Saturday, May 16, 2015

Expert Lists: Getting Everyone the Help They Need (First in a Series on Differentiation)

Are you interested in differentiating the instruction in your classroom? My team has been doing it - and reasonably well - with math instruction for a couple of years now, and we've seen a genuine payoff. This is the first in a series of blog posts about how it can be done with less stress. First up, what to do when kids need help, but you're busy?

One of the difficulties of differentiating and offering choice in the classroom is the fact that there's only one of me. I've heard rumors of people having crazy things like TA's in upper grades, but that's never been my experience. It's one of me, 25 of them, and I'm usually busy with a small group.

That's some ugly math.

One of the benefits of tracking data, then, is knowing who's an expert at each skill. Those are my tutors when someone's stuck and I'm with a group or when there's a very few kids who can't get their heads around something and need some work before they re-quiz..

How do I decide who's an expert? In our state, the cut score for our End of Grade testing for math is around a 77. With that in mind, we always set our in-class quiz goal at 80%. If a child has assessed a skill with 80% proficiency, he or she is an expert on that topic.

How do kids know who's an expert and can help? Expert lists hang on the side of their desks. Forgive these for not being a prettied-up version. Making a snazzy template is something I'll get done this summer, but for now, it's good ol' notebook paper: (Look below! I've gotten one done now!)

Aren't some lists longer than others? Doesn't that cause problems? Not really. So much of that depends on you. Over the years, I've learned two things:  
  1.  Data doesn't judge. It's just a thing. As long as you don't treat it as a judgement, it doesn't become one. Kids totally cue off of you on this. "You've got a 60 on something? Well, now you know what you need to work on. How can we help?" is healthy. "Oh, my goodness; he just can't graph that! What will people say?" causes drama.
  2. No one's list is ever empty. Everyone, even my EC kids, are bangin' at something. They're proud of their lists, even when they don't like this one:

Yeah, occasionally we get cocky, but like we say down South, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it." He can. It's not a problem (and I let him keep the list as-is) because he's a very good-natured kid who is a patient and thoughtful tutor. He is the kids' go-to guy.

At the risk of some snark... Does it occur to anyone to tell the kid with great hands to drop the football at recess more often because his skills make other people feel bad? Of course not. Every kids has talent; each should be allowed to shine.

Are kids obligated to tutor? No. I've got a girl whose expert list is also complete. She'll tell you in a skinny second, "I just don't have the patience for it. If you've got a specific question, fine. If you don't have a clue, I'm going to get frustrated with you." We respect that

In all, having kids, whose expertise is backed with data, available to help out others is huge in letting me work easily with small groups and making individual work time profitable for everyone. It has helped my class develop a sense of teamwork and camaraderie and maintain our "Clarkelings never leave a man behind." attitude.  

Hey - here's that jazzed up version:
 It's a freebie! You should just be able to right-click it and save it. It was made at U.S. paper size. Keeping it legal: Clip art and font credits:
  Krista Wallden                 Graphics From the Pond             Kimberly Geswein Fonts 
 Anyway, I hope you'll find this helpful in your quest to differentiate the work in your classroom! Next Up: How do I group kids?


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Including the Kids in Planning for Test Prep Keeps Us All {a LIttle} More Sane

It's that time of the year again! At least ours really is at the end of the year. In North Carolina, we test at the end of Memorial Day week. Grades 5 and 8 have an additional test for science the week after. When we're done, we're pretty much done.

I've believed for a while that the kids should be a part of figuring out what they need to work on and have some choice in how they learn the skills. To do that, though, we need to keep up with data. Notice that I said 'we' and not 'I'. It's a team effort. We make those decisions based on numbers, not, "Well, I like..." because sometimes what you like doesn't produce results. A lot of the time it does, though.

This year, I used Blair Turner's CCSS Data Tracking Binder for Fifth Grade, which you can find here. On my state DPI's website, we found a breakdown of how many questions will come from each standard. I used the blank page from the binder to create a list of standards in order from the most-on-the-test to the least. Then, the kids colored in their mastery data we've gathered through the year.

This has helped the kids plan their independent work time. They go down the list and work on standards that have less than 80% mastery. They have a number of practice options on a menu and take the quiz when they feel ready. They add their new achievement levels to their charts (which is why some are multicolored) and move down the list.

I think it's helping give my students some sense of control over being prepared. We still do whole-group scoots or work with Coach books, you know, the standard test-prep. stuff to practice all of the standards, but what I'm hearing is that they feel like they're using their time more wisely and really working to address their needs, and not stuck with things they can already do. 

We'll see when scores get back in the first week of June. ;) 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

At Last...A Parent Gets the True Meaning of Teacher Appreciation Week!

I looped up with my kids this year, so my parents and I have a different relationship. One of them put a stapled, brown, paper bag in my hand and said into my ear, "Don't open this here. It's for you, because, honey, if I had your job, I'd want booze and money."

Inside was a Target gift card... and this:
Yep. She won Teacher Appreciation Week. Forever.