Thursday, May 8, 2014

My thoughts and ramblings!

What is my biggest take from the book?

I think we are very lucky to be in the school we are.  There must be some awful schools when it comes to homework, assessments, and all of the above after reading all of the common sense approaches to teaching.  We are also very lucky to have support staff to help us along the way.

My excitement lies with the formative assessments (as much as I hate them right now!) because I see that as a great way to help our students succeed in the new common core curriculum.  We need to be constantly looking for ways to improve ourselves as teachers and our students.  This will be a great tool to help us get through to a higher level of common core.  I am nervous about how this is all going to pan out in the end, don't get me wrong, but I see this as a way to help us through the tough roads. 

Time is my biggest fear.  When do we have time to get all this done though?  Between all of our day to day tasks, and helping that last couple students get up to the rest of the class, I see us losing a lot of valuable time "waiting" for some of the students to "get" it.  We currently teach to that middle group of kids and we lose the high fliers at times and the low students, but I see us losing more of that middle group too without the right time management, guidance, and extra help to get everyone moving along.  We all do our best ever day, even when we don't want to, we put our best face on and help the kids with what they are currently battling with.  

Grading is also my biggest enemy, and why?  BECAUSE there always seems to be a growing pile of papers, even when I spend all day grading I never seem to find the bottom of that pile.... there has to be an easier way!!  Especially now with the feed back I try to put on papers, not just a grade or number wrong, I always try to put a little something more.  Then I hand it back, life is great, another pile off my desk and BOOM  they fix their mistakes (because common core says we should let them!) and that pile is back on my desk.... didn't I already grade that paper two times??  I am so happy when they take the initiative though and get that opportunity to improve.  It makes me feel like I succeed too.  Until I grade the paper and then see its another reteach moment.... Lets stay in at recess and do it again to improve our learning, but is it fair Sally has a hard time learning so now she loses all of her recess?  If I don't take the time during recess then when? Should Sally stay after school?

Those are the constant battles of teaching.  Those who can do... those who can't teach?!?!?  Who ever thought teaching was an easy job?  As I finish this blog tonight I realize I better cut it short, we have Mother's Day Projects to do right away in the morning, and papers I need to get graded. Its only 8:00 I have time right?? 

All in all I am happy to read these books and look at everyone's view on teaching. There are many ideas that will always spark an interest and help someone out.  Its the easiest professional development we can do too.

 It makes me think we should write a book.  What would that title be??  7:00 AM Ramblings? Could Leah proofread for us?  Maybe Ashley could work on citing our sources? How about some good quotes from Brian or Kevin?  Those would be great informational based ideas for teachers!  Brenda B could add a little history for us, and Brenda O could write the spanish edition for us!!  Kari and Andee you could set it to music and we could make a fortune!!  Chels will be in charge of our art design (lord knows if you make a 6 foot giraffe with 1st graders you can do anything!) We can't forget about our marketing campaign, that would have to be Mike, Jason, and Jared... we need someone who wears a suit when they are out selling our books.  I will just sit back with Stewart and we will give you guys all the advice you need and add our comments when you need it.  I am sure I forgot someone here who is going to help us in the process of our book, but we know if I am awake, its mostly just listening to myself talk through class so I don't fall asleep! :) 

We are lucky to have had these opportunities.  We need to get more people to take advantage of this though honestly.  Its hard to get moving in one direction when only some of us are seeing where we need to start moving.  I am also getting really confused reading one book with you guys and then talking about last years books with others, I might not be blonde, but sometimes I wonder!! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Well I have completed the formative assessment and I have also went ahead and retaught the skill I had assessed.  We were working on context clues, and this is a very hard skill for some kids.  I am currently looking at some new ideas with context clues so that by the end of the year we might be able to better understand this skill.  I have noticed with such a black and white group of kids, this can be a hard skill.  The words aren't always right there, they also have to infer a little while finding what the word means. Because of this problem, I have found a new unit for inference, that will hopefully help when we are looking for context clues to help us understand new words.  Kids have been trained to give only the RIGHT answer, when in reality there are many RIGHT answers.  My goal is to help these kids understand there is more then one way to solve a problem. 

I had about 2 out of the group of 12 who understood truly understood the context clues sheet we did.  My guess though is if I reassess those 2 with higher level words (they already knew the words they were suppose to be unsure of), they wouldn't know how to use context clues to understand the new words.  So, as of now we are all working on the skill.  I will assess those two next time with harder words to see if they can do this skill. 

I kind of wish I had picked an easier skill to assess, but maybe this will make those easier skills even easier to understand later when I am doing this more often. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Homework Fixes lead to more questions

Grading is the most time consuming part of our job.  Without grading, we wouldn't "formally know" where each child was in the academic adventure, how "proficient" they are, or if they are even aware of the fact there is a teacher in the room. 

Grading is a time honored tradition in our profession that has not changed much over the years. We all went to school and were taught the basics of teaching and grading, but what did that really prepare us for in the real classroom? They mentioned that not everyone does what they are suppose to do and how to help the kids through this. That, they told, us was going to be the toughest part of grading.  The other tough part (that wasn't mentioned) is teachers all grade differently, even in each grade level.  There are a few of us that are honestly looking at the process and how to fix/improve this time honored tradition.
 We aren't following the same tradition the Bison Football team is currently using with their system. We are falling short of the National Championship. I see us starting to turn this over though and its going to be a long road to that National Championship, but I see that we are going in the right direction. The best question we can ask to get moving in the right direction is HOW are we going to get everyone in the same ship? country? maybe even planet? when it comes to improving the grading process.

I keep looking at each assignment and looking at how to fix it.  I am still baffled at how to change this in my grade book.  How do I not grade on the average? How do I keep everything fair, balanced and easy for each parent to understand?  I am a person who needs to see it, ask the questions and then learn.  I keep asking questions that I need someone who has done this new standards based grading to answer.  I want to start this ASAP I am a jump in and lets get busy doing this.  I know we need to make this ours, but why not get out there and see what others are doing and learn from them? I'm at a stand still right now with where we need to go.  I want to start using this informally, but I don't know how or where to start.  I think that would make the rest of this easier to "finish".

I know this is a little "off topic" from our book, but this is where I am with my current classroom.  I am not sure of the next steps.  I was hoping this book would help me with that but it has only caused more questions.  I really want to jump in and start standards based grading because I see that its going to be the best solution to our education system in Rugby.  We can really start to see where each student is, and how to help them.  I wish we were 2 years into this especially with the common core standards now jumping into play.  It all fits together in the end but trying to do both at the same time is an absolute nightmare in my eyes.  We are now trying to figure out which are the best standards to teach (yet they are expected to know them all), how we are going to teach them so everyone reaches proficiency, and how are we supposed to grade them all "fairly".

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Repair Kit for Grading..... part 1

Blogging.... I'm back!

I feel sometimes like I am running a whole new adventure in life when I take a new class.  Every time I read a new education book it makes me stop and think about what else is in store for our education system.  I haven't been here  in the education system for a long time (not as long as some others anyway) but I am considered a veteran because I have hit double digits. So consider me wise and educated and always dumbfounded at the latest, newest, best way to do things!!

Now when I looked at some of the fixes in this book some of them were very obvious; at the third grade level I don't do extra credit. They get a bonus word on their spelling test and that is the only extra points I give. I don't grade based on attendance.  That's an easy no brainer for me... but what if it were participation points in an upper level class?  How do you not grade them based on their attendance??

 One thing I have really been tossing around since I first took a class from Mr. McNeff was how to display the disciple/behavior/compliance piece separately from what these students really know.  I haven't found a great solution yet, but what I have done is a basic student assessment on their behavior in the classroom.  I did it the week before conferences and the kids I found were very honest with their answers.  I did however really like the rubric on page 19 in the book.  This could eliminate the problems so many teachers have letting parents know more often where students might need some extra help. 

I am really having a hard time with Fix #6: Don't include group scores in grades, use only individual achievement evidence.  We do some great group work in third grade.  Every year we do an ecosystem project they do as a group.  Each student is responsible for a different part of the ecosystem and they put it together into a poster.  Now I can grade each individual on their part, but then I look at maybe we just eliminate the project all together????  I NEED third graders to learn how to work in groups.  To me that is something I want them to improve on before they leave my room.  I mean look at our every day lives.  I had to sit by someone at class (I won't mention names KL!) and his first words were... not you again! or something like that! :) We all need to learn to work together, we are faced with people every day!  How do we not expect kids to do group work.  They need to know how to deal with the person who doesn't "do their part".  Yes, I know it doesn't say to NOT do group work, but when they know there is a grade attached to their end product they work a little harder. The peer pressure alone sometimes is enough to make the "slacker" do a little more then they would have. 

My ramblings could keep going on. I am excited to look more at the grading aspect of school.  How can it make my life easier... or more difficult?!?!?  There are some big changes we need to make, especially at the elementary level.  There needs to be more standards based grading, we are really behind many schools that have been doing this for a few years.  Its time to start looking long and hard at how to get this implemented.  Its going to be a tough journey though and there aren't many easy ways to do.  This will hopefully get us going in that right direction and only cause a minor headache to us. 

Blogging... I'm done for now!

Friday, March 1, 2013


How do you start a blog that is so broad? It should be the easiest one to write, but this whole grading debate and how you approach grading has made me stop and think about how I grade. 

Feedback..... that's the biggest area I see is the most important.  How you give the feedback is definitely the most useful.  I love listening to the high school teachers talk about grading.  It makes me realize maybe I'm not the only one who struggles with what and how you give the feedback.  I would love to sit down and have this debate though with more people at the elementary school.  We definitely have different ways, based on our age level, of how we give the feedback.  Sometimes my feed back is as simple as check the vocab word again and copy it correctly.  Most often my feedback is a reminder to capitalize and punctuate a sentence correctly. 

Grading is probably the hardest part of teaching sometimes.  Its the amount of time we put into it that is the hardest.  I would love to see the statistics on the amount of time teachers spend grading.  What I get the most frustrated with at my level is the lack of time during the day to get some of this done.  We get our half hour blocks of time, but I seem to get into my "groove" and am flying along grading when all of the sudden the students need to be picked up.  So I seem to set them aside and then in a few days I look at the pile and try to figure out how it grew!  By that time then my "mood" has changed when it come to grading.  The first half of the kids papers were graded with one "mood" the other gets another "mood".  That's when we get into the fairness debate. 
Its such a long debate it will be never ending.  I don't know if there is one miracle way of grading.  Will there ever be?  I doubt it.  The best things we all need to look at is our personal goals as a teacher.  Each week they are different.  Since my class has finished most of their cursive letters, I look at that now when it comes to grading some assignments.  Are they forming the letters correctly, that might be how one whole assignment is based.  They think I might be looking for more, but that might be the only thing that day or week.  I really harp on it for a while and then lay off to see if they can carry it through without reminders.  Then the next week might be really watching their reading assignments for complete sentences.  Are they using all the basics they know in their sentence writing?  Capital letters? Punctuation? 

I think we could spend so much time discussing everything we have read about it.  Like I said, I would love to sit down and have this debate with more elementary teachers and find my self bringing these subjects up with them more then I used to.  I love having this class to really talk about pressing issues we are facing.  We all have something to learn.  Even if its to just step back and look at how we are currently doing things in our classroom.  I know through this discussion and class many things have changed how I look at the flow of my room. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Grading.... How? When? Where? Why?

Every teacher LOVES to grade, right? It's the whole reason we became teachers!  When else do you get to hold that beloved RED pen and have control over every students current mood....  Little Johnny made me mad last week when he wasn't listen... Insert evil laugh.....   Okay, Leah please don't grade me on this blog!

I always thought total points was the way to go.  I don't weigh grades, use a curve, or anything fun.  I do the occasional completion points for an assignment, and I usually grade every paper that comes on my desk.  Why is the question though, what am I checking for? To see who can regurgitate the information I just spent time discussing?  I never really considered that when grading.  I'm making it a goal to look at other methods of assessing the students to see if they truly know what I need them to know.


Is it necessary? What does it mean? Usually it means the student didn't turn it in.  I am already making a very conscious effort to avoid all zeros by harping non stop on the late papers.  Obviously though we know they will be there.  I really don't see how one missing assignment should determine their overall achievement. Which is why I am in huge favor of  standards based grading its not so much what they did or didn't do but what they actually know.  I think we start small with this process.  One or two classes at a time implement it.  How about K-1 year one, they add 2-3, they next year and so on.  Or if we just start it slowly maybe even a subject a year, we can tackle the task more effectively.


This is where I am really bad.  I am very much in the informal give it as you go feedback person, but not so much the formal write it down on the paper for them.  I am making an effort on every assignment to give them something to look at if they got it wrong.  Maybe restate the question they were having problems with.  This is going to be long journey I would imagine and I really hope I can have the patience to see it through. 

I have really tried to work on the 2x10 method with a student at a time.  I had heard about this from Carol Braaten earlier in the year.  I try to find that short time in the day to hopefully just ask them about their night, what they did, and have the conversation be nothing about school.  Show them that I truly care about them.

  Each student is a gift, we were given these students to help us grow as educators (Yes, even the Little Johnny that made us mad last week!) .  We need to remember they are why we are here, what keeps us going and what we really need them to know.  That's why my grading does need to be evaluated and rethought. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why I think the way I do..... or something like that...

When I look back at my whopping 10 years here in the Education field, I think so far my job has been fun.  I think of the times I get the most frustrated and it is usually when the beloved homework doesn't get turned in!  It is usually a repeat offender. The occasional student who missed one assignment the whole year will usually make it unscathed in my room.  The real question is always, why did "Johnny" or "Sally" forget their homework for the 3rd time in 2 weeks?  Well, when as a teacher you stop seeing the big red F on their paper (yes, some still love to put the F in BIG RED LETTERS!) and look at the real reason they are not getting their work in we see some of the other factors going on in that students life.  One of my first years of teaching I had one of those students, rarely did the work get in and if it did, it was because of some serious bribes.  After some "much needed" lounge talk, a veteran looked at me and said, be happy you even got that student to do it.  They never do their work outside of school. Well the new "I'm going to CHANGE THE WORLD!" teacher in me had just been hit blindsided.  Why wouldn't someone turn in their 4th Grade Math homework? Its the most important thing they are doing!  Why else do they have to do?  hmm..... maybe worry about where their next meal was coming from, worry about the crying little sister at home, and the older siblings on top of everything else. 

I look back and think, was the work that important?  Why did they need to do 30 problems of lattice multiplication?  I was then told only 40 minutes of homework a night MAX!!!  Oh and don't forget our school has a mandatory 20 minutes of Reading every night.  So that cut everything I thought was important into a short 20 minute time slot each night, well we can't forget about their Spelling words (yes, in my eyes they study EVERY NIGHT! hahaha) so that takes at least 10 minutes.  So in all reality I'm down to about 10 minutes of homework I can assign a night.  Well throw in a Science Test and a Social Studies test for the week and you can count Math and English out for that week. 

It was during those times I looked at how much time I spent lecturing and thought about how long it takes to loose a student during the lecture.  The longer you talk, the better chance you have of losing them,  the less time they have for work, the less time they have for work the better chance I wasn't seeing that paper again! 

Now remember, I am an Elementary Teacher! I can control how much work they get from each class and I know the work they get from me better be meaningful and worthwhile.  I have never give a ton of homework, unless they deserved it! (ha ha another teacher joke!) 

I have always probably been labeled the easy teacher, but I look at the life lessons they learn.  I really hope that they learn a little about themselves when they leave my room and how to live a good life too.  Now of course, we can't forget about the Common Core! They need that too!!  Yes, my room might be too noisy for some, but when you look around, there is a love of learning going on, a love of reading, and hopefully a lot of trust too.  I give them enough work to get done in class, but enough to keep them busy when they are working hard.  I have cut Math assignments some, because I can tell if they understand it in one worksheet instead of two.  I also have really looked at some of the worksheets I give and ask myself if it is worth while and going to actually teach them what it is they need to learn.  I am looking forward (yes a little) to the deeper thinking our Common Core is going to bring to us, it won't be about the quantity but about the quality. 

I worked in a Reading program called Success For All once and it was a lot of work for me, don't get me wrong here, but it was one of the better ways to teach some of the deeper thinking.   Each Reading day consisted of some team work building (group work) along with a short reading passage and usually only about 5 questions for the day.  Those questions could ONLY be answered with a sentence and had to restate the question.  Yes, it was fun to teach that, but hard to grade.  They had to really think and agree on questions with their group.  There was a lot more to our 90 minute reading block, but the majority had to do with quality not quantity!  It was wonderful to see those kids deep thinking. 

So I guess you could say as I read the book I understood a lot of what they were talking about and I'm really looking at using some of the parent surveys, and in my level, the cute little smiley faces if I need to assign some homework and hopefully get some good feed back from each parent.   I know everyone is different and I sometimes look back at my education career and I know why each assignment was important no matter how much I hated doing those Anatomy Coloring sheets! :)  I learned and I think as long as we all remember how important it is to make sure our work is of value to these students we will make a student more successful regardless of the amount of work that goes home.  Each of us has our own philosophy and that's what builds a stronger school.  We help the students learn that each person in life is different, no matter what your job is when you are an adult you have to learn to work with (or for) anyone.