Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Putting students in control of their learning

In the last couple of years, I've worked to really clarify exactly what skills I expect my students to learn. The assessment system makes it crystal clear what skills students know and don't know. And then I realized: Oh wait - it's only crystal clear to me. Students focus on their test scores, and come in to retake and improve tests, but they really don't think about what mathematical content they need to develop - only what test number they need to retake. I still have a few students who insist on retaking skills tests even though they haven't done any work to learn the skills that they got wrong the first time. Even when this fails to produce the results they want, they still resist actually working with me to learn the skill.

I think that helping students really understand what the individual skills consist of, and what their personal ability level is on each skill, is really the next step. I want students to understand the connection between their level of numeracy and their success in mastering algebraic concepts. I also want students to make connections between their behaviors in class and their growth (or lack of growth) in the lesson's objectives. Finally, I want to provide students with greater differentiation so that all students can both feel challenged and successful.

So, I put all of that together into a new plan for beginning and ending class. Students will start class with a 10 minute Do Now that has three parts. Part 1 is a Numeracy Skill Builder that targets a specific elementary math concept that is either key to the specific lesson, or something that students have been struggling with. Part 2 consists of one or two algebra concepts that are the lesson objectives. These are broken into basic, proficient, and advanced levels. The proficient level is the form in which the concept will be tested on a skills test. Students are told to solve only one problem in each concept, at the level they feel most comfortable at. Part 3 is a multiple choice test prep question. The purpose of this is obvious, as we need to get students ready for state tests, ACTs, placement tests, and so on.

Students have 10 minutes to complete these problems individually and silently. No helping is permitted here (in general), because the purpose is for students to really get a sense of what they know at the beginning of class on their own. At the end of the 10 minutes, I show the answers so students can see how they did, but we don't spend time actually reviewing these specific problems. I quickly collect the papers.

We have the lesson. Ok.

Now, in the last 5 - 7 minutes, I hand back the papers. On the back, students complete the Exit Slip / Reflection. They are supposed to go back to the Do Now problems, pick one algebra concept, and try a higher level problem. The idea is for them to see how much they can improve in an objective over the course of the class period. So, even if they are only able to accomplish the basic level (when they couldn't before), they can see growth in themselves and feel good about that. Students who already could do the advanced concepts at the beginning of the class have a shot at doing a harder challenge problem, so that they too can push their thinking (my advanced students really like this).

I just started doing this today, so I don't have too much to report about it yet. It seems to have gone well, though it took longer than the 10 minutes because I needed to explain the process a few times until they all got what I was talking about. As it becomes part of the routine, I'll know more about what impact it is really having.

Here is the first one we did, in pdf and word formats.

I'd love to get any feedback on any part of this.

We decided to make the reflection portion into a progress tracker, instead of copying it individually on the back of each Do Now. This log will be kept in a binder in the class. This will allow students to see how they did in previous classes as they are filling out the current reflection. It will also be a very useful document for discussions during grade conferences.


Dan said...

I like this Dan. I've been pretty consistent this year with warm-ups/quick quizzes at the start of class. I'm not so consistent with exit tickets.

Are you going to keep the format more or less the same?

How are you generating these documents? By hand?

Meg Claypool said...

Wow. On the one hand, that is crazy awesome. On the other hand, that is crazy *grin* How are you coming up with these? Cause if I had to write them by hand I would swiftly die. And then what do you do with them all at the end? Reading through them all at the end of the day (much less grading them!) would be revealing, but exhausting. I'm hugely impressed, but I'd like more details about how you're implementing these :)

H. said...

Neat. I'm excited about hearing how this works out. Have you gotten any impression of how the students are reacting to it yet?

Dan Wekselgreene said...

I am generating these by hand, as with everything else that we do in class. We create all the curriculum, as we have no effective textbook. It does take a bit longer to create, but I find that spending the time to really level out the objectives at the beginning helps make the rest of the lesson much easier to plan.

In terms of implementation, we decided to make a change to what I originally posted. The whole idea is for students to be able to track their own learning, and to tie it back to their behaviors in class. So the reflection sheet has been condensed into a tracker log. We'll keep that log in class, and hand it out at the end of each period for students to do their reflection on as the exit ticket. That way, students can see how they are doing from day to day, and we can discuss the trackers with the students during grade conferences.

So far, I've used the do now format only twice. The first time was with a review lesson, and I think it was much more effective than the next time, when we introduced new material. I think it's still a reasonable thing to do with new material, as it then functions as a diagnostic. But students who don't know the skill already tend to get a bit flustered at being asked a question that they haven't seen before.

I have to think more about how to use these Do Nows effectively. I want to do it at least once per week so that students really get used to it. But if it doesn't work with the lesson, then it may be counterproductive.

I'll post more about it in a couple of weeks when I have more data to share.

Dan Wekselgreene said...

Meg, in terms of grading them, I just look at them and put a checkmark on it if it is reasonably complete. (I don't even record it in my gradebook. Shh...) I don't really look closely at the details of each problem, because that would be impossible to manage. I mainly look to see what problems they attempted, and at their reflections to get a sense for how the class went, in their opinions. I really want this to be something that helps them self-assess, but it must be done in a way that is manageable for me. I don't have all the mechanics fine-tuned just yet...

Brenda said...

Dan, I just found your blog and am very impressed by what you're doing for your students. I also teach algebra to students on the two year track. I really like the idea of having students reflect on their behaviors at the end of the day. So often these students just don't know how to be "successful students", they haven't yet made the connection between paying attention, doing their work and behaving in class and getting good grades. You have some great stuff here on your blog. I'll definately be back for more. Thanks

iTeach said...

Dan, I'm trying something similar to you (in theory, not neccesarily the same in practice). We threw the book out and are going in increasing order according to skills. The entire lesson is designed like this according to specific skills. The warm-up is the review skills, the "lesson" is students working on leading focus skills, and students who are ready may move on to the secondary skills. At the end of class, I put up a problem (like the focus skill) that they answer on a sticky note and place on a chart under "I get this", "I sorta get this" or "I'm totally lost" (self-assessment). I check them at the end of each day (with three of these classes though, I can't record 90 sickies- shhh) and use this as a formative assessment to guide me in the next day's activity. I explained on my blog more about this and posted an "activity". I'm going to keep watching your blog to see how yours goes and hopefully come up with a "perfect" system :) Thanx for sharing!

Mrs. Fuller said...

I love this idea! I follow a similar format, but I am not as organized and methodical & I'd like to improve that. This sounds like it will work well with Mr. Meyer's dy/dan assessment system that I'm using this year! http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=346