Tuesday, June 05, 2012

SBG For The Rest of the Students

Today was the last day with students. I have a half day tomorrow and then I will have finished my 20th year teaching. Kind of hard to believe. I have been thinking about several things over the last few days but sitting down and actually blogging about it has been hard. Part of that has to do with all of the other stuff going on. My daughter and I will be heading to Rock the Mall on a turnaround bus trip she earned through selling Girl Scout Cookies. We leave about 11 pm Friday night, ride all night to DC, head to the event, and get on the bus to head home. We'll get in around 4-5 am Sunday morning. I've been getting ready for that. I'm also trying to do some other things to finish the year out as well.

So I sit here Tuesday evening trying to blog the thoughts I've had over the last few days as I close out this year and begin to think about the new one. I suppose I'll have a few posts over the next few days.

Right now the biggest thing on my mind is how next year is going to shape up. My schedule (as of right now) is 1 class of Math 2 (lower ability sophomores - think Geometry without proofs) and 5 classes of Algebra 2. I've taught Math 2 before - it's been 2 years since I had it last, but I haven't done it under SBG before. Since we have to do curriculum maps over the summer, they will be helpful in setting up my Learning Target lists for the year.

As far as Algebra 2 goes, there will be no Advanced Algebra 2 class next year. That means my classes will have students from freshmen, who should be pretty strong mathematically, to sophomores, who are where they should be, to juniors and seniors, who could very well struggle. To be honest, I am little concerned. I think a lot of it goes back to what Michael Pershan blogged about earlier this week.

I did look at my SBG data for this year. I'll spare you all the data like I did last year (SBG Analysis), mainly because I think it's more important to be aware of the overall picture. Like Michael blogged, my top students almost always come in for re-assessments. It doesn't matter whether they are in my Advanced Algebra 2 class or regular Algebra 2 class, almost every freshman student I had came in for at least one re-assessment at some point of the year. If you include my top sophomore students as well in that group, you will find that the top students, as a whole, come in to re-assess. I believe most of them come in because they want to improve their grade, although some come in because they they know they know it better than they showed on the test. Most of these students are successful in improving their scores.

Beyond the top students, most of my other students do not come in for re-assessments. Although this does concern me as a whole, it really concerns me about the lower ability students. Looking ahead, I want to make sure that they do not get lost, especially knowing that Algebra 2 next year will have a much smaller amount of review from Algebra 1. I'm not sure what to do. I am pretty sure that I do not do the best job of reinforcing with my students that they need to re-assess. I am not sure how to best go about doing that without seeming like I am nagging them like their mother. However, I know I need to do a better job with them on talking about SBG on a more regular basis.

However, I am still troubled about those lower level students. I am thinking about a few of my lowest ability students in Algebra 2 this year who really struggled with the second half of the year. How do you get them to come in and get help and re-assess? They are high school students - almost adults. How do you get them to feel it is worthwhile to come in and get help and follow through with actually preparing and re-assessing. These are students who have struggled with mathematics for a while. Their numbers will be growing, since the State of Ohio has not only mandated that the Class of 2014 will graduate with 4 math credits, but also that one of those credits must be Algebra 2 or its equivalent. My numbers of students who have struggled with mathematics (and will most likely struggle with Algebra 2) will continue to increase. How do I help them to be successful?

I have thought about personally inviting the student to stay after school (or come in before school, or during my planning period) for help. However, many of my students, especially the juniors and seniors, work. As I've mentioned before, many of my students receive free or reduced lunch and work may be more a necessity rather than just to earn some extra money for fun. How do you impress upon them that their schooling needs to take more of a priority? How do you get them to realize that it's okay to come in and get help? Another thought I have had was to set up something after school on a weekly basis where students could come in and get help and I'd have some sort of snack for them. Or donuts in the morning for a before school help session. I would hope that food would help to bring them in, although it can get pricey for me depending on numbers and how often I did it. Also, if I get too many students in the door, it becomes more like class and less a help session for a struggling student.

I know I'm rambling a lot here - as many of you know, I tend to blog what I'm thinking with the hope that somehow it works itself out through the process. I feel really stumped about this one. How do you get the struggling students in for help and back in to re-assess?


MBP said...

I've got no wisdom to share, except that I love this post and I completely identify with the problems that you describe. I also agree with Riley (who commented on my post) and Sam (who commented on twitter) that SBG shouldn't be counted on to motivate students.

I'll go a step further -- grades, and extrinsic rewards more generally, shouldn't be relied upon to motivate students. Or, at the very least, if we use extrinsic rewards to motivate students, we should be prepared for the results to be mixed, at best.

The way, way, way tough question is how to get kids in for more help without forcing them to come. And I don't have any answers to that one.

debryc said...

To prevent me from being the bottle neck for giving feedback on mastering standards, I taught some students how to tutor and the whole class how to get help from their classmates. Try this to encourage all students to receive the feedback they need?

ksl said...

Hi. My school has used SBG for a few years now and we confront the same questions. But, they are questions that we really know the answer to: (1) if students won't or can't come after school for help, then give them help during the regular class period, (2) if students won't or can't come after school to "re-assess," then do the reassessment during the regular class period.

I had an interesting opportunity to step outside of my usual math teacher role this past year while interviewing candidates for math teaching positions. When I asked them how they'd respond to struggling students, the answer invariably was "I'd help them during lunch and after school." Well, yea, I thought, but every teacher is willing to do that. I want to know what you'll do in the regular class period--how will you modify your strategies? Of course, being new to the field, these candidates rarely had a follow-up answer.

But, you're an "old math dog," as you say. So, you probably have a huge repertoire of strategies. Can any of them be adapted to create the opportunities during the regular class period that you're speaking of? I'm getting at things like not having a student take the "post-test" for a learning goal until their intermediate checks for understanding predict success; or distributing practice for a learning goal over a much longer duration than we're used to in math and then including assessment tasks for "past" learning goals all throughout the year; or systematically devoting time (e.g., every other Friday) to cooperative study followed by reassessment.

At my school it is common for teachers to say "no way, not possible" to ideas like this. I mean, if you are using every other Friday for stuff other than marching ahead through new content, then how can you "cover it all?" And of course this is the point where a very important decision needs to take place which will depend on the student makeup of the class: with which strategy are we further ahead--using every other Friday to slow down, reteach and reassess, or marching on?

My school further complicates the matter (well for teachers it's a complication, but a necessary one I think) by pushing for differentiated instruction in our classrooms. Thus, when I plan I need to consider the needs of students, and in some cases I might need to group them such that the "already know how to do it" students are delving deeper into the content while the "not there yet" students are still trying to arrive at understanding, after which practice for fluency can be assigned. And, in my school we also have "really far away and not likely to become proficient" students, too. For these students (you know, the ones with 4th grade skills but they're enrolled in Algebra 2) sometimes it's necessarily to actually postpone the learning goal and replace it with important math work that the students need. For students like these, any SBG-related concept of coming after school to "reassess" is pointless. The student could come every day, but until some other concepts and skills are in place, there's no way that certain Algebra 2 concepts are going to click.

Best of luck to you this coming school year. I hope you're able to come up with some strategies that work for your students.