Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Just a Glimpse ... #MTBoS30 - 17

I've been reading Tina's posts about her classroom routines regarding homework, classwork and such. Like most teachers I am intrigued by the variety at which we conduct our classrooms and love seeing "how it's done" in other places.  So in the spirit of sharing here are some ideas from my place.

I teach Pre-AP/TAG Algebra 2.  My classes are a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

I give homework, but I don't grade it. 

  • I believe homework is practice and shouldn't be graded right or wrong.  I hope students can do the work when they leave class, but if they can't, I don't think they should be penalized with a low grade.
  • I teach advanced math students.  They don't all need the same amount of practice to cement their skills.
  • Our administration does not allow us to give completion grades, so I can't just give credit for work done. 
I spend those first weeks, months of school "preaching" the power of practice.   In those first weeks I ask students to put homework out where I can see it, I circulate, and make notes on my clipboard.  If students' show signs of struggling I discuss doing homework with them individually, and if that isn't enough, I talk to their parents about the value of practice.

I post a key with the homework routinely.  I invite students to email me questions about their homework or to stop in before/after school for help.

Allowing students to use their homework on our daily learning checks has proven to be a strong motivator for doing at least some of the homework.


Daily Learning Checks
I give a short learning check almost daily.

  • Most often I use Google Forms to give/grade the daily learning check.
  • Students can use their homework.
  • The purpose is to check understanding of the previous lesson.
  • I spiral "most missed questions" back in through lesson discussions.
Since we are on an A/B schedule, students have 48 hours to practice the homework, check with the online key, contact me by email or in person for help before the learning check.  Learning checks (along with any other classwork I might grade) is 20% of their six weeks grade.

Daily learning checks inform instruction - they let me know what students are struggling with a particular skill.  They let me know what skills I need to recycle back into our work. Daily learning checks also serve as feedback to students about their understanding of that skill.


Our best days are when students are doing the work and I serve as their facilitator.

When I first began teaching I spent way too much time doing the talking, doing the work.  I'm grateful for an instructional coach who encouraged me to talk less! So most days we start with an activity, a short exploration.  It might be a Desmos classroom activity, a set of structured exercises to highlight a key point, or an open-ended problem to get students thinking about the lesson.  Most often students are in pairs or small groups and they are encouraged to talk about the math with one another.  I circulate, listen to their conversations, make suggestions, ask questions.  At some point (most often planned) I pull everyone together, explain key concepts, and then get them started on the next phase of the work.  Depending on the concept or skill, the lesson cycle might have two or three segments of work and instruction (90 minute classes).  On a rare occasion a portion of this classwork may be graded.  Sometimes I stamp or hole punch work as an added motivator although most students haven't needed that oversight.  I circulate around the desks of students who need the added attention to complete work.  To close the lesson, sometimes I summarize what I expect students to have learned; sometimes I take students back to the targets for the day and have them reflect on those; sometimes I ask students to summarize the lesson for me.

Classwork is noisy. Students are active ... working, talking, questioning.  They are doing the work.


Quizzes and Tests
Quizzes, 30%, and tests, 50%, are typical summative mastery assessments.

We work in PLCs.  We develop tests together and give the same test.  We publish a scoring guide so that we score the tests similarly.  We give just 2 tests a six weeks, so each test is a quarter of a student's grade.  The tests are about half multiple choice designed for the typical student, and written at the district level.  The other half of the test is free response, designed for pre-ap students.  One or two questions on the free response might resemble an ACT/SAT type question, require higher level thinking, or be more complex in some way.  Our tests are not long - most often under 20 questions (16 seems to be average).  Students are required to finish the test in the class period.

We give similar quizzes but they are not required to be exactly alike.  I typically give 2 to 4 quizzes in a six weeks depending on the content we are studying.  Quizzes usually cover more than one skill, and are more complex that learning checks.  Quizzes usually resemble questions students might see on a test.  Quizzes are planned to take about 20 to 30 minutes.

If students fail a quiz or test, they can retake it and earn up to a 70%.  The 70% limit is a district rule.  The retake replaces the original grade.

In my classroom, quizzes and tests look pretty traditional ... straight rows, phones on the front table, doing your own work!


We use it as much as possible!

My students are issued laptops to use all year.  I also have a cart of iPads.  And yes, the kids have phones.  We use the technology has often as possible ... just about every class day.  My favorite online tools include Desmos, Google forms (docs, slides, draw), Padlet, Quizizz, Socrative, and ClassKick.

About phones ... I try not to make them an issue.  Students know that texting during class is prohibited.  When they succumb, I ask them to put the phones away.  If a student persists, I would take the phone.  Our school has a policy that if a teacher takes the phone, the student has to pay $15 to get it back.  I've not used this policy this year, but I've used it in the past. 

If we are working independently in class which isn't very often, students may listen to their music on their phones - but not on quizzes or tests.  Students like this "rule!"


Will you share a glimpse into your classroom?


  1. I teach accelerated and do everything just about the same as you above except the retakes, pretty cool. Have you tried quizlet live, another cool one!

    1. Thanks for sharing ... I love the affirmation :) I have tried Quizlet Live - only just recently. Planning to use it again in our exam review!