Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Blog?

Below is from the mouths of my students when thinking about their blogs today.  We will start writing on them this week.
Why blog? What should we use it for?
  • Share our writing
  • Get constructive criticism - improve your writing
  • Share writing with relatives
  • Comment on other people’s writing - improves their writing
  • Turning in assignments - easier for Mrs. Goerend (less paper)
  • Share your free writing - get feedback
  • Share pictures about what we’re doing
    • Get people’s opinion on something for a project.
  • Ask readers for feedback
  • Get ideas for specific parts of your writing (introduction, conclusion, etc.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Red Group

First, some background:

Our 6th grade is departmentalized, meaning I teach my own students' reading, writing, and spelling.  I then teach math to my own class and the two other  classes.  One of the other 6th grade teachers teaches science, and the other teaches social studies.  This is the way it's pretty much been for the three years I've been in the district. 

From about the second day of school I could tell that this group of 6th graders as a whole was pretty divided.  We have a good amount of students who score low on standardized tests in math and a good amount who score high.  There aren't a lot in the middle.  

This week the students took MAP tests.  The scores again showed quite the gap.  There are many above and many below the math norms, but not a lot in the middle.  I knew this was coming, so I decided to split the classes more or less by ability so that I can slow things down for the lower achieving students and really make sure they get solid on the essentials.

Now on to the real point of my post....

Today I was working on relabeling the folders where students hand in their assignments.  To make it easier, I just labeled the classes red, white, and blue, since those are our school colors.  Before I just called them Mrs. Goerend's class, Mrs. _________'s class and Mrs. ________'s class.  The kids are used to this change happening because they've been divided by ability for math for the past two years.

One student saw me doing this and said, "The red group is the kids that are bad at math, isn't it?"

"No," I said. " It's actually not." 

It was so sad to me to hear that.  We all know the teachers who label kids red (low), yellow (medium), and green (high).  Or there's plenty of other ways teachers label groups.  I just have to label them SOMETHING besides by teacher's name because I have to label the hand-in folders.

When we tell the kids tomorrow what colored class they are in, they are going to know which is the low class (and it's not the red group).  Kids aren't oblivious to who is better and who is worse at things.  The other two are mixed among higher and medium achieving.  I can about guarantee that some kid is going to say in the low class, "We're the kids that are bad at math." 

How do you respond to this?  

It's such a touchy subject. They just need it taught at a different pace.  They may need additional practice.  We may work with order of operations with just whole numbers and not decimals, so they don't have to think about two things at once. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Standards-Base Grading: What I've changed this year

This year, I'm on my second full year of using standards-based grading in math.  I've kept a lot of things the same, but am continually tweaking things.  For one, I used to give completion points for homework, just 2 points per assignment.  But, this year I'm not giving any points for assignments, which purifies the students' grades to just scores for standards.  Instead, I am just tallying if the students complete their homework and turn it in.  I hope that I can share this completion percentage with parents and students every so often so that they might see a correlation.

I've also added to the requirements of being able to retake a learning target.  Students must either have a study session with me or turn in some practice problems they did before they can take a retake.  I decided to do this this year because I would have many students in the past that would say, "Oh, I have to take a retake today?"  It was obvious to me that students would not prepare for the retake and often make the same mistakes that they did on the original quiz.  I guess I am forcing them to study, but they need to do some sort of studying to learn what they were missing the first time around. 

If you are using standards-based grading, how is it going?  Have you made any discoveries lately?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reading Aloud to Students

It's amazing what reading aloud to your students will do. 

For the past 4 years,  I have started the year off reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  I teach 6th grade...and the book's reading level is a grade equivalent of 5.1.  It's an independent level book for 75% of my students, but I'm still reading it to them.  

We're nearing the end, and each day when I have to put it away, they are begging me to continue reading.   Kids crave a good story.  They will sit and listen.  They enjoy it.  It makes them think.  They discuss the story and make predictions in the lunch line.  They want to get caught up with what is happening when they've been absent and miss a day of reading.

I have one copy of the second book in the series, The People of Sparks, in my classroom library.  The cover is not connected to the book anymore and held together by tape.  I just ordered a second copy from BookMooch.com and am awaiting its arrival. 

There's no technology involved in my reading aloud to the students.  No flashy screens, cameras, or sound effects are attached to the book.  It's just a good story.

No wonder my education professor, Dr. Susan Sherwood, stressed that you should read to your students every day.  I'm a believer. 

What have you read to your students lately?