Earlier in the year, a colleague and I created a shared a folder on drive to collect our resources for Algebra I. The really was not new – we’ve had dropboxes, shared folders in outlook, etc. before. The shared folder had sub folders for each unit of study. The problem was, when we started dumping files in – well, I knew which ones were mine and what they were for – but I had no clue what the shared files were all about. And the same on my colleague’s end as well.
After meeting, we agreed to creating sub folders in each unit: Lesson Notes / INBs – foldables; Practice tasks/ Skills development; Formative Assessments; Summative Assessments / Projects. We devised a file naming system – targeted the Unit Name, Lesson / concept title, what the task was specficially. Though it has helped, it has really brought to light something I struggled with years ago.
I began feeling overwhelmed – sometime during the peak of Pinterest – Oh that’s so cool, I’ve got to do that! I love that idea – yep, gotta add that to the unit. Yes! Another game or sorting task – add it too! Add them all! And that is when I began falling. I had become a hoarder teacher – what? Yep, I wanted to collect AND use ALL of the activities. And at some point, I believe I really tried to do just that. Noone questioned me. Noone asked the tough questions – of why / purpose of the task. I just did everything that looked fun.
Somewhere along the way, looking down at a never-ending list of activities on our unit organizer one day, I asked myself – what has happened? How do I eliminate from the list? All I wanted was to engage learners. But were they really learning what I had intended to teach? I over planned – too much stuff. But I loved it all. So much of it was truly effective – or so I thought – but there simply was not enough time to do.it.all. Something had to change. It was me.
I began asking myself several questions as I scrolled through the lists –
- Does this really teach/help students learn a target? Or it is just something I love doing, its fun, but does it really focus on a given standard for my course?
- How can I reorganize the task – in a way that allows it to efficiently help students work toward our given goal?
- Do I have real evidence that this task is truly impacting student learning in a positive way?
- What exactly will students know and be able to do / better understand after completing this task?
- Does this task have a good reflection built in? Do I need to create one? How can we revisit the big ideas of the task and make connections both mathematically, between student ideas and even to contexts outside of math class?
- When I have two equally good tasks – how do I choose between them? The answer is simply – look to my students. Chances are I have used the tasks in the past – I know which type of learner a task is best suited for. Heck, I may use one of them during 2nd block and the other one during 4th. It really is whatever is best for students.
Though it has been difficult to let go, I have slowly begun to choose more purposeful tasks when planning the unit. But I’ve placed the “old” tasks in a digital folder within the unit – which will give me another resource, should my choices not benefit a particular group of students.
A true backwards planning has helped me follow-through. My colleague and I have a list of targets – we tweak and update versions of assessments – to ensure we have the end in mind. Every question falls under a section titled with the intended learning targets. We discuss the purpose of every question and what we are wanting to see about student learning – is it assessing what we think/thought it was?
It is from here, I can begin analyzing a task, before I add it to our unit schedule. And I start with this question –
What is the purpose of the activity?
Is it for learning?
- A foldable for summarizing notes / big ideas?
- A foldable / other INB insert to organize some examples of situations / problems to solve?
- A vocabulary – activity?
- An investigation?
- Scaffolded discovery activity?
- Problem solving task for small groups?
Is it for assessment?
- A check for understanding that leads to formative assessment?
- If so, how will I know that they know if I choose to use this task?
- What is/will be the follow up action if they don’t know?
Is it for practice?
- Skills development?
- Applying vocabulary?
- Transferring ideas to other contexts / learning?
When I decide the purpose of the activity, I am more able to know where it should be placed in the sequence of learning. It is true, many of these tasks have multi-fold purposes – now I specifically note what I will use it for and how it will inform my instruction, what actions should follow in certain situations.
In doing this, I have had to let go of some of my favorite tasks from years past because they were not doing what I needed them to do. I did not dispose of them completely – because with work, I believe some will be worthy and more purposed for using again.
The other tough thing is – when I do run across an amazing idea – I have to let something else go. Will this new task be better than the old one? How will it get across the big ideas? How will I know students have learned? But the reality is, I cannot do it all.
Now, when I look at an activity and run through these questions – I try to figure out why I used it to begin with and is it able to move students in the right direction. Now I am becoming more aware of the the differences in activities and their purposes. I can be more confident in the usefulness of what I am choosing and have greater impact on student learning.
What challenges have you run into when planning your lessons and units? How do you determine the better learning task? What suggestions would you make to someone who is trying to “use it all”?
Great post Pam,
I found that I had to develop a plan too to assess which activities, lessons, tools, and resources would fit in my class. The criteria I developed streamlined how I evaluate all of those new ideas. It inspired an ignite talk I gave last year. You can see my criteria here if you want. http://mrorr-isageek.com/being-picky-ignite-session-oame-2017/
thanks for the link!
I’m not a classroom teacher so … I can wallow in potential all I want. I’m really thankful I got on board some online groups where we really did have to FINISH things.
Now, I did succeed today 🙂 in making a geogebra app for putting numbers on number lines, and watched a student get better at understanding using it. (https://www.geogebra.org/m/VYqNytEr ) …
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