Thursday, October 29, 2015

First Term Reflection

This is a rough brain dump after the recent end of school term, but I am going to try to stay coherent and helpful.

1. This past school term, I decided to be tougher-than-usual and to cut off accepting make-up work a day before the end of the term. It seems like a small change, but it really saved my sanity by so much! I got to get all of that make-up work graded and returned by the last day of the term, and to just focus on the bigger assignments (like tests) once the kids went on term break and I was working on finalizing their grades. It probably didn't save me much time, but it saved me lots in terms of sanity and focus. I wasn't trying to grade a thousand different assignments all at once while trying to re-calculate their grades.

2. Another thing that really saved me is that I created a learning rubric, asking kids to rate themselves on their growth mindset, reflectiveness, responsibility, resourcefulness, and organization on the last day of the term. It was tremendously helpful to me in writing comments for them, looking at how they rate themselves in each category of the rubric! At this point of the year, it allowed me to really incorporate their own self-assessment into their evaluation, while keeping it somewhat objective (action-based, as my rubric was formatted to be, rather than opinion-based, like it would probably be if I gave them an open-form self-reflection). Again, in the end I don't think that I necessarily saved time in writing their evaluations, but I think that I wrote really detailed and comprehensive ones, considering that it is only the first term and we have only had 6 or so weeks of school.

3. At the end of the term, I really liked ending Algebra 2 with choice assignments and ending Calculus with no-requiz-option exams. For Algebra 2, the choice assignments were all regression activities, and all groups ended up learning/practicing the same skills, but offering them the choice meant that we would potentially have richer discussions in coming weeks, and their interest level was also very high during the task. For Calculus, giving them a quiz that does not have any re-quizzing options was a great way for me to ask the students to step up to a "college-level" challenge after a term of slowly ramping them up to my expectations, and to show them that they could still do very well if they would commit to preparing and asking questions in advance. It worked! Although in general, I am a believer of re-quizzes, I think giving one no-requiz assessment every term will actually reinforce their confidence over time, even for the students who initially don't do well on them. It will also make for a more realistic preparation for college next year.

4. In Grade 9 Geometry, we had given an open-notes exam half-way through the first term, and then a closed-notes final exam at the end of the first term. These tests were super helpful, in combination. The open-notes exam was a great informal check-in on how responsible they are as learners, in asking clarifying questions in class and making sure that they had understood a quite complex task. (Their open-notes task was to take a sheet of paper and to write a cubic equation modeling the volume that could be built by folding up the corners into a box. The 9th-graders needed to do domain analysis and to use Desmos to optimize the volume, and then to construct the box accordingly, individually.) The closed-notes exam at the end of the term, then, assessed how well they are practicing/preparing for exams. I loved this combination, particularly in Grade 9. I thought it was a very developmentally appropriate way to introduce them to high-school expectations.

5. Math journals. Love them, but they're so much work! I am still looking for ways to cut down the work load that is to grade these concept journals all the time (often twice, if the kids are doing revisions on their entries). Any tips?

6. Overall, a very exciting, albeit hectic, first term!

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