Feedback with Flair #greenpens


In recent weeks, I have been re-reading Wiliam & LEahy’s Embedding Formative Assessment.  @druinok has shared that ASCD Express had many articles on Feedback in the most recent issue.  Somewhere in the reading / discussion, I recalled hearing about a green pen.  Who was it?  Almost immediately, @druinok shared a link, which led to other’s posts as well.

From Amy Gruen over at Square Root of Negative One…  a progression of her posts as her use of green pens evolved…

Green Stars, 2010

Bell Work Bliss Gone Bad 2011

Green Pen is the New High Five 2012

Giving Immediate Feedback without Breaking a Sweat  2015

And from Simplifying Radicals

Amy mentions Frank’s Orange Pens… in one of the posts.  My colleague and I have a similar system set up with our semester long spiraling Equations & INequalities Units.  You can read about it here.  I have everything updated and ready to begin next Monday for the Spring Semester!

Yes – this was the idea I was looking for – I believe it was @marybourassa who shared they use a pen on quizzes / assessments when giving students support, this way she knows who / how much she has given input.  I have tried this on several occasions and love that it feels like I have annotated our conversation right on the student’s paper.  AND  I can quickly see what the student did with our conversation as well.

Sometimes bellwork seems so, uh, I don’t know – useless.  Students wait on me to give the answers and just copy it down.  This way – I work with 4 or 5 students up front, then they become the teacher.  I can be available to those who are really struggling.

I have done this strategy before in my senior class last year.  It was pretty successful for the most part.  Yes, there are a couple of students I had to keep an eye on – but isn’t that sometimes the case?  I really have no idea why I’ve never carried it over to my Algebra I.

Well, guess what?  My green pens are ordered.

green flair

I’ll let you know how it goes!  And yes, I did order the Flair!  #feedbackwithflair



Reflecting on Feedback



Funny how things kind of pile on to hit you in the face!  @druinok and I are revisiting Wiliam & Leahy’s Embedding Formative Assessment;  The current issue of ASCD Express is filled with articles focused on feedback and our first day back with faculty this semester- we had a PLC about Formative Assessment & Feedback.  Though this post was more about success criteria – there are several comments concerning feedback.

Chapter 5 in EFA2 was a bit frustrating.  Initially it felt like it was saying so much of the research on feedback was not useful…for several reasons.  But as I read and later watched this presentation (while sansone walking for my cardio!) – there were some big ideas that stuck out to me…well, hit me in the face.

How when done incorrectly, feedback can have a negative influence on learners.  Some things were obvious, but others were definitely worth noting.

How we should not be expected to give thorough feedback on every single thing.  He suggested the 25% idea.  25% of the work is self-assessed, 25% of the work is peer assessed, 25% of the work is skimmed by teacher, 25% of the work received thorough feedback.  Hmmm.  This feels doable.  I have felt so overwhelmed at times in recent years.  And I also wondered if by giving too much written feedback, does it become common and expected, therefore losing some of its ability to drive student achievement forward?

The article we read during our first day back AND Wiliam in this book both said without any follow-up action, formative assessment is essentially useless.  The article said – “it is not fair to students to present them with feedback and never give them the opportunity to use it.”  In his book, he said, IF its important enough for students to use the feedback, then you must find the time to allow them to do it in class.  Ouch.  But when?  We can’t possibly get everything in!!!

This is the pie in my face.  As I was planning the FALs for my classes, I realized – that giving students feedback on their pre-assessments…being intentional with the wording, expecting them to do something with it…either answer a question, extend a pattern, redo a part of the problem, look at a specific piece of their work, sketch a new picture…

Oh my goodness.  That’s it!  When we pass back the pre-assessments… usually a few common things happen…

  1.  The student is given a few minutes to revisit their work and read the feedback, then attempt to use the feedback and make their response better..  then
  2.   The student is paired or in a small group and they all use their feedback to create a group response to the task.  OR
  3.   After the lesson, students are given an opportunity to revisit the initial task and/or a similar but different task.  I usually copy these front/back – this allows me to flip over and see their initial work, feedback and see if they were able to clarify misconceptions and correct mistakes.

How might I use this idea to implement into my other tasks/lessons?  The time to “ACT ON the FEEDBACK” was embedded into the lesson.  Lightbulb!

Generalizing Patterns: Tiling Tables


Last fall after instructional rounds, one of the observers asked me if I would mind having some folks visit my classroom.  Sure.  They were most interested in questioning, interactions with students and use of Formative Assessment Lessons (FAL).

When they emailed to set up a date, we agreed on January 10.  Oh, wait.  This will be the beginning of a new semester with new students.  I won’t really know them.  They won’t really know me.  Great.  Now, I’m scared.  Oh well, let’s look at the positive – this will give me a chance to try out a new lesson.

I printed off 3 lessons to look at the evening before students returned to school.  I liked all three.  Building complex equations seemed perfect, so I began to prepare for it.  We were out for weather our second day back.  As I began looking over my lesson plans, it seemed the Tiling Tables was a better fit for the upcoming unit, so I switched gears.

I had done this lesson a couple of years ago, but never taught it in class.  As I began to revisit the task, I knew I liked it.  I knew it would offer some good discussion on ways to extend the patterns.  But wait.  These students barely know what a parabola is.  Would they have a clue as to how we would write an expression for a quadratic relationship?  Would I have a clue as to how to introduce it, this early in the semester?  No.

So I pondered for a while.  I would simply use the task as a way to say, we have the knowledge and tools to do parts A and B, but part C, well – that’s what we will be learning later in the semester.  It would give us a reason to learn it later, right?  Goodness.  What a canned comment.  By now, we had another snow day, so our visitors would be in our classroom on the 4th day of instruction.  I was stressing just a bit.  What was I thinking?  Starting off a new class with a FAL I had never used before?  We needed time to build some rapport.  Too late.  Let’s go with it.

I gave students the pre-assessment:

table tiles 1table tiles 2

The class was divided pretty much 3 ways – Those who doubled the number of tiles, after all – a side length of 20 is doubled to get 40, right?  The second group had sketched the designed on the the grid paper which had been provided, however, they wrote answers for the 30 cm table instead of the 40 cm.  And finally, several had the correct number of tiles by extending the pattern on the grid paper.  But I ask how efficient this strategy would be for, say 300 cm table?  Hmmm.

We began the lesson the following day by giving 3 samples of work.  Last school year, I figured out, I could save paper by having them use the shop ticket holder sleeves to hold the sample work – allowing them to draw, sketch, etc with dry erase.

These instructions would help their discussions:

samples discuss

The first sample was Leon:


After some small group time, we shared our thinking with the whole class.  There was one student in particular who had confusion all over their face.  I encouraged them to ask the person sharing for clarification (using our starter stems).  I believe this is important to model and have them do early in the semester, so they become more comfortable with it.  Even with more explanation, they were still not seeing the pattern.  So another student shared.  Still no help.  Finally, a third students explained how they saw the pattern.  The confused student nodded and said, “Okay, I got it.”

Now, years ago, I would have said – great and moved on.  But I’ve learned…ask them to explain it to you.  They may say they’ve got it – just so you will move on, but how do you know they understand?   This student, however, could explain their thinking and were correct – they could even extend it to the next table size.

The next student sample was Gianna:


So many more of the students picked right up on Gianna’s approach.  The confused student – smiled stating they liked / could see this one better.  For me, it was listening and watching the students discussing – that brought me an a-ha!  This is the example we will use to generate the quadratic expression I was worried about!  The total whole tiles would equal (step x step) + (step – 1)x(step-1)  Yay!

Finally, we had Ava’s sample:


Many of the students could not make the connection with the side lengths on Ava’s sketches in the beginning.  Then they began going back and looking at their own sketches to verify the numbers Ava recorded in the table.  They noticed the same patterns and agreed with them.

After this final discussion – we went back to see if each student had answered the task fully.  We quickly realized though there was some good, correct thinking going on in their work – they had not addressed the questions completely.  The class agreed that Ava’s was the most complete with her table.  And it was interesting to hear their discussions of how they would explain to the other students how they could expand their responses to be better and more thorough.   One student even brought up it was challenging trying to figure out their thinking since there was no written explanations of what they were doing.  (I thought – yes, this is what I feel like sometimes too.)

As we continued discussing having thorough answers – I shared Ava’s data in a graph…  they were quick to see the quarter tiles always remained four and the half tiles being linear, a focus from 8th grade.  But what about the total tiles.  How can we write an expression to model that data?  And I took them back to the slide with Gianna’s work to look for patterns between the table size/step number and the total whole tiles.  We test our thinking with different sizes and it worked.  We tested our expression in Desmos…and what?  It hit all of the data points!

desmos-graph tiling tables

They had some experiences with the visual patterns – and good feedback to me about liking them, but still having to think.  This task reinforced some of those ideas.  IN their reflections – though many may have preferred someone else’s sample work – they “saw” how Gianna’s work led us to a more efficient expression or even Ava’s approach to orgaznizing the data in a table was pretty helpful to see the patterns so we could find describe the expressions.

Total Tiles = 4 quarter tiles+ 4(n-1) half tiles + n^2 + (n-1)^2  whole tiles.

I will definitely be using this lesson in my future.  It brought just enough confusion, but great opportunity for sharing and discussion.  And the observations were great.  Students were not shy.  At the end of the day – I was amazed we had only been together for 3 or 4 days… wow, this is going to be an outstanding semester!

Interpreting Distance Time Graphs


On the 3rd day with a new group of students, I had visitors from some other districts in our classroom.  I was nervous – I really didn’t know these students yet and they certainly didn’t know me.  I had chosen Interpreting Distance Time Graphs lesson from MARS to begin our semester.  Although this is listed under 8th grade, it leads to some great discussions and uncovering of ideas and misconceptions.   The Keeley & Tobey book also lists “Every Graph has a Story” in the Formative Assessment Strategies.  This was the ideal lesson to introduce our first unit on functions, while trying to be intentional with planning FAs.



Telling students it is only for feedback, not for a grade seems to drive most of them to really share their thinking.  After reading their responses, I had some ideas of how I wanted to change the lesson up a bit from times past.  The first time I ever used this lesson was around 2011-2012.

Let the Lesson Begin

We began our actual lesson with only the graph in this picture.  I asked students to jot down 3 things they noticed about the graph.   Pair share.  I called on students randomly with my popsicle sticks, then allowed for a volunteers (this was something @druinok and I had read in EFA2, which allows everyone to be heard).    We then read the scenarios aloud and at the table groups, they discussed which story was model by the graph.

tom intro

Next I took one of the scenarios we didn’t choose and asked them to sketch a graph on their whiteboards to model it.  We had about 5 different overall graphs – I drew on the board and let them discuss at their tables which they agreed/disagreed with.  Then we shared our thinking.  Some very good sketches and great discussions.

Open Card Sort

Many years ago, a colleague shared the idea of open sorts, something she had learned from a John Antonetti training.   I instructed students to remove only the purple graphs from their ziploc bags.  (Side note suggestion- use different colors of cardstock and this allows them to quickly grab the cards they need, ie the purple graphs, green scenarios OR blue tables.  I used to have all the same color and we wasted a lot of time sorting through which cards we needed).  In pairs, they were sort the graphs any way they wished, the only requirement, was they must be able to explain why they sorted them as they did.  Again, sharing whole class led to seeing some details we had initially noticed.  If you’ve never done an Open Sort – let go and let them show you their thinking.  You might will be amazed and wonder why you’ve never done this before.  They love to think.  We should let them.

List 3 Things

A couple of years ago, I began asking students to list 3 things they noticed or knew about their graphs – anytime we were interacting with a graph.  IF you ask them to do this enough, it eventually becomes habit.  I also like this approach because it gives them a chance to survey the information in the graph before they start worrying about / answering questions.  Today, I asked pairs to label their whiteboards A – J and I set the timer.  They had to share/discuss/jot down 3 things about each graph.  Once again, I used popsicle sticks to randomly call on a few students.

Graph & Scenario Matching

Using the “rules” listed in the lessons powerpoint, students were then given time to discuss and match graphs to the scenario.  This went so much quicker than times I’ve done this lesson before.  I believe it was because they had already interacted with the graphs twice…they were not “new” to them.  I will definitely use the Open Sort and Name 3 Things before matching tasks in the future.

I gave them a chart to record their matches.  We then shared out our matches.  Each time, I neither confirmed or disputed their matches, but rather would call on a couple of other students to agree/disagree.  After some discussions, I came back to the original student to see if they agreed / disagreed with their original match.

One of my favorite graphs is this one –

not possible graph

And our final sorts…  And again – Scenario 2 is always up for some debate.  It reads: Opposite Tom’s house is a hill.  Tom climbed slowly up the hill, walked across the top and then ran down the other side.


Though every student did not get every match exact, there were several a-ha’s during the lesson and questions asked.  I look forward to reading their post assessment.

I’ve used this lesson as written many times with much success.  However, just making some adjustments prior to the matching made a vast difference in the amount of time students needed to complete the task.

Let me know how this lesson has gone / goes for you if you use it.

Healthier Choices Challenge – a School Wide Challenge

We all know that we are are best selves when we are our best selves.  Not so much a resolution, but we have done this 3- week challenge several times in our building. The big idea is just to be intentional in our choices.  But many times, its about the accountability.  For some a little competition helps us along.  Wanted to share, it may be something you could do with your staff.
RCHS 2018
Healthier Choices January Challenge
Did you know… 
If you lose 7% of your current body weight, through better lifestyle choices – diet low in fat & calories, 150 minutes/week physical activity, you may lower your chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes by at least 50%?
As an Institute within NIH, NIDDK conducts and supports research on many of the most common, costly, and chronic conditions to improve health.
We will begin next Monday, January 8th!
Challenge #Better Choices   
Earn up to 20 pts. per day 
Most points win!  If tie, prize will be split between winners.  
Food Journal may be handwritten or in an APP.
  • at least 30 minutes walk or cardio
  • 64 oz water intake  
  • *Nutrition goal met
  • Food journal
*Different people have different nutritional needs, you set your personal daily intake goal based on whatever your dietary needs may be (calories, fat, carbs, etc., monitor your intake.  If you meet your set goal, you earn your 5 points!
Challenge #2 Weight Loss  
Highest Percentage Lost wins!  IF enough participants, top male & top female will be awarded.
We are not interested in your weight.  You record it.  You calculate your total percentage lost & report that to us at the end of the challenge.  Final Weigh-in 1/29/17
Challenge #3   Steps
Most Steps wins.
Record you daily step totals.  Report 3 week total as of midnight 1/28!  
(There will be a link emailed shortly to join a go365 challenge.  You must have the APP downloaded and join the challenge using the APP.  The invitation link will not work on a desktop.  Also, the go365 step challenge is a 4 week challenge, so we will only report the first 3 weeks.)
Overall Winner
 We will award points based on order of finish for each of the 3 challenges and tally those for participants in the overall challenge.  
We make it into a competition between faculty and staff who wish to participate.  Some will actually participate without the competition and that is perfectly fine!

You choose which challenges you wish to join.  $5 per challenge. IF you chose to participate in all 3 AND the overall, it will be $20 total.  Prizes will depend on number of participants in each category.  

Copies of recording sheets can be picked up from mail room bulletin board.

I’ve Been Bad at Math Since 5th Grade…


My afternoon class is going to challenge me – to win them over – to change their attitude toward math.  One of the first comments from a student – “I’m going to cry.”

“But why?” I asked.

“I’m bad at math.  I’ve been bad at math since 5th grade.”

I replied, “Oh, now my heart is crying.”  The student looks at me just a bit crazy.  “Because you believe that about yourself.  It makes me sad.  Will you be open enough to give me a chance to change your mind?  your attitude?”

She says, “If you promise to help me.”

I asked, “Are you willing to think?  Beecause I don’t believe in mathy-people and non-mathy people.  I only believe there are those who are willing to think and those not willing to think.”

She smiled and said yes.  High fives.

Later in the class, I returned to her comment that made me sad – because I don’t want any of you to believe you are bad at math.  I turned to her and said, Repeat after me.  I am an awesome math student.”  She did.  We repeated it a couple of more times.

This group is going to challenge me.  But I believe they just need an opportunity to share their point of view.

One of their responses on the name tent… I really wish I could understand math the way other people do…

I left school today with an urgency, a fire I have not felt in a while.  I hope I can give them opportunities that will let them feel successful and change their minds…

First Day Seating…


I missed an opportunity today.  First day back. New semester.  New students.

I read somewhere once that you should give students directions on where to sit when they enter your room on the first day.  Either a table/row or seat number.  Though they say they like to choose their own seat.  The article stated – it removes stress for them on the first day.

Hmmm.  They enter the room, pause, get  their bearings, scan the room to see if they know anyone.  Where to sit, who to sit with, who to not sit with…and it wasn’t just my 9th graders.  It was my 11th/12th graders as well.  These were all new students, save a few from homeroom, none of them had ever been in my classroom before.

I watched it all. day. long.  I had never payed attention to it before, but after reading that – I failed to have a seating plan in place when they entered.  The entered the room.  Paused.  Scanned the room.  I could hear their thoughts – “Who do I know?  Where should I sit?  Who do I sit with?  Who do I not sit with?”  And I was sad for some of them.  I missed an opportunity.  I won’t miss that one again.

I’ve already sent myself reminders prior to the beginning of next school year – to make sure I have a plan in place.  I had my tables marked, all I had to do was direct them to the mathematician labeling their table.



A couple of A-ha’s Whiteboards & …


I always knew students jump right to it when they are able to use the whiteboards.  I’ve read the evidence of how much quicker they get started with #VNPS – but why?  I really never wondered, didn’t even care.  Just happy they are more engaged and at least attempting the problems.

But this weekend, during a chat with @druinok about EFA2 book, it was like an explosion in my head.  They love the whiteboards, because they can be erased.  IF they should happen to make a mistake, it is erased, not recorded for future reference.  Wow.

The other thing that hit me today was a statement by a colleague.  They use a set of ACT prep bell ringers.  She said, they just sit there, not trying, because they know I will go over it.  Flashback to my Tim Kanold training this summer…  I remember him saying – stop going over it in class, but I cannot remember what he suggested.  I will need to pull out my notes and those hot pink post-its from the training.

Anyway, I am just posting this – for my own reference as I continue working on growing this semester.

Man on Fire & Success Criteria


During our PLCs today, we watched 4 short clips from the movie Man on Fire to illustrate how our students sometimes feel – defeated, down on themselves;  but a good teacher will come alongside, point out a student’s strengths, but also their area for growth;  we often may not like working on something that makes us feel like we fail – but with focus, feedback and perseverance, we can grow…  maybe even win the race.

man on fire

He says to her – there is no such thing as tough – either trained or untrained.  I believe this goes along with “there is no such thing as a math-brains.”

Anyway, some good reminders today of what formative assessment is and is not.  My big take away was being reminded we can do lots of cool things to collect information on student learning, but until we reflect on it and have a follow-up action– its all useless.

Checking for understanding can also lead to developing better study skills for our students – successful students restate material in their own words;  ask themselves questions about the material; and think of examples related to material.  This reminds me a lot of what we read in P. Brown’s Make it Stick a couple of summers ago.

We wrapped up the session discussing feedback – that helps students formulate new goals and action plans – eventually toward higher achievement.  Helping students focus on what they do know, maybe by using plus and delta…

Two things in the article we read stated “it is not fair to students to present them with feedback and never give them the opportunity to use it;  not fair to present them with constructive feedback – then use it against them in a grade or final evaluation.”

In some of her sharing, she told about a math teacher who had success criteria defined for each of her learning targets.  This made me think of the level-up quizzes I played with a couple of years ago and made me want to learn and do more of them.


So I asked her if we could work on that some this semester.  I am looking forward to improved lesson planning this semester.