Saturday, December 19, 2015

Good Subs

I hate having the flu. I hate missing school. I especially hate missing school on a final day.

This year, teaching speech, drama, and forensic classes means that my finals were performances. I sent my iPad so that the sub could video their finals.

Thank heavens for a young sub. My iPad ran out of storage after 1st hour. My sub borrowed another iPad, videoed for the rest of the day, and shared the videos on google with me. Rather than just throw up his hands, he adapted and found a way to make it work. I think he is going to be a darn good teacher.

Oh, and I forced myself to go back to school for the 2nd day of finals and am now down again. I hope I am over this junk before Christmas.

Major bummer to go into break this way.
Wishing everyone a Wonderful Holiday break!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Not So Necessary

This app has been a nice addition to the holiday classroom.
Fireplace 3D. If I can't have the real thing, this is pretty darn close. In fact, with this free app you get the dancing fire and the crackling sound of burning logs. I project it from my iPad.

Some students swear my room feels warmer, and today, I would have sworn I smelled smoke.

OK. Maybe we're all losing it.

I don't know the last time I enjoyed a free app this much.  (I might be compensating for the lack of windows in my classroom.)

Sometimes, it's the little things, folks!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Necessity...

Yes, it really is the mother of invention. I'm sure I saw this on Pinterest, and it has been a lifesaver this year. There are three doors coming into my room. (Three!) Each of those doors is a "Columbine" door, meaning they are made of cement, can't be propped, and should remain locked most of the time for student safety. This little trick means that the students can enter the room, but we can also be on lockdown really quickly. (Well, as fast as I can sprint to three doors to remove them!)

Swim noodles. They aren't just for swimming anymore.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Interventions: A Necessity for Standards Based Grading

First of all, Tiny Town High is not a Block Schedule School. We have never been on Block Schedule.

Every day, we have seven 47 minute class periods and a 40 minute eighth "advisory" period. This advisory period means that most teachers have somewhere between 13 and 16 students, freshman through senior, for the last period of the day. Block schedule schools might call this their seminar period.

One day a week, advisory is used for club and activity meetings. For the other four days of the week, advisory consists of 20 minutes of silent sustained reading and 20 minutes of study time if needed. (Otherwise, they read for 40 minutes.) Because students are from different grades, the older students will sometimes help the younger students in classes they are struggling with. Truthfully, most of my students read the entire 40 minutes each day. I'd like to think it is because the book they are reading is so exciting that they can't put it down. Chances are pretty good that they are just avoiding homework.

And that brings us to the CHS interventions for struggling students.

If students are compliant (trying) and struggling:
1. A teacher can contact an advisory teacher and ask them to remind the students to use study time to finish an assignment or see if a classmate can help them.
2. The teacher can assign the student to our HUB tutoring room. Students would then report to the tutoring room for the entire 40 minutes of advisory on the day assigned. They would receive help from a teacher, para, or NHS student who is assigned to work in HUB. These three teachers (Math, English, Science) do not have an advisory and run the tutoring room four days a week. All Tiny Town High teachers share a google document where we assign students and then check on their progress. (Students receive a Hub pass/reminder in their 7th hour class, delivered by an aide.)
3. Contacting the parent is always encouraged to let them know that their student is struggling so that they are informed and can help, too.

If a students is noncompliant (not trying):
1. Teachers are to contact the parent. Again, everyone is working together to help the student achieve.
2. The teacher can again contact the advisory teacher and have them require the student to work on assignments during the last 20 minutes of advisory. Nagging An additional reminder sometimes works.
3. Finally, the teacher can assign the student to an academic lunch. Students take their lunch tray to the office where they eat lunch while an administrator oversees the completion of the work. (Fun for all involved!)

Our tutoring center is a great place for a student in need of re-teaching and re-testing on formatives; however, when the majority of the class needs further work, I do the re-teaching in my room during regular class time.

These interventions are incredibly important. I remember the days of Mastery Learning. We created Form A and Form B tests. If students didn't master on Form A, we re-taught those students and then gave them a Form B. If the students mastered on the Form A, the teacher had to create "enrichment" work for them to complete while their classmates were still working. It was a great idea in theory; however, I never felt confident in my "enrichment" assignments. Frequently, I felt there was quite a bit of wasted time.

Tiny Town High's interventions allow students to receive extra help without disrupting the flow of the rest of the class. Some students ask to be put in the tutoring center, knowing they need more time.

I'm not sure Standards Based Grading would be happening at Tiny Town High without these interventions in place.

One last benefit for teachers:  our PLC's now meet one day every week during advisory time. We have a Buddy Teacher who takes our advisory students on our meeting day, and we take their advisory students on their meeting day. Those 40 minutes are a valuable part of our curriculum planning and department work.

I feel fortunate to teach in a school that has made it possible for teachers and students to succeed. Tiny Town High has gone above and beyond to insure success for each of us.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The First Four Concerns About Standards Based Grading

These are the concerns I hear from teachers looking into making the switch to Standards Based Grading:

Standards Based Grading waters down the grades.
    Tell that to my students. Standards Based Grading means fewer students are failing (most can show limited knowledge of a standard), but fewer students are making A's. A student has to work to master almost every single standard.  There is no extra credit to cover for when they have done "B" work. An "A" student is truly an "A" student. There is no grade inflation.

Students should be graded on formatives or practice.
    Some departments do give grades on formatives. (Our math department does.) In English, we don't give grades for formatives. Formatives are just practice. If a student doesn't do well, they can be re-taught and then try again. Re-teaching can be done on an individual basis or for a whole class if they need it. Our school has a tutoring center that students can be assigned to during the school day. (By the way, interventions for re-teaching are absolutely crucial for Standards Based Grading to work.)

Students won't try on formatives if the formatives don't affect their grades.
     I have had no problem with students not trying. Sometimes they will ask me if the quiz or assignment is a formative or a summative. Usually, when I tell them it is a formative, relief is evident on many faces. They jump in and give it a try. They aren't afraid to take a chance and see how they do. Even my students who are going for top grades are relieved because they know that if they don't do as well as they would like, the practice or formative won't hurt their grades.

The material being covered is different from what we used to teach.
    I teach the same material that I have taught for the 37 years before Standards Based Grading. I still teach every unit that I love. We have always taught the standards; we just weren't as focused on each individual standard like we are today.
    I used to teach a unit (covering many standards) and if a student scored poorly on a unit test, I just went on and hoped that they would catch on by the time we finished the next unit. (I would not have been able to tell you what standard the student was having trouble mastering. I would just have a whole unit test score.)
    Now, my units might cover 4-8 standards. If a student scores poorly on a standard, I re-teach or send them to our tutoring center. They have a chance to practice on formatives without fear that practicing will affect their grade. Two formatives for every standard means that by the time they take the summative test, there is a better chance that they can master the standard. (The two formatives and one summative for each standard are usually evaluated during one unit.) Because each standard goes into the grade book individually, parents, students and I all know which standard is mastered and which needs more work.

These are the first four concerns that we usually hear when teachers are thinking of switching to Standards Based Grading.

In the next post, I will share the interventions that our school has in place for re-teaching.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Standards Based Grading 2015-2016

We are now using Standards Based Grading in both Sophomore and Junior English classes. Since there are three teachers using it, there is input, help, and time to strategize in our PLC.

This is our new information sheet for parents and students.
It is very similar to the first one. We just re-arranged some items so it is easier to understand.

I have also been experimenting with ways to track my student data. I started this semester with notebooks where I kept notes on individual students. I still use my paper grade book, as well as the electronic grade book. This nine weeks I am trying to use the comments in my electronic grade book more. The notebooks are where I keep artifacts and details, like the grade sheets on papers or notes about concerns. Every student has their own page. My memory isn't as good as it used to be, so it helps to have some notes.

We have all discovered that Google Classroom is helpful for Quick Writes, Exit Tickets, Formatives, and even submitting essays. Socrative is also helpful for quick feedback on skills.

What have we learned?
1. Never evaluate too many standards on one test or essay. Five is now my maximum; otherwise, it gives me a major headache!
2. Our students have a more difficult time making the coveted "A" grade, but it is also harder for them to fail. (Most can demonstrate at least some understanding of a standard.)
3. Having interventions in place to re-teach is paramount. After a poor formative, individual students need tutoring time. Our school has put several interventions in place for this additional work, including a schedule that supports time for students in a tutoring center run by several teachers, paras, and National Honor Society students.

There are some things that haven't changed much. My grade book looks very similar to what it looked like a year ago when I started Standards Based Grading.

For final exams this year, the English teachers are thinking about having students pick the standard/standards that they most need to improve. They would develop a project that shows their mastery of the standard. I am in the process of developing some guidelines and ideas for those projects. Until I do that, I have a hard time envisioning the final product. My goal is to have the bulk of the work done on this before Thanksgiving.

And that gives you an idea of where we are on Standards Based Grading today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kids Make Me Laugh

My students have been writing professional emails to me. They had to use a professional tone and format. You know: Dear Mrs. E, please/thank you, and a polite closing.

(This assignment MIGHT have come about because of an email I received last year from an "A" student. It said, and I quote, "Hey. I have two D's in your class and I don't make D's. That needs changed." My response to the student was essentially, "Dear Student, Oh yes, you did earn two D's. If you have further questions I will be glad to visit with you. The grades will change when your work does. Have a nice evening.")

This year the students are catching on, but a couple made me laugh. One signed his nearly perfect email with an emoji that is blowing a kiss. Not terribly professional, but he seemed to be going for brownie points.  Quite a charmer.

However, that email was better than the student who started his email with "Hell, Mrs. E."

I am assuming that he forgot the "o" on hello.

Or maybe I am just HOPING that he forgot the o on hello.

Think it is a coincidence that they are in the same class?  And good friends?

Sophomores.

Welcome to my world.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another Look

From one side of the room to the other

The Stage
Yet another arrangement of desks:
individual work, but needed to pass writing around their group. 
The stage lights work and now need adjusting for future performances.
I think this is the first time they have ever been turned on.
I wasn't sure they even worked.
My room is pitch black without classroom lights on, so this will be perfect for small performances.
Lunch Box Theater?
Brown Bag Theater?
We have to come up with a name and the perfect first performance.
Room 502, signing out.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Room 502

This new school year in a different room with three new preps is kicking my buns. One week in, I feel like a forgetful new teacher. So far, I have forgotten to run off papers, post bell work, and take roll in more classes than I care to share. (I'm sure the secretaries love me!)

But...my room looks good. (I'm telling myself that so that there is something positive to say about my first full week.)

This is the ramp leading into my room. You can also see the lights above the stage and the awesome wall decoration my colleague left for me.


This room seems huge to me, though it is hard to tell that from the photos. Twenty foot ceilings will do that for you. Add the small stage and it is challenging to arrange desks. Except for the top left photo above, all the photos are of my north wall. This is where all of my cabinets and my desk are located. The top left photo is the student file section that they can access as soon as they enter the room. The green tile on the floor leads to the entry/exit ramp.
The top left photo is the bookshelf of my teacher books and resources. The next three photos are of my east wall. The bottom two are of my south wall. The double doors in the last picture lead into a big prop and costume closet.  You can also see the exit ramp.

Essentially, I have tried to divide the room in half.  One half is devoted to English with my little class library, book border, and English calendar on the board.  The other half is devoted to Speech, Drama, and Forensics with movie posters, NYC, and their class schedule for the week.

The pictures don't do the room justice. In fact, I'm not sure I do the room justice, but I'm working on it!

This is a fun room for a drama teacher.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Teacher, Reporting For Duty!

The 2015-2016 school year begins for teachers tomorrow. The theme for this year is Creativity.  By encouraging creativity in our teachers, they hope to cultivate the creativity of our students.

Creativity could almost be the theme song for my new classes: Speech, Forensics, and Drama. I am excited to see what we accomplish. My lesson plan/idea notebook is full of activities for each class. I think I am going to be operating outside my comfort zone for most of the year!

English II is undergoing changes also. My new creative young colleague (who is teaching the other half of the English II classes) will insure that a hefty dose of creativity will be part of English II this year, too. I love her take on things and her creativity provides just the spark I need.

All this being said, I am HAVING to get creative in some ways.  Namely, keeping track of student data so this scrambled brain of mine can remember how students performed on formatives and what interventions were used to re-teach. There isn't room for this data in the traditional grade book or the online grade book. I have an idea for tracking this data, and if it works I will share it in future posts.

I feel like I spent most of the summer decorating a non-traditional classroom. After all, not every classroom has a stage in the middle of it. That feature alone has my creative juices flowing already. Hopefully, I can post a video tour of my room tomorrow.

Here's to thinking outside the box and a wonderful 2015-2016.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

August- Back-To-School Month

The calendar says August so that means time to...

...finish the schedule of Dr. appointments.

...sort through my closet, repairing, replacing, and making sure my teacher "wardrobe" (and I use that term loosely) is ready to go.

...schedule a haircut, manicure, and pedicure.  (These appointments become trickier to schedule once school starts.)

...locate my school lunch tote and personal crock pot, then stock the fridge and pantry with lunch-packing items.

...finish any cleaning jobs at home that I left to the last minute.  (Curtains, you know I'm talking about you!)

...shop for the composition notebooks that I'm sure several students will have to purchase from me during the first days of school.

...buy those command velcro dots that I love.  I am always out of them!

...store photos and files on my external hard drive.  (Such a time consuming job, but always good to have a backup.)

...purchase a new school mascot shirt to wear on game days.

I'm sure I've forgotten a few things on my list. (Unimportant things like lesson planning and making copies and...!)

August 1st always tells me it is time to get organized at home and at school. This year, I have nine days to pull it all together. Nine days!  Yikes!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summers in the Education Family

I am a 4th generation educator in our state, and I've given birth to two 5th generation educators. They remember going back-to-school shopping with my mom before they were even in school. As she was shopping for her classroom, they would be treated to cute pencils and folders. (Part of the reason they became teachers? They played school almost every day of their childhood!)

When my daughters and I were all three classroom teachers, we had a system for back-to-school work. We would spend one day working in each of our classrooms.  Day #1 would be in my oldest daughter's high school room.  Day #2 would be spent in my high school English room, and Day #3 would be spent in my youngest daughter's 1st grade room. We'd work, go out for lunch, and laugh a lot.

They taught me to use fabric to cover my bulletin board.  (It doesn't fade like paper does.) At one time, all three of us had the same bulletin board: Starbooks Cafe, imitating a favorite coffee design. I even made a cafe curtain to go over the top of the bulletin board. (I just pitched my faded bulletin board last year. Sadness! It was a favorite.)

Working together this way, I figured out quickly that high school teachers have it made.  Elementary teachers spend hours working on their rooms.  High school teachers do quite a bit less. (My oldest daughter and I would be done with our rooms, and my youngest daughter would spend 5-7 more days working on her room.) The year after a tornado wiped out our schools, I spent hours working on my classroom trailer. For over a week I went to work before breakfast, and frequently my husband brought me supper and helped me work until well after dark.  Finally, I had some idea of what our elementary teachers do almost every year.

My oldest daughter is now my principal/boss. Decorating her office is not a group project. So now, I usually spend two days helping my youngest daughter with her elementary school classroom.  She lives several hours away so this is Mom-Daughter bonding time. Two full days in her classroom makes a small dent in her work, but she will still have quite a bit to do.

This summer I have spent quite a bit of time switching classrooms and decorating the new room.  My youngest daughter is switching schools and grade levels, so she has a new classroom to decorate and organize, too. Unfortunately, her new school had a land shift or sinkhole that postponed teachers getting into the school.  She is just now able to get into her school and is feeling several weeks behind.  Much of the time she would have worked during the first week of August will be spent at new teacher meetings in this new district. Fortunately, I started my room early and am pretty much done. Now as I'm working on her room, I won't be worrying about mine. (Oh, and both girls gave me fits about working at school too much.  I feel like a genius now!)

I will spend the next two days working on a first grade classroom, and getting to know my daughter's new school.  I love the creativity of elementary teachers. I frequently pick up new ideas.Their ingenious ideas inspire me.

You know those coffee mugs and t-shirts that say:  The three best reasons to be a teacher? June, July, and August.  I have always hated them.

Don't get me wrong, I love summer; however, education is a year-round job. Excellence in the classroom doesn't really allow for a three-month vacation. Who am I kidding?  Even "adequate" in the classroom doesn't allow for three months with no thought of our classrooms.  I take a few weeks off and some long weekends, but I've seen several colleagues and most of the coaches in school on a fairly regular basis this summer.  That is probably a pretty good indicator of a great 2015-2016.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Summer Work

Working at school this summer has been different. I'm getting quite a bit done, but it has had a few distractions.
Yes, not every classroom comes equipped with a Pack 'N Play. This little bundle has been keeping me company some of the time.
Most of the time she is asleep, but when she isn't she spends quite a bit of time staring at posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. (Some day her  therapist will talk to her about the effects of early life. yikes!)

Yesterday, my niece brought the bundle's big sister up to see me. The Bug was pretty pleased with her Nana's new classroom.
And Nana's nice neat prop/costume closet?  Well, let's just say it got a work out. Signs of what my students will do to it in the fall??  Yes, probably. (Hopefully, their shoes will be on the right feet though!)

Someone wasn't all that impressed.
Pffff... you're an amateur kid!
Give me a year and I'll show you how it's done!

Kind of amazed I am getting anything done this year.  Photos to come.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Evidence of Summer Work

Before
After

This is/was the prop closet in my new classroom. 
Organization makes me happy. 

P.S. Three full days of work. *sigh

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Weekly Schedule Board

I live four blocks from school. When I have a couple of free hours and I am tired of reading (rarely!), I run down to school to work for a couple of hours. Yesterday, I worked on a place to put the schedule for the three new preps I am teaching next year. (Washi tape and letters taped with double-sided tape to the non-magnetic board. With a magnetic board, I use the same tape but then the adhesive-backed magnets for the letters.)
This negates the need for the students to ask, "What are we doing today?" They always know.  (This board still needs the days of the week added along the side. I'm working on that.)

Maybe a bigger problem than students asking that question was that after I answered it 10 times, my smart mouth would start making up "creative" answers: swinging from the lights, nothing, just looking at each other, taking naps, coloring, etc. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summertime Teachers

Tiny Town doesn't have summer school. If they did, I would probably be teaching it. Instead, I am channelling my teaching skills in other ways.

I have been filing, storing, and trashing paperwork that I have been storing too long in my daughters' bedrooms. Unlike teaching, I boxed up what was left and delivered it to my daughters' homes. I'm sure they were thrilled.

At the end of the school year, I was cleaning out cupboards and closets for the teacher who is teaching in the room next year.  At home, I cleaned out closets and cupboards for my own benefit.  My husband was surprised to see there was a floor in one closet. It was pretty awful prior to the cleaning.

For my new classroom, I cleaned and weeded out things that I wouldn't need.  I gave quite a bit to the art teacher.  At home, I sold quite a few furniture pieces and household goods on a garage sale. Things were priced to go--and they did. Both places are now a bit emptier, and I like that. (Clutter makes me tense.)

I'm still getting up early to walk, though it is 5:30 in the summer and 4:30 during the school year. Unfortunately for them, people can see me walk in the summer-- rolling out of bed and out the door means no makeup or hair combing. It isn't pretty, but no one knows during the school year when it is too dark to see.

At home there is a stack of books on the table beside my chair and another on the dining room table. At school the stacks are always on the counter or a back table. There is always something that needs reading or grading. Piles--there are always piles.

I'm so used to schedules, that I schedule in the summer, too: appointments, vacations, lunches with friends, even hikes at a different trail every week. Yes. I admit it. Just like at school, I have been researching trails, too. Success is always in the planning. It works at school, so I figure it works at home, too.

In the summer I've been known to shush people in movie theaters, caution kids about running at the pool, and stare down an elevator full of teenagers who have pushed the button for every floor.  (Not all of my skills are appreciated, I'm sure!)

Teachers are teachers are teachers- whether we are in school or not. Is it in the DNA?

Monday, June 1, 2015

DIY Lesson Plan Book

We have an in-school printing business; however, I'm sure any copy center could put your lesson plan book together for you.

One colleague formats every page of her book and sends it to our printing business.  I did that last year, but this year I sketched a general idea of what I was looking for, and one of the students developed the pages for me.  I tweaked a few things, changed a few things completely, and told her what I wanted for a cover.  She did a great job and even thought of a few things I hadn't.

The juniors and seniors enrolled in the classes for this printing business do some incredible work under the eye of an outstanding young colleague.  She is super organized, super detail oriented, and super insistent that her students produce quality work.  (And yes, she really is Super Woman!)

Anyway, this is next year's lesson plan book.
I loved the sticky note book from last year, but I switched from card stock pages to a heavy weight paper.  (Not so bulky!) The printing class even has a paper cutter that will cut through an entire pad of sticky notes, so they cut the English class (green) notes to fit my pages. The Speech, Drama, and Forensic notes come in the size I need.
Now, you might be wondering why sticky notes? I like the fact that I can peel them off and stick them to my clipboard and then return them to the page at the end of the day. (My clipboard is my brain.) I love that when our schedule changes, I just have to pull up the note and attach it to a different date. And I especially love being able to write underneath the note if I run out of room or have things I want to remember about that day's lesson.
I handwrite the dates on the weeks of my book.  They could type them in for me, but I knew that made quite a bit more work and wasn't a big deal to me.  I did ask them to put in blank pages to separate the months.  I will add the school calendar for that month. (I reduce the size of the month and glue it in.) The rest of it I use for notes to myself. (Things I don't want to forget, standards that need to be evaluated again, or a student I want to keep an eye on.)
Finally, every month in the Notes column, I had a reminder added to check on my advisory students and how they were doing in classes.  (Something, I frequently forgot to do this past year.)  And I'm sure in another year, I will have several other reminders that I will be adding in the notes columns.
And that's it.  I don't add the sticky notes very far out--usually, just a month at a time.  It keeps me from wrinkling them before the week arrives. (My computer bag gives the book a bit of a work out.) I am going to see if I can get the cover laminated at the beginning of school.  The business kids tell me that adding something or changing something (like the cover), even in the middle of the year, is a snap.

Oh, and you might be wondering about the initials: R W S L on the English page.  That is to remind me that my sophomore English students should be involved in productive reading, writing, speaking, and listening in class- every single day.  (Emphasis on the word productive!)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Teacher's Summer

Interspersed with trips to the water park, a short vacation, ball games, and other summer activities, I am already working on next year. And that is the life of a teacher.

What might most teachers be doing in the summer?

*Cleaning out files.  (Sometimes, actually filing all those loose papers we didn't get to during the year. Or is that just me??)

*Weeding out supplies: markers and pens that don't work any more, dried up glue sticks, tape dispensers that have "lost" their inner core, recycling paper and magazines that aren't needed, cleaning out all the excess in cupboards and drawers, and pitching all the lost and found items that weren't claimed.

*Planning for new teaching assignments and making lessons for the first weeks of school. (Three new assignments next year:  Speech, Drama, and Forensics. These require a different kind of planning than Sophomore English, but I'm on the hunt for all kinds of new activities!)

*Researching blogs and websites for new lesson planning ideas or classroom management techniques.  Some favorites:  Edudemic, AchievetheCore, Dr. Curtis Chandler, Edutopia, Teachers.net, ReadWriteThink, and WeAreTeachers.
  (Best resource for finding new ideas: Twitter.)

*Designing needed methods of tracking data (Spreadsheets, Google Docs, etc.)--and it would be oh so helpful if Excel were working this summer.

*Writing shared formative and summative assessments for classes.

*Tweaking class notebooks in English II.  (Between Standard's Based Grading and Interactive Notebooks, I'm not sure which was the best addition to my classes last year.)

If I plan and work now, next year will be much less stressful.

Oh, and I really need to select next spring's All School Production.  If I leave it until after school starts, I will be hunting the show over Christmas Break. Then, I really will be rushed and unprepared at the start of 2nd semester.

June, July, and August.  These days, I consider them an extended Plan Period.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Working On the New Classroom

My custodians took the door off of my new classroom so that they could take the scissor lift in.  The ceilings are so high that they needed the lift to clean the light fixtures and replace some ceiling tiles.

I jumped on the chance to use the lift. (An opportunity available only every 4-5 years.)  They helped me hang a couple of pieces on the front walls of my classroom.  (OK. It might have taken the five of them plus me to do it!)
Custodians, cooks, secretaries...
these are the people that keep our schools afloat.
I couldn't function without them.

I am assuming that the crew will be working on my floors and then moving some furniture from my old classroom into this new room.  I am trying to stay out of their hair for now.  Besides taking them breakfast, that is probably the best gift that I can give them.

Let's hear it for great support personnel!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

End of the Year

I love teaching.  I love the fact that there is a beginning, middle and an end to my job.

That being said, the end of the year wears.me.out.!

To begin with, it would be easier to keep track of who is in class than who is absent.  Everyone is absent.  There are track meets, tennis meets, softball games, baseball games, golf meets, field trips, state music competitions, high honor roll trips, etc., etc., etc.!

Thus, there are many students who need to turn in late work.  I spend quite a bit of time, grading late work.

I also grade notebooks for the final time, and grade final projects and final essays. The students need to put their portfolios together and clean out their classroom folders.  Checking in books and chasing down students who still owe me classroom library books or textbooks becomes a regular part of lunch or plan period.

There are finals to write and grade, Accelerated Reader points to add to the nine weeks grades, and submitting one final copy of all grades to the office.

Then there is a checklist that requires initials from the librarian, lunch lady, two secretaries, and one principal.

This year, you can throw into the mix the fact that I had to pack up one classroom to move to another.   I don't know how many trips I made, but more than I care to count.  Even with quite a few students roped into helping, I wore a little path in the hallway.

With three new preps and a new classroom to get ready, I think it is safe to say that I will spend some of my summer at school or working on school things at home.

My last day was Thursday, and I have already put in 12 hours at school.  I finished the move. (My old classroom is completely empty of my things, except a couple of furniture pieces that the custodians will be moving for me.) I have also cleaned out a huge prop/costume closet and a couple of cupboards that I needed for storage. (Merging two classrooms is work!) I have completed a little (huge size wise, little work wise) art project for the front of my new classroom.  Today, I actually began organizing my desk drawers.

I'm not sure whether to consider this the end of one year or the beginning of the next.  I just know that I am going to enforce a strict no-schoolwork rule for at least a couple of weeks this summer.  Otherwise, next year might be a really long year!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Rock Stars of Education

At Christmas time our Central Office hosts a Holiday Open House.  When teachers and employees enter, we put our name on a piece of paper for drawings.

One gift our Superintendent gave away this year was "One Free Day of Subbing."  One elementary and one Middle/High School teacher would take off any day of their choice, and it wouldn't be charged to sick leave, family leave, or personal days. She would be their sub for the day. Amazing!  Even more amazing, she drew my name.

Friday, I am pretty sure I had the most highly qualified substitute teacher in our state.  While I was enjoying a new granddaughter, she was my sub.  She had time to talk to my high school students and colleagues.  She spent a day in the trenches, reminding herself of the work her teachers do. I know my students benefited from having her there, but I'm even more sure that every teacher in our district benefited from the day she put in as a teacher.

Reflecting on that day, I am reminded that she spends a great deal of time in our schools. She greets students, visits classes, and is interested in the lives of her employees. She understands us because she makes a regular practice of trying to stay in touch with her schools, students, and employees.

Is she a rock star or what?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

First World Problems

I mentioned that I will be switching rooms next year, right?  The room I am moving to is one of my favorite rooms in our school.  That's the good news.

The bad news?  Anyone who has a key to our school auditorium has a key to my room and my huge prop closet where my file cabinet will be stored. (Why, you might ask?  My room is the passing area behind stage.  One key allows access to all areas stage related.)

The really bad news?  I don't have a file cabinet that locks.  (Which of course isn't near as bad as my student-teacher-soon-to-be-colleague who doesn't have file cabinet at all.)

It hasn't been lost on me that all of my files, tests, etc. will be easily accessible to anyone with a key.

The good news?  There is one wooden coat closet/cupboard that locks.  I will be the only person with the key to it.

So what am I doing?  After searching on Pinterest for some kind of answer, I am cleaning out my file cabinet and creating notebooks of all the units that I teach.  I save what I want and keep a copy for my student-teacher-soon-to-be-colleague and am throwing out the rest.

My file cabinet will still hold old units or files from classes that I no longer teach.  (Though I am sorting through all of that, too.) I am hoping that what is left only takes up one or two drawers of my huge cabinet.  The rest will be used for script storage.

Each of my new unit notebooks holds page protectors where I store tests, activities/exercises, and copies of assignments.  I will be able to pull out what I need to use.  Everything should be easy to find.
The early stages of this project

When I move to my new room, these notebooks will be stored on a shelf in my locking closet/cupboard.  Did I mention that I will have the only key? With a great deal of work and quite a bit of downsizing, I will have curriculum security again. The best solution to a fairly crummy problem.

How much work is this?  I spent six hours and managed to sort and store 4 units.  (Two of them were really small units.) And my trash can was full.

I'm not sure how many days this is going to take, but I am sure it will be worth it.  I'm also sure that when I retire (5-8 years away?), I will be quite glad that I did this work now. (Less to throw away then!)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Break,Twitter, and Teaching Changes

Spring Break has been wonderfully relaxing.  After finishing the All School Production on the Thursday and Friday before break, I spent the beginning of break collapsed.  (Actually, I rallied in time to celebrate my husband's 60th birthday and spend time with my daughters, their husbands, and my adorable grandkids.)

Of course, school is never far from my mind. Twitter has become my "go to" place for ideas and for answers to questions. Edutopia, Edudemic, WeAreTeachers, and Achievethecore are just a few of my favorites. I am beginning to connect with some other Secondary ELA teachers, and their ideas inspire.

This next nine weeks of school will fly by with State Testing and the end of the year hubbub.  (You can add in the fact that my oldest daughter/boss is expecting their 2nd child at the end of April. I am ready for that little bundle to arrive!) It will go especially fast this year, as on top of everything else, I am changing rooms and subjects next year.

Our administration has decided to do some rearranging of our English staff.  By splitting classes, we will work with another teacher and be able to compare class results to improve our teaching skills.  I will be teaching Sophomore English for three hours and speech and drama for the other three hours. I think all of us have concerns, but I also think there is the potential to really strengthen our department, too.

The concerns:
*For the first time in 33 years, I won't have every sophomore that goes through our school.  It will be strange not knowing the majority of the students in our high school.

*Leaving behind my beautiful classroom with carpet and lots of light from big windows will be difficult.

*The physical part of moving a whole classroom is a bit overwhelming.  It will involve a lot of work and hours of time packing, organizing, and decorating a new classroom.

*Planning for Speech, Drama, and Forensic classes will require quite a bit of work prior to the start of the year.

These concerns are outweighed by some of the perks:

*Less paper grading.  With half the number of English students, I will have half the number of papers.  It is hard to be sad about that!

*I am moving into an awesome room with a stage. It is has always been one of my favorite rooms in our high school.  (But there are no windows and no carpet, which will remind me of pre-tornado days in our old school.)

*While the new classes will require different planning, it is the creative kind of planning that I enjoy.  I will begin working on new curriculum after break. (I have spent part of break searching for resources.)

So this spring break has been filled with Twitter, researching new curriculum, and trying to cram in all the things I love: hiking, a manicure and pedicure, time with my daughters and grandkids, shopping, movies, and relaxing meals out with my husband.  I've caught up on sleep, and I think I am ready for the end of this school year. I actually feel pretty refreshed and ready to go!

PS. This blog is about to become an English/Speech and Drama blog. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Desk Arrangements

I have come to believe that mixing up desks and seating arrangements is beneficial to learning.  Desks in small groups, in pairs, in a big circle, or even two straight lines can be useful to different lessons.

I use groups of four desks the most often.  This arrangement is great for group projects or small discussions. Everyone can see the teacher and the front board. It also makes my room look much larger.

To begin the year, I like to put the students in pairs.  Frequently, they work with someone they might not know that well and if I mix up the pairs often enough, my classes become acquainted quickly. (There are two ways to do pairs, either side by side or face to face. I've used both at different times.)

A circle of desks works well for Socratic Circles, but the students love one big circle for reading plays aloud, too.  I've tried it with writing days, but have quickly found the importance of being able to see everyone's computer screen at all times. (Don't ask!)
This is a small circle for Socratic Circles.

Two straight lines facing each other work well for face-off discussions, and also for passing writings or other projects up and down the rows from student to student. This way they have a chance to see their peer's work. Leaving the project, writing, or computer on the desk and having the students move also works well.

Finally, I use traditional rows of desks for final exam days and for writing days.  My desk is in the back of the room so while students are facing away from me, I can see everyone's screen. This works great on writing days.  On exam days, I work from the front of the room or walk around.

In order for these arrangements to work, I have created cardboard barriers for testing/quiz days. They can test in almost every room arrangement by putting up the cardboard barriers, if they are needed. (Mine are tri-fold displays cut in two, though I've heard pizza boxes work well, too.)

I project new seating arrangements on my document reader for everyone to see.  Students know where to sit when they enter the room. (I can't imagine the chaos if they waited for me to seat them.) If you make your seating chart with sticky notes, it is easy to change your seating arrangements. I am forever grateful to the cute, young colleague who taught me this trick!  I also like to use the computer seating chart that comes with our grade book program and has photos of students.  (I'm pretty sure subs love this one, too.)

Oh, almost forgot one.  We don't watch videos very often.  In fact, I rarely show a full movie, but the Friday before break I was showing them bits and pieces (mainly the stabbing and the battle scenes) of Julius Caesar. This was a popular arrangement, though we could have used some popcorn. (There were four rows like this.)

Does it take work to switch it up?  Yes, a little.  Is it worth it? Definitely.

My favorite quote of the year? Upon seeing yet another arrangement of desks one student said,  "Mrs. E, you gotta get a new hobby."

But the most surprising??  My custodian loves cleaning my room.  I guess they need a change once in awhile, too.

Want more seating arrangements or seating chart ideas? Click on the seating arrangement label in the sidebar.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My First Nine Weeks with SBG and Grades So Far

I am almost to the end of the first nine weeks with Standards Based Grading.

Comparing the old way of grading to SBG:

2nd Nine Weeks I had 14 A's.  3rd Nine Weeks 12 of those students still had A's, along with 8 others who have raised their grade to an A. (A couple had slipped to a B.)

2nd Nine Weeks I had 14 D's and F's.  3rd Nine weeks I have no D's or F's.

What have I noticed?

1. It is harder to get an A+.  There is no extra credit.  They must make 100% on almost every standard to make an A+.  They have to consistently show mastery on the skill on every assignment.

2. Students are less likely to fail, as they are proficient on many of the standards.  There are just a few that cause them issues. Their grades reflect their successes.

3. Organizing my grade book is a challenge.  I'm still trying to figure out a system that I love and that works for me.  I'm hoping someone in blog land has an easy way to do this and is willing to share it with me.

4. Keeping track of feedback on each standard, requires more than just a number or a letter grade.  I have documentation and notes in an expandable file.  That file serves as my memory and reminds me of the strengths and weaknesses of each student.

5. I used to give a test and the results were the results. Period. The end.  Now, I give a test, re-teach, give another test, and sometimes re-teach again before the final test.  Coming up with multiple assessments and multiple re-teaching opportunities is challenging; however, it makes sense to practice several times before the final assessment. And the benefit to the students is obvious.

6. A parent asked me at parent teacher conferences about "big" tests or unit tests.  They wanted to know if the students still take those.  They don't take my old traditional unit tests, but one test now can address several different standards. In fact, on the first Act of Julius Caesar, five different reading standards and one writing standard were addressed.  I'd say that is a "big" test.  All tests just look different now.

7. There is less memory work and more analyzing, reading, and figuring it out on their own.

8. I am not "providing" all the information.  They have to research, study, and teach each other before I ever step into the picture.

Do I have questions?  You betcha!

1. How does late work affect the grade?  Is there a way to do that when they can still show excellence on the standards?

2. Are some standards so important that they should be addressed every time?  Ex.  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

3. How do I handle final exams?  (I need to work that one out before the end of the year.)

I would say that Standards Based Grading is here to stay in my classroom.  There are too many benefits to the students. I know that I will figure out the record keeping, if only through trial and error.

Am I glad I made this switch? Absolutely.  I see not only areas that students need to improve upon, but it also becomes evident exactly where my teaching weaknesses are.  I guess that means that we're all learning.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Things Teachers Need

I'm sure other teachers can add to this list, but these are the things that make my day happy!

Breath mints.  I still remember a smoking, coffee drinking teacher whose breath knocked me out as a high school student.  I almost always have some kind of mints or gum in a drawer of my desk.  I don't want to be THAT teacher.

Coffee.  (Hence the breath mints.)  I'm not sure how people operate without coffee.  "Never underestimate the power of a highly caffeinated woman."  Whoever said that knew what they were talking about.

School gear.  High school kids in our area appreciate seeing the adults in school, supporting them on game days.  I have old football jerseys, a couple of hoodies, t-shirts that are older than they are, and several neatly monogrammed shirts provided to the staff.  Fortunately, the school colors happen to be a favorite.

Ice water.  Year round.  I have several insulated glasses that don't sweat.  (Current favorite: a Bubba Cup.)  I usually drink two large glasses of ice water a day. Besides being good for me, I'm not sure how my voice/throat would hold up without it.

Glitz Bic pens. They come in a package with about 8 different colors, and I love the way they write.  I now grade in lime green, sky blue, pink, and purple. Just seeing the pens in the drawer of my desk makes me happy.  (I have to confess, I hide them from subs.  I lose more pens and pencils on days of substitutes!) I think these little gems are 88 cents a package.

A computer bag.  I would have said a brief case at one time, but the computer bag works better for me these days.  I had a canvas and leather LL Bean bag that I loved; however, the school switched to macs and my computer no longer fit in my bag.  This year, I made the switch to a Vera Bradley computer bag.  (It was half price, or this teacher never would have spent the money for it.)

The lunch size crock pot.  This was a Christmas gift from my faculty Secret Santa. (Sweet, young former student, now colleague.)  Best.Gift.Ever!!  Leftovers are hot and ready to go by lunchtime.  The inside metal pot is removable for easy cleaning, too.  No more waiting for the microwave in the workroom.

A survival pack for me would also have to include:  dental floss, Shout Wipes, safety pins, bobby pins, and sample sizes of hairspray and Static Guard.

Do I NEED all of these things?  No, but I sure LOVE them!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Student Teacher Woes

I have an amazing young student teacher.  She is professional, informed, and creative.  (She has the Common Core App on her phone, for God's sake!  Who does that?)  She feels more like a colleague than a student teacher.  I bounce ideas off of her.  We look for solutions together.

And then I have to wonder...maybe all (or most) of my former student teachers were like this, but I was too young and sure of myself to pick their brains.  I wonder how many opportunities I have missed.

So, when am I aware that she is the student teacher and I am the teacher?

*When she is finishing one unit and planning for the next one.  It feels a bit overwhelming to her.  Especially, when the unit she is finishing is one that she developed in college with oodles of time to research, submit it, and rework it.
    I remember this feeling.  Heck, I still feel this way from time to time! So, we are working on the next unit together. She will see that, though it is work, it can be done. (It will drive you crazy, but it can be done.)

*As she is grading papers. The light slowly dawns on her that about 10% of the students plagiarized.  It was like watching air escape from a balloon.  She was so disappointed. Academic dishonesty will be a discussion on this blog for another day, but she and I came up with a plan for this to be a teaching moment.  And as she is teaching them, I am teaching her.
    You can't teach these things from a book. Sometimes, students will break your heart, but you can't let them break your spirit. And you can't let them cheat themselves out of learning the important things: they have far too much ability to simply copy someone else.

One other thing I hope she is learning:

There's always a critic.  It might be the kid who complains about the assignment you love, the colleague who shares a negative comment they overheard about your class, or an administrator who doubts what you are doing or suggests that what you are doing is not enough.  Some weeks, the critics are all you hear.  The goal is not to let yourself become the critic.  And that is always easier said than done.
     Most of us are hard enough on ourselves without the words of the critics.  But, we have to remember to listen carefully.  There are students who show their appreciation in quiet ways, colleagues who copy an assignment or technique (no better flattery than imitation), and an administrator who asks us to do some work that few others will try.  Their words might not speak their praise, but frequently their actions do.

I remember how tough, but also how darn much fun, student teaching was.  And I'm remembering it all over again, watching a cute little redhead as she finds her way. I am fortunate to be watching excellence in action.  I'm pretty sure the future of education will be safe in her hands.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Standards Based Grading Information Sheet For Parents

Parent/Teacher conferences are coming up.  They will be my first since switching to Standards Based Grading.  In my mind, I see myself repeating the same information over and over in an attempt to explain Standards Based Grading. My hope is that they will hit the math department first. I would be happy to let our math teachers explain it.

In case that doesn't happen, I decided to put together an information sheet for parents.

I spent the weekend trying to condense the information to the essentials.  Here is what I came up with:

I will run it by my colleagues, and then I think I will copy it for my students and see what they think.

Thank you, piktochart.com.

Oh, and there is a good chance that our HS Graphics Design department will get the job of making this look much more professional. (This will give them an idea of what I would like it to look like.)  I will have them make the copies, too.  My colleagues will probably appreciate me not using all of the color toner in the copier.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saturday Morning Thoughts

"Know your worth."  That thought has been going through my mind all week.  From the top down, teachers are often reminded of our worth both collectively and individually.

Our students let us know what they think on a daily basis. Sometimes their parents share their opinions.  Our bosses evaluate our efforts, and then our politicians and elected officials weigh in on the matter.  Finally, the media puts in their two cents.  And of course, we get the monthly reminder in the form of a paycheck.

We know the work that we do is valuable. We know the amount of time we give to this profession is in direct proportion to our passion. But then a message, intended or not, comes through loud and clear: your work is not valuable and not a priority.

I stop. I reevaluate. I doubt. I try to remember to look up.  I breathe.

What am I worth?  This morning, I am worth a 2nd cup of coffee.  Well, at least I think I am...

Our State has been busy lately, and some weeks it is tough to be a teacher.  This would be one of those. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Old Dog, New Tricks: Standards Based Grading So Far

My switch to Standards Based Grading has been... interesting.

This was my initial post on Sophomore English grading and my grade book.

First of all, I have changed using a √ and a 0 in the formatives. (I know how parents can freak out over a zero, even if it isn't affecting their student's grade. They assume the assignment hasn't been completed.)  Formatives are now rated with an S, S-or U.  The formatives still have no affect on the student grade, but they let the student (and the parent) know if they understand the standard or need further work before the Summative test.

The biggest challenge has been the mindset of the teacher. (That would be me. Gulp.) One short unit can involve several standards, and each of those standards requires two formatives, reteaching activities, and a summative test.  My grade book now looks like this:

(Well, that is a portion of this nine week's grades so far. Oh, and the Standard RL2 Determining Theme or Central Idea and its development is going to be revisited-probably more than once.)

Thankfully, formatives don't have to be a quiz. (Though they can be.)  They can also be teacher anecdotal notes from observation, exit tickets, standards practice in their notebooks, etc.  Getting past the idea that students only show progress based on a quiz has been quite helpful and not nearly so limiting.

I really like this grading rubric on the Summative assessment of a standard.

10= Advanced- superior mastery
  9= High Proficiency- progressing toward advanced mastery
  8= Proficient Grade Level- mastery meets standard level
  7= Basic- limited understanding
  6=  Improvement necessary
  5=  Insufficient effort
  0=  Absent for summative

That being said, my student grades have changed.  A student really has to go above and beyond to show superior mastery. An A+ was easier to earn using the old method of grading.  On the other end of the scale, fewer students are failing.  Most students can show at least a basic or limited understanding of a skill or standard.

What does this mean?
1. A student who has done the minimum requirements has a tough time earning an A+, and they aren't thrilled about being challenged to show advanced or superior work.  I haven't had the first parent/teacher conferences since switching to this system, but I have a hunch that will be a discussion with some parents.

2. I spend quite a bit more time in the planning stages of lessons and units that I have taught for years.  I have to determine which standards I will emphasize, write the summative evaluation of each standard, decide how I will evaluate the standards through formatives, create the formative evaluations, and create some method of reteaching for students who need it.

3. Above all, I have to limit the number of standards that I evaluate in a unit.  A short unit might have several reading standards, a writing standard, and a speaking/listening standard. Julius Caesar could have included 10-15 standards. (I have narrowed it down to seven or eight this year.) Keeping track of student progress on the formatives, reteaching, and summative tests is a bit of a juggling act; however, it gives a much clearer picture of what the student actually knows. And isn't that what a grade is supposed to show?

Right now, this switch to Standards Based Grading has been quite a bit of work.  The best part is that it is becoming second nature to me now, and I feel like I have a much more thorough knowledge of the standards.  The work that I do this year is going to make next year that much simpler, if only because I have walked through the process this year.

Have I mentioned that I have had company on this road to change?  I am quite thankful for Sweet Young Former Student Now Colleague, an amazing Student Teacher, and my math colleagues who are jumping in this year, too.  It is always better to have friends to travel the road with you!

Friday, January 23, 2015

HS ELA Interactive Notebooks

I'm not really sure how many changes a teacher should make in their class each year.  I seem to be pushing it.  Standards Based Grading, figuring out a Standards Based Grade Book, creating my own Sticky Note Lesson Plan book, and beginning Interactive Notebooks have all added to my workload this year. (And then I wonder why I spend every evening and weekend organizing.)

As challenging as this has been, I have really appreciated the Interactive Notebooks.  Daily work assignments that used to be in stacks on my counter, are now neatly tucked away in their notebooks.  I collect the notebooks every 3-4 weeks for a thorough grading, but I stamp or checkmark short in-class assignments when I need to see immediate results.

The notebooks aren't perfect this year and I already have a few changes in mind for next year, but I am pretty pleased with the way the interactive notebooks simplify grading.  The bonus is that students are creating their own reference book and can use it as a resource when they need to locate a format, a grammar rule, or an example. (The Table of Contents that they fill in will assure easy access.) These notebooks also teach students one of the skills that will make or break them in the future: organization!
The only drawback?  To simplify things, I had students add journal writings to their notebooks this year.  I haven't minded it, but my daughter (who was once my student) didn't like that at all.  She believes that the journals should be separate from their class notebook.  She is probably right.  That is food for thought for next year.

As much work as this year has been, I feel like the changes will benefit me in the years to come. I won't be reinventing the wheel every year, thank goodness.  And the interactive notebooks have already simplified the grading of daily work and short writing assignments.

This was just another change in Room 304 this year.

Oh, and did I mention this was a year of new textbooks, too.  Yes, a really fun year.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I Laugh So I Don't Cry

For many years now, I have had my classes memorize poetry a couple of times a year:  "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Sara Teasdale, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, and/or "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrea.

Over the past decade, the assignment has become much more difficult for a larger number of students.   This year, I think I have hit the wall.  They might be able to remember a stanza at a time, and that is about it.  They stumble through the poem stanza by stanza, and frequently still need prompting. (I have to keep track of how many stanzas they have recited.)

The other night at auditions for the All School Production, the director asked students to hop up on stage and recite the Pledge of Allegiance so that they could be heard clearly.  It was horrifying how many students needed prompting.  At least 75% of the students couldn't say it without help.  The other 25% left out words or phrases.  I was stunned.  (And I'm having them memorize "Invictus"?  What the heck am I thinking?  How about the Pledge of Allegiance? Wowsa!  I had no idea!)

A girl in class told me that she can't recite the Lord's Prayer unless she is in church.  She says she just can't remember it.

I'm pretty sure it is a sign of the times, and it really concerns me as to what memory issues our whole society faces in the future. Kids don't need to remember anything, because any information they need is at their finger tips. (That is if they can remember what it is that they need to be looking for!) And what are we losing?  Our collective memories.

Where will it end? I'm not really sure.  Fortunately, I'll probably be too dead to care.  Just don't say I didn't tell you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Standards Based Grading in a High School ELA class

I understand why Standards Based Grading (SBG) is important, but for several months now I have not been able to find anything about how to go about SBG in a high school English classroom.  Everything I have read has been math and/or elementary and middle school related.  High school grades are different because they have to translate into a letter grade that contributes to the student's GPA, which determines scholarships and college admission. (Suddenly SBG becomes quite a bit more important.)

As for math, let's face it: English isn't nearly as clear cut as math.  I think I'm beginning to see that we English teachers bring on quite a bit of that ourselves.  SBG requires us to be much more deliberate in teaching skills. The way I have been teaching has become as natural to me as breathing. Why? I wasn't evaluating individual progress on those standards until the unit test--when it was too late for the student who wasn't understanding.  So, what would I do?  I'd just teach the next unit and hope the ones who didn't understand that skill the first time would understand it the 2nd time. (Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn't.)

Standards Based Grading forces me to take one short poem that I teach and recognize that for summatives I will be testing figurative language skills, understanding theme and central idea development, and small group discussion skills. In the same unit I will be beginning the first formatives to check understanding of representation in two mediums and giving a presentation making strategic use of digital media.  Whew! (I've never been so concrete in my life!)

Thankfully, bright young math colleague, terrific biology colleague, and a smart young student teacher have all helped me through the process of trying to find something that might work.  (I'm pretty sure there are still things to change and tweaking to be done.)

We use Power School's PowerTeacher Gradebook at Tiny Town High.  I was having trouble figuring out how to make the electronic grade book work so that I didn't have to create a separate spreadsheet to keep track of student progress.  I think I have finally hit upon a solution.

These are some of the things that will be happening:

*Formatives won't contribute to the final grade.  They will be tracked in the grade book, but they won't help or hurt the grade.  Students and parents will be able to see what the student needs to work on: a checkmark (changed to an S) will indicate adequate progress, and a zero (changed to a U) will indicate the student needs more work on the skill; however, the zero doesn't affect their grade. (I know parents equate 0 with a grade, thus the change.) Formatives will be happening almost daily: quizzes, writing, exit cards, and teacher observation. On top of that, our school has several interventions built in for students who aren't making adequate progress. I can assign them to a tutoring room for help or contact their advisory teacher for help during advisory time. Reteaching can be as simple as one-on-one conferences or as involved as an organized lesson with several assignments to work through.

*Summatives will be 95% of the class grade. My hope would be that every student can demonstrate at least basic understanding of a skill, especially after reteaching or tutoring. The summative grade for a particular skill could change if the standard is visited again and the student does better or worse on a different summative later in the semester. This will help students see how important it is to retain the skills they have gained and not just to learn it for one particular summative and then forget all about it.

*Finally, 5% of their grade will be based on Career Skills.  Right now, there are two career skills: following directions and organization.  (I know that this is one area that could/should be dropped, but I am finding it difficult to cut right now.)

This screen shot shows the final grade set up in PowerGrade:


These are my three category explanations:





This will be what the assignments could look like in my grade book.
The grade book looks like this with student names on the left.


Finally, each summative will be worth 10 points. This is the rubric for those 10 points:

10= Advanced- superior mastery
  9= High Proficiency- progressing toward advanced mastery
  8= Proficient Grade Level- mastery meets standard level
  7= Basic or limited understanding
  6=  Improvement necessary
  5=  Insufficient effort
  0=  Absent for summative

Clear as mud?  That's how it started for me, too.
Does it work?  I'll get back to you on that!
Am I doing it all wrong?  I could be. (I'm sure I will hear about it.)
Questions or comments?  Feel free to leave them below.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Favorite New Year Assignment

I love giving this assignment to my sophomores each year.  I've made changes on it from time to time, but the template hasn't changed much.



I had to screen shot the handout, but this is the assignment.  They fill in the squares and use color pens to decorate the entire sheet.  I let them use the internet to find headlines from last year. (I swear their memories are worse than mine--and that is saying something!) 

The first day back after the holidays is usually noisy with all the catching up, so this assignment gives them the chance to reflect on the past.  I don't even mind the chatter that accompanies hunting for the big stories and inventions of the past year. 

What surprises me every year?  The advice that they give to themselves. It frequently gives me insight into struggles the student might be going through or insecurities that they deal with daily.  

You might be wondering what proves to be the most difficult: the "Dream" headlines for the year ahead.  That stumps quite a few of them.  I don't think they have ever been challenged to think about what could happen in our community, the country, or the world in the coming year.  And of course, because it is a "dream" headline--they can make anything happen.  That freedom paralyzes some of them.  

There you have it: a fun and thoughtful way to begin the new semester.