Monthly Archives: November 2011

Just Knowing You Are Doing Things the Right Way


I had moments of frustration today as I sat listening to Eric Twadell share his experiences with inplementation of formative assessment and standards based grading.  I expected to learn more specifics – the HOW to implement it well – when what we were doing (his intentions) was participating in engaging table discussions to lead us to an understanding of the WHY its important.

He is a strong speaker – very purposeful in his presentation.  The focus was on what we believed – his questions allowed us to reflect on our individual classrooms/settings and through sharing and answering his specific questions, we were able to set a foundation.  He said “Its about leading change from the inside out.”  If we can help our teachers understand why its important, the change will be more effective.  We are very similar to our students – when told to do something, some will comply and complete – so they can check it off their to-do list and others will not.

I was discouraged when many of the examples being shared were very similar to things I am already doing in my classroom.  But a colleague reminded me that sometimes just knowing you are doing things the right way can be empowering.  Wow.  I do feel I am moving in the right direction.  It was a realization – that this is how my students feel / learn.  When they know they are moving in the right direction, they are more likely to keep moving.  Does that make sense?  When they are unsure of themselves, there is little or no effort.  I must be aware – able to give them descriptive feedback that allows them to move forward.  I’ve know this for a long while – but today, it really sunk in.  Today was my feedback – to help me reflect on my practices and continue to move forward.

I am more confident to continue improving some of my strategies for pre-assessments, student self-assessment.

Although a work in progress, I realize our unit organizers will help students answer the three questions in a formative assessment environment (Stiggins):

1.  What am I supposed to be learning today?

2. Where am I at now in my learning?

3.  What do I need to do to close the gap?

Today has helped me realize – I need to bite the bullet and be more collaborative with colleagues.

“People improvement is the key to school improvement.”  Eric Twadell

More Good Questions


More Good Questions has really gotten me to start thinking about the questions I ask my students.  Its so easy to stay with the traditional skill/drill I grew up on – but I am encouraged by some things my students are coming up with when given the opportunity of an open question.

Yes, a few of them are still struggling with “where to start” but now they are at least giving me something – whereas the first couple of attempts – blank stares, blank papers, blank looks.

Today, students were given the opportunity to retake their pre-test to look for any areas they may not have mastered yet.  As a review, I placed a graph of a line on the board.  I asked, “What can you tell me about this line?  How many different ways can you write/describe this line?”

I will add my slides from their discussion tomorrow.  If you can picture a line through (0, 2) and (5, 0).

Timer set.  Go.

Here are some of their responses.

  1. Its a linear function.
  2. Its decreasing.
  3. Slope from the graph is -2/5.
  4. It will never be in the 3rd quadrant. (ok, didn’t expect that one).
  5. It has intercepts at (0, 2) & (5, 0).
  6. y=-2/5x+2
  7. 2x+5y=10
  8. y-4=-2/5(x+5)  which led to a student stating, “I wrote point-slope for too, but its not the same as ___.”  Discussion.
  9. A table of values was given with intercepts as well as (-10, 6) (-5, 4) (10, -2).
  10. Another verified the rate of change with the table of values.
  11. The inverse is y=-5/2x+5 (nice surprise)
  12. A line parallel is y = -2/5x + 4
  13. A line perpendicular is y = 5/2x+2
  14. It could model a budget of $10, Candy(x) is $2, Coffee(y) is $5…how many of each can I purchase and spend exactly $10?

Many students were able to be part of the sharing/discussion.  I felt it was a great review of topics – with one simple graph of a line as the starting point…I attempted to follow #sbarbooks suggestion to look for students with fewer things on their list and call on them first to allow for their participation.

I hope to continue to gather ideas from More Good Questions that I can easily incorporate into my classroom.  I am looking forward to a book study with my department as well and seeing where it leads our students.

I highly recommend this book by Marian Small if you do not have – its worth the purchase!


When the Answer is a Question…


Who questions much,

shall learn much,

and retain much.

Francis Bacon

After reading several blogs this summer, I realized I gave my students too many answers.  I often times would answer them directly – there was little thinking on their part.  So, one of my professional growth goals as I began this school year was to not give so many answers.  I wanted to give students more opportunities to think on their own.  I have realized in the past few weeks – maybe because my students are making “fun” of me – but also, because I see the tilt of their heads when I answer their questions with a question…

Shortly after fall break, one student shook his head and slapped his hands on the desk and asked, “Why do you do that?”  “Do what?” I looked at him puzzled…”That!  You only answer our questions with a question!”  My reply, “So…why do I do that?”  There were giggles and smiles as a conversation arose – “basically to make us think,” another student chimed in.  I allowed a few of them to vent their frustrations – but this has not deterred me in the least.  Multiple times since, he has stated, “There you go again.” And I smile.

I find it humorous.  Apparently my “teaching strategy” has been the topic of conversation outside of class.

 My goal is simply that they’ll be able to answer it on their own. How often do we ask a question, noone responds, so we assume noone knows the answer, so we give them the answer.  They never even turn on their brain – they simply wait for us to give them the answer.  Been there.  Done that.  Wait time makes us nervous, we must keep the lesson moving – keep the flow of the class going…so we give them the answer.  No thinking has taken place – on their part or mine.

What about the student who simply doesn’t want to participate, so they reply “I don’t know” and the teacher moves on to someone else.  Stop!  Keep asking them!  Change the question, lead them a little – but NEVER let them get by with “I don’t know.”  What about asking them to tell you what they do know.  Good starting point.  Find out what they do know and work from there.  Hmm.  If they are hard to nudge – ask them to read the directions or re-read the problem, but NEVER move on and let them get by with nothing!

I remember once – many, many years ago – at a training, the presenter shared his strategy for the “I don’t know” student:  Ask them, “Well, if you did know, what would you say?”  Again, you may not get a response pertaining to the original question – but for a moment, their brain thought about what you just said to them.  The goal accomplished – getting them to think.

When giving written feedback, I try to pose reflective questions – to hopefully help them develop those analytical skills.  When I answer with a question with a question – it gives them and their classmates a chance to think. 

Jokingly I commented how I felt they didn’t appreciate my teaching strategies – a student commented, “I actually find it refreshing.”  And I’ll take that as a complement anyday.

Open Questions: My First Attempt


I’ve been reading More Good Questions and am so excited about this book!  #sbarbook study Monday nights 9:30 est. on twitter  – the big ideas so far, have been defining open questions and parallel tasks and how easy it is to create them. 

@druinok that’s what I’m enjoying too – very low stress, but HUGE dividends! #sbarbook

@druinok @jmalpass totally agree!!! I think what I’ve gotten out of it the most is rich questions don’t have to be hard for the teacher to do 🙂

Such simple, quick changes – yet great opportunity for thinking at ALL levels!

Today, on a target quiz on slope/rate of change – I made my first planned attempt to use an open question. The last question (no discussion on the first 4 ?s) took us into a great in-depth discussion.  The question was this:

Slope is 4/5. 

Give me two points on the line.

A student asked…does it have a y-intercept?  My response, Does (voice inflection) it have a y-intercept?  When I asked students for responses – I called on this student because I wanted to talk more about his question.  Student stated – its not vertical, so it has to have a y-intercept – even if its (0, 0) – the y-intercept is zero.  Good point.

While students were working – I observed their various stratgies for getting their coordinates- THIS is the part I *LOVED*!!!!  There were graphs, tables of values, slope formulas, and other strange strategies I would have never been aware of – if I hadn’t given this question!  I attempted to call on students with different strategies for getting their solutions.  Even calling on a few I knew had incorrect answers to allow for discussion.  I didn’t have to correct them – other students were able to ask questions.** 

One student looked confused as she asked, “How can we have so many points, but the same slope?”  My answer, “How can we have so many points, but the same slope?”  Another replied – “the lines are different but they have the same slope – so it makes them parallel.”  A concept not included in the objective – but I think it will stick.  On the board graph – students were able to quickly identify points that were not giving the correct slope and able to explain – usually inverted coordinates.

About 1/3 of the class struggled with where to start on this question – but my feeling is as the year goes on and they are given more open questions, I’ll see a higher number successfully attempting it.  One student made a comment on her way out – how ‘seeing other ways really helped (her) to better understand slope and how it works’ –

How difficult was it to come up with the question?  Not at all.  Level of cognitive demand – much higher that #’s 1 – 4; Level of discussion – much more in-depth! 

This idea may be something most of you use in your classroom.  I consider myself a good teacher – but my thinking has shifted – when I’m looking at examples / assessments – my thought is, how can I make this an Open Question???  I will continue to share my experiences initiated through this book!

** When a student sees a mistake another student has made – I encourage them to  question by asking, “What question can you ask them about their work/answer,” rather than tell them what they did wrong.  It gives both students a chance to reflect.