Rookie Year: Day 36

I had a really rough first half of the day, but yesterday’s post sounded so negative I’m just going to describe my current set up for the classroom and how I have been doing things.

I have the desks arranged in groups of 3 currently. I had a discussion with folks on twitter one time about ideal group numbers and they shared a study that argued that 3 was the ideal grouping, but I have my doubts based on how it’s gone so far. I may try pairs soon. But right now they are in groups of three. They are still struggling with group work (but I did get some GREAT conversations today out of some of them).

At the beginning of each class they start on a bellringer which is already on the board for them. I usually make the bellringer simpler questions from the previous day’s lesson to help them review and build confidence.  While they are working on the bellringer, I walk around the room. I am checking:

  1. Attendance and ID (all students must have ID at all times)
  2. Bellringer (They just needed to have started it. I did this on the advice of a co-worker because none of them would start the bellringer. If they haven’t started by the time I come around, they don’t get credit. Not right or wrong, just started. Then I can also answer questions to help them solve it.)
  3. Homework. (So far I have never assigned more than 6 problems for homework and I like to stay in the 3-6 range. I told them that homework is practice so I don’t grade homework for correctness, only for attempt. So I just scan their homework and see that they attempted all of the problems. This greatly reduces my paperwork as I am not taking in 60 homework papers every day. They could of course scam my system and not really do the work but just write bad attempts and I’d give them credit, and I told them as much. But I also told them that the price will be that they don’t understand the concepts when the tests and quizzes roll around. Most of them don’t try to cheat the system. The ones that would just simply don’t do the homework.)

After this I go over the bellringer and ask if anyone has homework questions. The homework questions are rare. Recently I have tried having them write their solutions to the homework on the board while I am walking around. There’s not a lot of buy-in yet, but I’ll keep working on it. I want them to have something to do and engage in when the finish the bellringer in case I have not finished checking. I don’t want down time.

Then we move into whatever lesson activities I have planned for them. This could be direct instruction and note taking, a group activity, or individual practice of concepts we have already learned. In the first I am up front at the white or smartboard addressing the whole class, asking questions to different students and interspersing think-pair-shares. In the other two I am circulating the room, answering questions and getting students back on task. There is a lot of “getting back on task”.

Then at the end of each class I have an exit ticket made from a google form. This has been a great way to easily collect all the exit tickets and keep track of who submitted.

I have been giving them a concept quiz weekly. Some of the questions are on new material and some of them cycle back through old ones in case they need another attempt. I don’t think they really understand the hybrid SBG system I am using because they don’t understand SBG and I blame myself for not being ready with it at the beginning so that I could fully explain it at first. I’m going to stick with it though.

At the end of the unit I give the common unit test that every algebra teacher in the department gives. All of us try to stay roughly at the same spot, so generally I have a deadline for the end of a unit. I try to use the quiz as halfway feedback to the students in preparation for the end of unit test, but I don’t think it’s clicking for them that if they don’t know how to do the questions on the quiz then they won’t know how to do the questions on the test. This lack of seriousness also plays out when we do group work. The consequences don’t seem real, I think. I’m not sure.

I enter the grades for the homework, bellringer, and exit ticket at the end of each day to give my students immediate feedback. These are mostly participation grades but I’m hoping it’s a daily reminder that they need to be on task. This has largely worked except for a few for whom it’s just not clicking. Those are my tough cases. I’m still working on it.

So that’s my general set-up.

Today specifically I had two things for them to do: A quiz and an application of inequalities activity that was a cobbled mess of a textbook “project” and questions of my own design. It was not as good as I thought it was when I first wrote it, haha.

In first block I didn’t manage the clock well. I didn’t leave enough time for the quiz BUT most of the students finished the project, which was good. (I had planned for the rest to be homework because I really wanted them to quiz today, but I’m trying to look on the brightside here.)

In second block I overcompensated for the clock mismanagement and asked the class which they wanted to do first. This was the first mistake. There was a large argument between students about what they wanted to do. My second mistake was to let them choose without forcing the decision on everyone. Then we had a split class. Half taking the quiz and the other half working on the project. It just was simply too much chaos. I’m sure there’s a good way to have the class all doing different activities at once, but I wasn’t prepared for it and neither were they.

However, some of the best conversations about the project came from second block. I heard students making sense of the triangle inequality and making arguments and explaining to each other. It was beautiful. The most frustrating thing about that is that nothing I did caused them to do that. They just were doing the work. I wish I could get all of them to do it, and I’ve been encouraging them by setting the stage with groups of 3 and class work time and repeated exhortations to work together, but the simple fact seems to be that they only do math together when they want to do math together. Maybe part of it was because I was running around in the chaos and wasn’t available to help them as much as they wanted but they were motivated to do it.

So to recreate that without the chaos I suspect that somehow I need:

  1. Them to be motivated
  2. Me to be out of the way or not as available or something

I can only control number 2 and I have to find the balance so they don’t get frustrated with me if I am too unhelpful. Then they just give up. I don’t know how to create 1. I’ve tried being a nag. I’ve tried being charismatic. (Which I am good at, btw.) I’ve tried participation points. I’ve tried candy.

It comes from them. Hopefully they build more motivation as they go on. I’ll keep coaching them on it.

In third block I went too much the other way. I had everyone do the project and then do the quiz. The class was quieter and I had some students working, but I also lost that student interaction that I wanted. I don’t think very many finished their project before the quiz. I was missing those elements I needed that I had bits of in second block.

I had a blowup from a kid today in one block and some other rebelliousness in first block. I was very, VERY downtrodden at lunch. But third block went much more smoothly.

Tomorrow we will be reviewing for Thursday’s test for which half of my students will swear they knew nothing about.

Thanks for reading.



2 thoughts on “Rookie Year: Day 36

  1. Mike says:

    I would love to see your exit slip Google form sometime. I’ve been trying to incorporate something like that but I’m still doing it on paper and it’s messy and time consuming. So if you ever get a chance to share, I’d appreciate it.

    Every teacher has similar problems that you are having.

    Rarely do things go as well as you think it will.

    Sometimes getting “out of the way” is best. You create the environment, then let the kids be kids. While they might not seem motivated, kids actually do love to learn; especially from each other.

    It sounds like most of the problems you are having are from not enough time teaching procedures and expectations early in the year. GROUP WORK IS HARD TO TEACH AND TAKES A LONG TIME. It pays off though, don’t give up. A first year teacher attempting so much collaborative work is very commendable.

    The end of the quarter can be a great way to “reset”. Spend a day taking to the students about what’s working and what is not working. be very clear about expectations. “During group work I expect to see… I expect to hear…” Then practice practice practice. Find an activity that allows the students to really see what your expectations feel like. Maybe not even math related. I spend the first 2 weeks practicing how to work in groups. We even do role playing activities. Making posters about the expectations can be a great project that gets them involved and allows them to practice.

    Also, have clear consequences for when expectations are not being met. And make sure you let them know. “Billy, this is what I mean by off topic conversation. You will lose points if I keep hearing this type of talk. Sally could use some help with…. Show her how to…”

    Teaching expectations and procedures is so critical. I’m just now learning this.

    Stay positive. Be there for the students.
    Rookie year is tough. It’s worth it. Be there for the students.

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