as part of the Kentucky Leadership Network using lessons from the Mathematics Assessment Project.  Students are given student samples and asked questions such as “Why do you think Alex chose this?  What suggestions would you make to Bill?  What information did Carl not consider?”  These lessons provide suggestions for reflections on others’ work – that will hopefully transfer to student reflection on their own work. 

I realize some educators feel these lessons are too “scripted” however, I believe like we model thinking for students, these lessons model thinking for educators who have fallen into the “no-thinking zone.”  Participating in the PD provided and implementing the lessons and reflecting will help me begin developing my own lessons.

Providing students time to think about their thinking is valuable.  Slowing down for these opportunities will proove valuable in allowing us to ‘go faster’ in future lessons.  This is the essence of Standards Based Grading – taking the time for feedback and reflection.   When I give students the chance to determine their own areas for growth, they are more likely to “buy-in” to the assignments / practice I provide for them to develop.

Slow down…take time to think…so we can go faster…



Isosceles Triangle Days


Sharing the tweet from Mr. Honner about Isosceles Triangle Days 10/10/11 and 10/11/11 with my classer (Algebra I) –

they were not so focused on his question of which is more equilateral…but amused by the idea of an Isosceles Triangle Day…which led to the question of How many Isoceles Triangle Days occur in the calendar year of 2011?



Obviously I haven’t posted in a while.  I looked back over several drafts I started but never published.  One on September 13 – was titled “Can’t Find My Groove” and discussed how I was struggling to get in the rhythm of the school year.  Usually by the end of the first full week (at least early in the semester) – I am moving forward – but during the first full month of school, I felt I was simply spinning my wheels.

I kept reminding myself that change was a process.  Plan. Do. Reflect. Adjust. 

 A colleague reminded me one afternoon that I was facing several changes this year – the new KCAS (Kentucky’s term for the Common Core), SBG (or at least my attempt at it), remediating students (no transitional courses for incoming 9th graders)…and if things are implemented correctly, it takes time, patience and reflection.  I believe that is what I was missing – time to process all that was going on – time to internalize and truly reflect. 

I’ve said this before – but I am a small steps kind of person.  I need an end goal and steps to take to get me there.  When I feel bombarded with a gazillion things – my brain tends to shut down.

A couple of weeks ago, another colleague shared the book Focus by Michael Schmoker with me – I began to read and once again, had to lay it aside in order to complete other tasks.  However, in the small bit I completed – I have realized how quickly and easily it is to loose my focus.   Without good, quality curriculum, rich-rigorous learning tasks and an effort to use content related literacy – nothing else matters until these are in place and successful. 

As I attended KCTM this past weekend, over and over again, I heard other educators state how overwhelmed they felt.  There are soooooo many new initatives “thrown” at us during PD, we don’t have time to focus and master just one.  We are asked to implement formative assessments for our students…which means giving good quality feedback AND time to adjust their learning – yet as educators we are not given that same option!  We are told to implement, implement, implement.  Yet there is not time to receive good, quality feedback (if any is given at all) and allow for us to reflect on how to improve/make it better.

Mastery learning – is not teach, teach, teach, test and move on whether they “got it” or not…so why is it that to me it feels that “mastery teaching” has become just that?

So to bring focus for me-

1. Know who I am teaching – I feel that I’ve made some connections with my students this year ( most of them anyway)

3.  Know what I’m teaching – the curriculum is my guide to where we are going!

4. Plan / locate good, rich, engaging lessons ( alittle bit of Dan Meyer’s 3-Acts) to convince them  “the product I’m selling is worth buying“…many of them walk into my classroom despising math. 

5.  Literacy – I must give them opportunities to read/communicate the content!

6.  Reflect.  Adjust.  Make it better!