Friday, January 21, 2011

Wake Up Call

Well, half the year is down.  We just finished semester exams today.  I am very down at the moment and I need some help/suggestions.  I have been so swamped with trying to keep up with lesson planning and putting lessons together for the SMART Board, plus with Christmas and all the craziness there.  I have gotten away from Twitter and I miss it.  I need to be blogging more but I don't know what to blog about.  I just don't feel things are going well, and semester exams pretty much confirmed it and hit me smack in the face.

So, here's the recap of how things are going:

The Classes SBG is pseudo-working:
My two advanced courses (Advanced Algebra 2 and Calculus) seem to be going fairily well.  I got hit with a rash of retakes during the last week of the semester - Calculus in particular is my own fault since I gave them their last test on Thursday the week before, Friday was a half day and then they got their tests back on Tuesday (long story as to why).  Both classes seem to be point-grubbing with it - however, they are going back and doing reassessments.  I feel this is really crucial in Calculus because their skills are SO low compared to other groups I've had in the past.  They are still telling me that if you substitute 3 into -x^2 that it is 9 (instead of -9) and they are still giving me "points" with the y-values from deriviatives or second derivatives when doing max/mins.  I can really tell that their Algebra skills are incredibly weak.  But, at least about half of them have done/are doing reassessments.  That's a positive.  I wish it were for the right reasons (to learn the material), but right now, I'll take it.

My Advanced Algebra 2 kids are also doing reassessments - not anywhere near as high of a percentage as Calculus, but some are doing them.  I do see them helping each other out and working on learning the material.  They'll be fine with this in the long run.  This group, although still point-grubbing, also seem to still have some desire to reassess to learn it.  We'll see how that continues.

The middle ground:
My Math I students (lower level freshmen - think low Algebra 1) are not reassessing hardly at all.  I did have 2 students reassess for the first time at the end of last week, but that's been about it.  Homework is not getting done and with what we just finished, it wasn't as much of an issue.  However, we are starting inequalities next week and they have got to use their class time WAY better than they are.  Part of this is my fault - but I am also looking for a little help here, dear reader.  These kids are not motivated.  I can record that it's being done or not, but in reality, that doesn't have any teeth for them.  It still doesn't factor into their grade.  How do I get these kids to do the practice?  If they don't practice what we're coming up on in the second half of the year, they will not get the material and many wil fail.  How do you get them to do what they should be doing?  Those of you who are doing SBG now and not grading homework - how do you get those lower level / discipline issue kids to do what you need them to do to be successful?

On a side note, I do have to say that I was a little worried after the first nine weeks that there would be no kids who fail.  I know that may sound weird, but even my lowest kids were passing (granted, with low D's, but passing).  I am seeing some kids failing this nine weeks (and they should be), so that fear has been allayed.

The really ugly
My Algebra 2 semester exams were atrocious.  I curve my semester exams anyway - the kids never do as well as they should, it's a lot for them to deal with, and most of their scores would be D's and F's if I left them.  I curve the same way every time anymore - all correct is a 100, half correct is the lowest D (66), use a best-fit line with those two points and score accordingly.  Even with that curve, 16 of the 43 students who took the exam (that's 37%) earned a 60 or lower.  I have never had that kind of failure percentage, and certainly not anywhere near that many in that range.  I am upset, frustrated and feeling like a failure of a teacher right now.  I went to talk to my friend the Biology teacher (who, by the way is dipping his toes into the SBG waters with one class and possibly more this semester - YAY!!!!!) this afternoon.  I miss being able to catch up with him and I realized that this afternoon after our chat.  He passed along some comments my students have made - mainly that they don't like that homework isn't being graded and that their grades are based only on tests.  He has a very good handle on where I am at (which was a huge surprise given how little we've been able to talk about it this year) and talked with them about how important it is to do the homework anyway.  But in spite of this (and I have no idea when the conversations took place), my students still aren't doing well.

So, I am sitting here Friday evening trying to decide what to do.
1) Do I recurve the exam scores so that the grades don't look so darn bad?  At least try to get the 50s to 60s (but still not passing)?  This was the last thought that popped into my head on the way home about the whole thing, but the one that has to be dealt with first.  Thoughts?

2)  What in the world to tell my Algebra 2 students on Monday?  I don't want to make it a negative thing.  However, I need them to understand that a) they are not doing what they need to do, b) they need to take some ownership now and get their acts together, and c) this not grading homework bit is not going away.  My Bio teacher friend suggested going back over the SBG system in detail with them (like day one), which I am probably going to do.  He also suggested having them write 3-5 things that could be done to help them do better.  I am considering that but trying to figure out how to do it without it turning into a b!tch at the teacher session.  As far as I am concerned, they need to take some ownership in this.  I know I have not done as good of a job as I could have on continuing to get them to "buy" into this or "selling" it - however you want to look at it.  Part of it is, that's not really who I am.  I need to find a way to get it across to them so they understand they have control of their learning.

3)  I have similar homework issues in this class to Math 1.  They aren't putting forth the effort they should be in homework.  More of them will use the time in class to get started, but again, many will not (and these are the students who need to the most).  I don't usually have much time left in Algebra 2 for them to start too much of the homework, but there is usually 5-10 minutes.  For those of you who have done exit cards - how do those work?  I mean, I know you give them a problem or two to do and they hand it in to you as they leave (or at least I think that's how it goes) - but what do you do with it?  Do you grade every one and put comments on them?  I have 47 students between those two classes (and that doesn't count my other 4 classes) - how do you meaningfully do something with them?  How often do you do them?

4) When we did the Robyn Jackson book in #sbarbook chat, she talked about having a remediation plan in place.  When we read that section, it was right at the end of the first nine weeks.  I had considered implementing something in Algebra 2 at that point, but didn't get to it for many reasons.  I probably need to do that here (or at least try it).  What kind of things do you put in place for students to get help after they have not done well on the assessment?  I am only one person - I can't sit down with every kid that needs it for individual tutoring.  Jackson even said that the remediation plan should not always involve you sitting with the student.  How do you find internet resources to help on the topic?  Our book doesn't have a website.  Any thoughts on this one?  I kind of know where the threshold should be for them to be in the remediation plan, I just don't know how to have it execute in an effective manner.

I am sure I have other questions running around my brain, but these are the most pressing ones.  All I know at this point is I need to get it together and fast.  As much as I prefer SBG, semester exams have served as a huge wake up call that there are things that are not right in my classroom.  I hate to always be asking for help rather than contributing something to help you all, but I hope that some of you will be so generous in helping a fellow teacher in need.  I do appreciate each and every one of you who take the time to respond.  One of these days, I'll get my act together enough to help others out.


Kelly O'Shea said...

Can you try having some reassessment days in class... just once in a while? Once they see how great reassessing is, they might come in on their own to do it. It's such a paradigm shift for them that they might not truly understand how to best take advantage of the system to do better in the class.

Anonymous said...

I think you're totally right to sit down with all of your classes and have a discussion about their homework. If they are noticing that their grades aren't where they want them to be and think this missing piece is that you're not grading homework, they should see the connection that you are grading their homework, just on tests. Tests shouldn't be such a big deal to them since there is the opportunity for reassessment - they just aren't taking advantage of it yet. Typically I find it only takes a few students talking about how much they improved to their friends to get everyone doing it (or a phone call home...).

With my lower achieving groups, when homework situations get very dire, I will start making them stay after school until it is finished. It still doesn't count towards their mark, but if I can't trust them to do it on their own time, they need to do it at noon or after school. I've never had any parents take issue with this.

I'd be uncomfortable with recurving the marks - they are what they are. If students aren't happy with them, maybe as a group you can come up with a plan to "fix" them as a group. For example, if reassessments get done and X amount of improvement is seen the weight of that exam decreases. Since it's not a final, students can change their mark with their own work.

I've used exit slips, but typically to ask students questions like "What do you still not understand from today's lesson?", "What was the best part of today's class?" or "What question are you stuck on?" etc. That way there's no marking and you can just look for a trend (or lack of trend!) in the answers.

Hope something here is useful...

Lisa said...

I have done a class wise reassessment day in both my Math 1 and Algebra 2 classes. With Math 1, it has made little difference (although I did have 2 new students do reassessments on their own after that). With Algebra 2, they just had the resassessment right after Christmas, so there hasn't been much time with them to step up.

I like how you phrased that I am grading homework, just on tests. May have to use that. :-) As far as getting them to stay after school - I am pretty sure with the culture around here (my particular district and kids) that it wouldn't fly. Will have to think on that one. Unfortunately, I am stuck with the percentage that the midterm counts (district policy). I have NO flexibility on that. I guess that's the only reason I am considering recurving them. I DO like what you do with exit slips - I may have to use it that way. I also received an email with suggestions about having them do a practice problem with they leave and a check problem when they come in (the check problem would be for feedback and to give them an idea where they're at). I am considering trying that also.

Keep the suggestions coming - it is all giving me something to think about. Thanks!

Mrs. R said...

I have two suggestions...
First, to address the lower-level students not completing homework, one of my administrators/mentors has talked to me about my students who have the same attitude. The system that I have in place right now is to not necessarily grade the homework, but to grade the "in-class practice." This in-class practice is a combination of student problems within the notes and a set of practice problems at the end of each section. If they do not finish those "in-class" practice problems in class, they are responsible for finishing them at home. That way, the students feel that you are giving them a chance to not have homework, when in reality, they will not always finish all those practice problems in class. They still feel that they were giving the chance to do so. I haven't been using this system for too long, but what I've seen of it has worked pretty well so far.

Secondly, as for the exit tickets, I use mine as a summarizer for the lesson (i.e. answer today's essential question, give the main point of today's lesson, what is the most important thing you learned today, etc.) and then I scan them to find the really well-thought-out responses. I attach bonus points (1pt each that can be added to any graded assignment) to a few of the top responses and share those responses the next day with the class as a quick review of the previous lesson.

Hope that helps!

Joanne said...

I teach geometry & foundations of geometry on block schedule. I currently ave 34 students in each geometry class & 22 in my foundations.
I have the same issues with homework, very few students even attempt to do the homework! I have cutback on the numbers of problems assigned, changed the types of problems but nothing has worked well. So I have resorted to incorporating more practice problems during class time & students use "clickers" to give their answers. My hope is everyone is engaged.
I have had many class discussions about their responsibility to learn. I refuse to give up on my goal of focusing on student learning rather than teaching! I like the suggestions others gave about how to use the exit cards I too have not been able to use them effectively.
I am going to try something totally different for the next few weeks and will try to report on how it's going in my blog. I am new to all this blogging, twitter, etc! If you are interested I will send you the link.