Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An answer to my quizzing dilemma?

Another round of quizzes, another blog post on how my students aren't doing so well with my current system. But this time, I think I'm getting closer to a why.

On the last day before Christmas Break, Cathy Hamilton spoke to us. A good part of what she talked with us about was the poverty mentality. The district I teach in has 52% of our students on free or reduced lunch. That number could potentially be higher since there may be families who don't apply for free or reduced lunch (pride issues). The part that resonated the most with me was about how people who are in poverty are in "survival" mode. They are thinking about the present and getting through today. Future is not very prevalent in their thoughts. People in the middle class are future-focused. They talk to their children about what they're going to be when they grow up, going to college, and other "future" things. People in poverty don't do that. They are focused on getting through today. Another difference is how people in poverty look at their situation versus those in the middle class. People in poverty feel that it's just their luck things are the way they are or it's just the way it is. If their child is bad in math, "that's just how our family is." Unlike people in the middle class, they feel they don't have a choice. People in the middle class talk about choices. If a child from a middle class family did something wrong, they made a "bad choice." Middle class people offer their children choices to make all of the time. They do their best to help their children make the best choices.

So, getting back to my quizzing issue. To recap - this year I have been giving quizzes every 3 concepts or so. The most recent 3 learning targets I give them feedback only. The 3 learning targets that I have already given feedback on (the earlier ones) are graded. Most of this year, students in my Algebra 2 classes have been concentrating on the graded learning targets and making less and less of an attempt on the feedback ones. I did try right before break allowing students to earn their 5 (they mastered it!) on the (normally) feedback problems to see if they would put forth more effort on the feedback problems. In my Advanced Algebra 2 class, my students put forth better effort on the feedback problems and not quite half earned the 5 on at least one of the three learning targets. They had another quiz yesterday with the same deal and only 1 student earned a 5. In my Algebra 2 classes, I had a handful of students earn 5s on their quizzes before break. They have their quiz on Friday.

Also lurking in all of this is my Math I classes. They seem to do better with the 3-3 system. It's actually really surprised me. Usually, since they are the lowest ability students, they tend to give up much easier. They almost always do all of the problems - they take it very seriously. I don't think I'll change it to unit tests for them. In fact, I did that this time (we had a 4 learning target unit) and they didn't do as well. With this next unit, back to teach 3, quiz 3, teach 3 more, quiz 6 (3 graded, 3 feedback), repeat.

So... do I have an answer? Well, the more I think about this, the more I think it goes back to this poverty/survival mentality of focusing on the present rather than the future. My students are in a survival mode in their lives and that translates over to school. Teenagers as it is don't focus on future things much anyway and I think that my students even more so are concentrating so much on the present and surviving that they don't look toward what they could do to get ahead. As far as their quizzes go, they focus on the graded material because that is the "present" in my class - it's what needs to be dealt with now. Surviving in my class means doing the best they can on those graded learning targets. In many cases, I am thinking that they don't even attempt the feedback problems because they aren't focusing on them in their preparation for their quiz since it's not factoring into their grade now. They are probably thinking that they'll learn it when they need to for the grade. I am also now wondering that if the drop off in re-assessments I'm seeing has to do with the same thing. If their grade is "acceptable," why bother trying to improve it? If it's not "acceptable," now the student has to do re-assessments to get the grade up just enough to be "acceptable" again.

Answering the question creates other questions. How do you get students who are so focused on doing what needs to be done today to shift their focus? If my students are focused on the present, is doing the 3-3 method I mentioned earlier really the best thing? They're not doing much on the feedback problems. I almost feel like it's a waste of time. I don't like doing quizzes every five to seven class days (it eats up class time, it's a pain to prepare assessments that often, not to mention it feels like I am constantly writing quizzes and grading them). Am I better off going back to the way I was doing it before ("unit" tests with some feedback quizzes)? Is there a better way? Anyone out there in a similar socio-economic situation and doing SBG? I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you do assessment. Even if your socio-economic situation is not like mine, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what to do about my assessment dilemma. What I do know is that what I'm doing is not the best way. Now I have to figure out what that "best" way is.


misscalcul8 said...

Ruby Payne has done a lot of work with poverty. I read her book and it was really interesting. She mentions just what you mention here.

Have you tried asking the students why they don't try the feedback problems or ask them how they study?

Lisa said...

Cathy Hamiliton worked with/studied under (I forget with) Ruby Payne. She's from the Cincinnati area, so she's (somewhat) near us. If I remember correctly, the information I shared was her version of what Ruby Payne talks about.

I haven't asked my students to be honest. Might be a thought.

Ashley said...

I have a similar situation to yours. My school is 75%+ free-reduced lunch. I went to a standards-based grading system this year and I have been very pleased with the results so far. I was extremely worried that the students would not do the work if it wasn't graded. However, I always say, "If I give you something to do, it isn't optional--graded or not." Basically my students don't have the option to turn something in to me blank. That is a behavior (for the most part--sometimes it's skills, but I would have other evidence to show me that.)

You need to get your principal on your side before you implement something like that because it may mean you have to send a few students to the office for "insubordination-refusal to complete assigned classwork." After you have done that a few times they will see you are serious and just do whatever you put in front of them.

Also, I always say things like, "I don't care if you get every problem wrong. I need some evidence for every single question. This is improving your education! It is for me to see if we should practice more or move on" or sometimes "there is absolutely no point in writing down crap. I will know if you are just guessing. I want to know what you actually know--not that you can multiple-guess correctly."

I work really hard to set up that atmosphere of failure still being a valuable learning experience. I try to make it really safe for them to attempt, screw up, and then fix it the next day. That seems to make them more willing to try instead of just writing IDK.

Another thing...and maybe you have blogged about this elsewhere...but why are you testing each thing three times? That seems like a whole lot of work. I have one grade per standard in my gradebook. However, I don't test it right away after learning it. Every single day my students complete an exit ticket. It isn't every anything I've spent lots of time creating. Most of the time I pass out a post-it note and write two questions on the board. That gives me the day-to-day feedback I need and its really quick to mark valuable feedback for them on just a couple questions. I don't give the "official" test until I'm sure at least 80% of my students "got it." So between the initial teaching and the test...I move on, but make connections as often as possible (through activities or bell ringers). After seeing it and again and again and again...then finally I test. They are always able to re-test if the first doesn't got well, but using this strategy they mostly all pass the first time around.

Anyway, I've written a novel and maybe I haven't even answered your question.

Dvora Geller said...

I am not currently working in a high poverty level school but I have in the past and I did start using SBG in my grade 8 math classes this year.

What I decided to do was give short (under 20 min) weekly quizzes, every Monday, where I ask questions on the previous concepts. I assess each concept at least twice depending on the scope of the standard. So my 1st week of the grading period (we have 5 of them a school year) is extremely short and then the 2nd week includes the 1st and 2nd, etc. The quizzes do not take too long to grade and I give the students an overall score for each standard with quick feedback on each question. These quizzes have not been more than 5 - 6 questions max and some week as few as 3 or 4.

Personally, I much prefer grading these smaller weekly quizzes to hours spend on a unit test and my students are feeling more confident about taking them. They also know that the newest grades replace older ones so they can improve in an area and know they can't forget about things we have already learned.

Would love to talk further with you about all this.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a very different situation, but I had a thought as I was reading your post. I wonder whether it would help to split the quizzes into two different, shorter quizzes. So one would be a free quiz (feedback only) and the other would be the one that counts (on what was free last week). So even though it already seems bite-sized, it would be micro-bite-sized. And if the only thing on the page is a set of free problems, they would probably work on those, right? But if there is something graded there, too, they might feel like all or most of their time should be spent on the part that they are "paying for" with a grade. Just an idea. :)