Monday, March 21, 2011

Worst. Teacher. Ever

So was told by students in one of my hours today that I am the worst teacher ever and they hope I never become a teacher because those kids that I teach will fail at life. So here is the story leading up to why this comment was made by three students.

This all started with last Friday. It was a normal day in the room, class is talking about usual while I am trying to teach (I still need a lot of improvement on my classroom management). The way that I teach is probably not conventional. I am teaching algebra 1 with multiplying binomials three different ways right now. The first is distributing, the second is F.O.I.L. and the third is the area (lattice) model. (I know three different ways can confuse kids but I do emphasize that they know all three but choose one that they like the best and "ignore" the others) There are three primary reasons why the students dislike me in this particular hour

1) I write their homework assignment in set notation (actually all hours dislike me for this). This stops the students that shouldn't be working on the homework during the lesson from actually working on it unless they take time out of their day to actually learn set notation. I don't go too crazy with it just (n,xez: 0<x<25, x=2n-1) stuff like that. I teach the students that are receiving an A- or better how to read this notation or tell them the homework if they ask for it ahead of time. That way they are able to work on it once they understand the topic being taught and not have to wait till the end to get their homework. I find this helps with boredom of those students who would otherwise end up being a classroom management problem. The students HATE that I do this. But I was seeing too many students working on homework that should be paying attention in class.

2) When they give answers to problems, I do not say which one is right. I get all the different answers students found for the problem and then we evaluate and analyze which one is actually the correct solution (if even up there). WAIT! YOU MEAN STUDENTS ACTUALLY HAVE TO THINK AT HIGHER LEVELS OF BLOOM'S TAXONOMY IN YOUR CLASS! The answer is yes, yes they do. They also hate this how I will not just tell them which answer is right. I will admit this does take more time in class, but I feel it is worth it. This way the students actually find their mistakes by discussing each answer. I act more like a moderator and guide the discussion the students have.

3) The last reason why students do not like the way that I teach is due to the fact that if the talking gets out of hand, I will just silently wait until the talking ends. Usually I plan a lesson that is going to take around 35 to 40 minutes, that way I have some time to give in my 60 minute class for questions and problems that come up during the lesson. If everything goes smoothly and it actually takes less time than the students can get up to 30 minutes of work time for homework. If they talk then they eat up this time very quickly. Just Friday it took 15 minutes for me to write 1-9 all 10-26 even for their homework because they could not quit talking. All I needed was 20 seconds of silence and it would have been written. They HATE that I do this and make them actually allow me to talk without having to raise my voice. Is this punishing some of those that are sitting there silently, yes, and I do feel bad for those ones that are. I have wrote the assignment down and those that are quiet walk over to them and show them what it is so they can begin to work on it.

This is why the students today told me I was a bad teacher, because I have these practices. Does this really make me a bad teacher? I don't feel that it does. I think some of these students are use to just being told how to do everything and now are being forced on their own to judge what is correct and what way of solving problems they like best. It is not just regurgitation of algorithms but actually analyzing and evaluating of different approaches and different solutions.

But then again I could be crazy and this actually could be poor practices. Let me know what you think! Trust me I may get knocked down, but I get up again ;)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mastery based grading/learning

I have been wanting to blog about this for a week now but haven't had time. This delay has allowed me to organize my thoughts a little more on the topic of Mastery Based Grading/Learning, so I can't complain too much.
I was shocked when I went on twitter the other day and a teacher was told by a 32 year veteran that being able to re-assess students was an absurd idea. He felt that students have one shot at the test and if they do not pass it then, too bad for them. They should have studied more.
This is one thing that I have very strong feelings about and there is research backing up my feelings. I should (but I won't) actually post any of the research in here, but you can just Google and come up with hundreds of results on why mastery based learning and teaching is better than the "one shot" method.

Anyway back to why I feel mastery learning is better.

1) The main reason that I feel mastery learning is better than the "one shot" method is due to it actually allowing students to master each topic and not just feel that they have the one opportunity to get it right. I pose the question "does it really matter when students master material if they do master it?" To me this is a strong NO! If a student masters a certain topic 4 months down the road and can show mastery on this topic, then I feel they should get credit for this immediately. Why hold it against them that they didn't 
 understand it initially. The topic might have been out of the developmental zone at the time and they had to mature a little more too truly understand what was happening. Research shows that there are optimal times when students should learn certain materials (only if education designers would listen to this). It might have been the way that it was explained by the teacher (even though we don't like to think this, but teaching styles affect learning greatly which is why differentiation is such a big topic these days), or any one of another factors. The important thing is that the student understands the topic now and can move on.

2) The second big reason why I feel mastery based learning is better than the "one shot" method is due to the stress that is present in high stakes (one opportunity) testing. If a student only has one opportunity to pass the test, this is going to create a very stressful atmosphere (I know it does for me). I hated the feeling that I had when I knew that I didn't do a problem right and if I had just one more opportunity I could show that I actually did know what was happening. If students know that they will have multiple opportunities to show they have mastered the topic, and this is not their only chance, they will be more relaxed and will actually perform better on the assessments due to this atmosphere.

3) The third reason why I do not like "one shot" testing is due to the lack of time. Most school testing is in a timed setting. If a student needs a little more time on tests and they are not able to finish everything due to this lack of time, then they are obviously not going to receive the grade that they actually deserve. (Most teachers are usually forgiving if students do need a little more time and supply it to them, but it still goes back to point number 2.) Think back to all of those times that you felt rushed to finish a test and knew that you did not put forth your best work or even complete some problems. How nice would it have been to know that you have another opportunity to show that you know this material?

So you might be wondering, "But Jacob, how do you plan on implementing this style learning in your classroom?" I will admit first thing that it is going to take quite a bit more work on my part to keep everything straight. I will have to always be updating my grades and remembering what the students have mastered and what they have not. I will most likely use the ideas that Dr. David Coffey uses here. Base my grading on a 5 point scale. 0 points being not even attempted. 1 point being started but never actually made it past the first couple steps. 2 points being started to go, got through the first few steps but couldn't finish the problem. 3 points being you made it to the end of the problem, found the correct solution, but your explanation of how you found this solution was lacking.  4 points being that you did most of the steps correctly, found the correct solution, but you either left some steps out or went too far on the problem. Finally 5 points being that you found the correct solution, the explanation of how you arrived at this solution is clear and concise, and your interpretation of the problem is accurate.

The implementation of mastery grading is the hardest part of it. The students will not really see any change in their normal day. They only time it will affect them is when they have to try for mastery again. It basically just requires the teacher to do more work. But it will be worth it if students are learning more; at least that is my feeling. It does put more responsibility on the student though to set up times to master topics if they missed it the first time. Ideally no student should receive below a B- in the class if they master every topic. Will this happen, no because some students won't care enough to take time out of their after school day to master topics. But the ones that do care and don't master the first time will be there and will be thankful for the opportunity.

Another nice thing that someone suggested to me is once students master a certain topic, an example of this would go into a portfolio that the student would keep throughout the year. At the end of the year, the students would be able to look back and assess their own learning and really see everything that they have learned that year. It would be a nice sense of accomplishment for them. It would also work as a really nice resource for the students in the future to be able to look back at their examples and remember how to do certain problems. This would also have the benefit of showing the administration that your students are truly learning A LOT in your class.
What are your thoughts on mastery based learning/grading?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Link to Old blog

Hey all, I wanted to switch up where my blog was at to blogger. No real reason other than I liked it's layout quite a bit better than what edublogs had to offer. Hope you enjoy!