Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wordle-now more than just a cool looking thing to my students

I used Wordle in my classroom earlier in the year for collaboration and seeing trends in ideas for classroom behaviors and what ideal group work looks like.  Students were "wowed" with the tool and some went home to make their own Wordles on fun topics of their own interest.  Up until recently, they'd just seen Wordle as a "fun" thing to do.

Two weeks ago, the students composed descriptive essays.  The major goal of this assignment was to work on "spicy writing" that encompassed the senses.  After prewriting, drafting, peer revisions, and composing their second draft, I modeled to students how Wordle could be used to help with their word choice.  I took a sample essay and pasted it into Wordle.  We had a class discussion on the larger words in the Wordle.  Students knew from previous use of Wordle that these words appeared more often in the essay.  I then showed them the online dictionary/thesauraus Visuwords.  Ooos and Ahs resonated around the room as webs appeared on the screen with suggestions for different words to use. 

To make a long story short, some students really grasped the use of these tools and analyzed their own essays in Wordle.  They then used Visuwords to find better words to use.  Part of the essay rubric was that students showed evidence of changes in word choice.  Many students made a couple changes on their Wordle to show that evidence.   Here is a top notch example of the way one of my students did this:

This student circled common words and found a variety of more descriptive words to replace them with using Visuwords. 

It may seem simple, but I really saw Wordle come to life in an applicable way for many of my students.  They do still think it's a "fun" and "cool" tool, but they also see how it can be used to improved their writing. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frustrated Part 2

I had about a 30 minute discussion with each of my math classes today.  I began by expressing my frustration at the time loss (of me creating/printnig the retakes) and paper loss occuring when student dont' show up. We also had a quick math lesson (since we talked about rounding fractions yesterday) about approximately what 9/20 (I misquoted this in my previous post, but it has been corrected) of the class showing up means.  They concluded (yes!  They remember what we did in class yesterday.) that is was about 1/2.  I also discussed how it is sad for me to see that they aren't taking advantage of this opportunity.  I gave them about 5 minutes to talk in their groups about what should/could be done about this.

Students in my first class came up with this list:
  • Keep them after school/at recess to compensate for Mrs. G's time
  • Have them do clerical work for Mrs. G.
  • They can't take a retake next time (some said this could occur after multiple offenses)
  • Write retake time on a sticky note and put it on desk or on accordion folder
  • Mrs. G chooses/assigns retake times
  • Write an appology letter for not showing up
  • Reward those who come
  • Start a student-led retake punishment committee
We went through the list and briefly discussed how some of the options still took up my time.  I was surprised by that class's lack of preventative behaviors.  They were focused on the punishment.  We discussed for a few minutes the "reward" they wanted for showing up.  They came to the conclusion that the opportunity to retake is a reward in itself.

The second class came up with this list:
  • If you don't show up, you can't take a retake the next time (or forever)
  • Detention for 30 min. or working with the janitor for 1 hour
  • Come in the next day
  • Post a schedule in my room and the other 6th grade teacher's room
  • Reschedule if you can't make it
  • Remind yourself with a sticky note (and a discussion occured as to the various places you could put the sticky note, including their forehead)
  • Write it down in your planner
  • No show = no recess for 1 week
  • Post a reminder in your locker
  • Take points off
  • Give them lots of homework
  • Help the teacher (to make up for her time)
  • Put the no show students' names on the morning announcements for embarassment
  • Write an "I'm sorry" letter
  • Write "I'm sorry" repeatedly
In this class, after since I had the time to process the conversation from the first class, we actually went back through the list and put a red mark next to ideas that still consumed my time.  We also put green stars next to ideas that were proactive behaviors.  I've noted that with the red/green text on their list. This class, when making the list, wanted to go a little overboard with "how bad of a punishment can I think of."

Overall, I don't think the students or I really came to a conclusion as to any punishment for not showing up.  In both classes, they came to realize that any punishment would result in even more of my time being wasted.  Also, we discussed how taking points off (2nd class's idea) doesn't go along with my s-b grading at all. 

In both classes, we discussed how it all comes down to effort and responsibility.  I told them that my brother, a high school math teacher (Matt Townsley), questioned if 6th graders were really responsible/capable enough to handle the retakes system.  Both classes said they were.  They said if people are showing up, it shows that anyone can be capable of showing up. 

I ended the conversation with saying that I hope the next time they sign up for a retake, they keep this conversation in mind.  Even though the 2nd class said posting a schedule would take up my time, I still might consider doing it to see if it helps at all.  But, if they write it down in their planners and don't look at those, will they look at a schedule?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I talked a couple weeks ago about how I was very excited about my students' motivation for retakes.  For some reason, that motivation has plummeted.  I had 20 students sign up for retakes for the most recent quiz and 9/20 did not show up for their retakes.  They choose the time to take it.  I don't post the schedule anywhere, but I always tell students when their retake is if they ask.  I'm not sure what to do next.  Last year I "punished" students who did not show up for a retake and didn't allow them to retake for the next quiz.  The punishment doesn't really fit with what I'm trying to do.  I guess I could copy the retake schedule and post it somewhere, but I don't have time to hunt each student down and remind them of when their retake is.  Any suggestions for helping this?  I plan to talk to the students about it tomorrow, but I want to get my initial frustration out here.

I'll report back with what the students say.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's spreading...

I'm not talking about the flu or the first colds of the season, though they are spreading.  I'm talking about my math grading practices!  My principal did his first observation of the year on Wednesday (since this is my second year in the district).  At the pre-observation conference, I shared my lesson with him along with the homework (with answers given for the students to check their work at the bottom) and my quiz that would assess this part of the chapter broken up into learning targets.  I'd shared what I was doing with him when I first implemented it last year, but I don't know if he really understood what I was doing.  He was blown away.  He really liked how the quiz was separated into the objectives.  I shared with him that I gave the objectives/learning targets to the students at the beginning of each chapter along with when the quizzes would happen.  He said, "All our math teachers should be doing this."

Also, the teacher across the hall, who teaches 5th grade math, came over to ask me how I did retakes because she would like to try it out!  She taught 6th grade last year, so she saw how I did things last year.  She decided she's going to give her students an opportunity to retake a test they just finished! 

Like I said, it's spreading!  I'm excited!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"I can improve my grade by retaking a part of the quiz?"

I've had some exciting student-self motivation going on in my math class lately.

Here's a little background on how I assess math:
I break up each math quiz I give into "learning targets" or objectives which the students are informed of at the beginning of the chapter.  I score each "learning target" on a  1-4 scale (This is an example of what 1-4 means from something my students should have already understood at the beginning of the year). This is part of my standards-based grading approach I adopted for my math classroom last year (The link is a hand-out is one I gave to my students at the beginning of the year to explain it, so hopefully you can get an idea of what I'm doing.) .  I hope to blog more about that in a future post.

I started a practice after the second math quiz I gave out this year that has shown to be very beneficial!  Approximately two days after each quiz, I give the quizzes back to the students with the problems marked that they missed along with scores for each learning target.  I have been pairing or grouping students in 2's or 3's with students who have strengths/weaknesses that complement each other.  For example, a student may have gotten a 2 on learning target 1, a 4 on learning target 2, a 3 on learning target 3, and a 3.5 on learning target 4.  I try (and usually am pretty successful) to pair/group this student with another, or two others who have a 3 or 4 on learning target 1, a 2 or 3 on learning target 2, and so on.  The students then discuss the problems they missed and work them out with a pen on their paper or another sheet.  Students are usually able to figure out their errors without my direction, and it requires much more involvement than me fielding questions from the whole class and going through selected problems on the board, or just handing back the quiz with written explanations/answers.

I also allow students to retake any learning targets they'd like (outside of class time) as long as they've turned in all of their "insurance" (homework) on time for the chapter up to that point.  The reason I'm so excited about the peer post quiz interaction is that it has skyrocketed  the amount of students who have the desire to sign up for retakes (thus proving they have actually learned the material)!  I did not do this peer interaction on the first quiz of the year, and I was a little frustrated at the number of students who signed up for a retake.  Now, after conferring with their peers, students almost automatically sign up to retake any learning target that they scored a 3 or lower on. 

This does take more work and time on my part.  I have to have a retake version of each quiz written up, customize them for the learning targets each student wants to retake (because they don't have to retake the whole quiz), copy them off, be present for students outside of class to retake them, check them, as well as change grades in the grade book (only if they scored better-I don't penalize students if they do worse, which they RARELY do.).  It really doesn't take as much time as it might sound by that long list, but it truly benefits the students, gives them a chance to prove their learning (because isn't the goal that they learn it and we don't just allow students to do poorly on a quiz/test and move on?), and helps me in the future because the learning of math concepts is often sequential and requires a basis of past concepts to move on to the next thing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Google Calendar with 6th graders

This fall, I purchased the domain from Google for $10 a year.  Along with this now being the home for my classroom blog, I also obtained 50 user names for Google Calendar and Google Docs.  These user names could also be linked to email addresses, but since my students are all under the age of 13 and I didn't want to open the can of worms of them having email addresses (which some parents might not be too excited about), I decided to turn that feature off.

It's been slow going this year with some limited class time and access to the computer lab because of testing, but each student in both of my sections has a user name (student___, fill in a number in the blank) and a password which he or she created using Password Bird.   I went with student# as a user name for the ease of use for future classes.

We've spent the most time with the calendar so far.  I share a calendar for my math and writing class with both sections because I teach those subjects to both sixth grade sections in our school.  I share a reading and spelling calendar with my homeroom section because I teach those subjects to them.  I update the calendar as I plan (usually a week ahead). It really doesn't take that much time to update. Last week I showed the students how to log in and really utilize the calendar.  I'm excited to see that some students are also using the calendar for their personal activities!  Hooray for organization through technology!

On the calendar, I post a short summary of the day's activity for the subject along with page numbers that students can refer to in their textbook.  For math, I create most of my own worksheets, to go along with my standards-based grading system (which I will discuss in a future post), so I'm able to link the Google Doc of the worksheet to the math lesson's description.  I found that posting a link on the calendar worked better than sharing the document with all 40 of my students' user names.  Google Docs has a glitch right now with a maximum amount of contributors to a document, so sharing a document by a link gets around that problem.

Even though a few of my students don't have internet access at home, I've seen minor victories with this system.  I've had two students who were sick on different occasions return to school the next day with their math homework completed because they downloaded it from the link on the calendar!  The day I spent 30 minutes explaining how the calendar works and how students can access it at home, many students were VERY excited about it and kept saying, "This is so cool!" and "Have you tried this?" or even began adding their own activities to the calendar. 

I plan to update more on how the Google Docs side of it works with my writing class once we dive into some more writing assignments.  I can't wait to see its use with peer revising and editing and the sharing feature!  I will also update more on the Google Calendar as new discoveries arise!

Starting Out

I decided, with much encouragement from my husband, to start a professional blog.  I'm not sure what direction to take, but I hope to let this be a place where I tell about what I'm doing in my classroom and why I'm doing it.  Also, I hope to get feedback to improve how I teach!  Please be patient with me as I begin.