Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Window Into Our Classroom

I am a terrible blogger.  I rarely take the time and, when I do, I have no clue how to approach them. Audience?  Purpose for writing?  I'm at a loss on even the basics.  But, I enjoyed seeing my classes at work so much today that I decided I'd brave the discomfort and open the blinds so you all can peak in.

Typically, our class follows a bit of a rhythm.  This can vary a bit and it isn't entirely set in stone, but generally we focus on one overarching concept each week in the following pattern:

  • "Throw them in the deep end." (MONDAYS) We usually work in groups on some sort of problem solving task that requires the concept we will be learning.  This week for example, we are planning to discuss Equivalent Ratios so they spent Monday in their home groups trying to wrestle with one of Dan's three-act lessons: Nana's Paint Mix Up on group whiteboards. The results on Monday are typically quite mixed.  Even if they arrive at the correct answer, they get there with a lot of fits and detours and have a difficult time justifying or defending their answer.  Which is fine...and at least somewhat by design.  Some groups that picked it up more quickly had the chance to wrestle a bit with Nana's Chocolate Milk as well.
  • "Let's put some language to what we experienced yesterday!" (TUESDAYS) We typically have one direct instruction day a week and this is it.  We use a version of Interactive Notebooks.  I say a version because I don't use foldables or many of the typical INB frills.  We organize it with a table of contents and page numbers, notes are taken on the right and a Thinking Space is reserved on the left where we often put reflections, sample problems, or challenge activities as we move throughout the week.  This is the day where I introduce them to specific vocabulary and models that can be useful as they wrestle with problems like that which they encountered the day before. Here is one of my copies of this week's notes (I use the Elmo projector and write a fresh copy for each class.):
  • "Let's Try This Again!" (WEDNESDAYS) While it can sometimes take the form of guided practice, this is the students' opportunity to try out the new language or models that we discussed in Tuesday's lecture.  For this week, that meant working in our color groups (which differ from home groups) while revisiting one of the Dan's three-act tasks as we looked at Nana's Scrambled Eggs.  This time, there was a higher expectation on their responses.  I wanted them to model their answer in a number of ways and use precision in their presentation.  I was not disappointed.  While there were points of misconception that arose and occasions when we needed to prompt one another ("No naked graphs." "No naked number lines." "What does flour mean as a unit?" "In our original ratio, what did the 2 and 3 represent?"), their work showed a much deeper understanding of the concept than Monday's sense making endeavor.  You'll notice a few errors in these samples but they were still working through their thinking.  Overall, I was pleased with what I saw:

We often conclude Wednesday with a quick formative assessment (a 2-5 question exit slip depending on the concept being covered) and then use that performance to help determine Thursday's activities. Often there are differentiated tasks available for Thursday that include opportunities for reteaching for those that need them and challenging extension tasks for those who will benefit from them.  I am out tomorrow, so I am leaving something more substitute friendly.  

Fridays are reserved for Think Through Math, a district purchased computer program that allows students to work at their own pace.  I usually hate programs like that but I actually like the way this one operates.  And it allows me to customize the sequence of lessons so I place them on Pathways that align to what we are doing each quarter.  This also allows me to have sufficient time for students to reassess on skills that they performed poorly on or get caught up on notes or assessments that they have missed.  

This pattern varies slightly from week to week but is at least semi-consistent.  Our district requires us to submit two grades per week so this provides a weekly routine of one exit slip assessment and one participation grade (generally the Thursday activity) per week.  Unit Tests (double grades) and homework completion (compiled into a grade twice per quarter) are in addition.  The system isn't perfect, but in Year Two in this position...I'm fairly happy with how it is working.