Thursday, November 22, 2012

Now versus later... Grades, GPA, Math & College.

So as a parent would I rather know of my child's struggles now or later?  I ask because I have taken the path that all students who can get thru my Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 sequence are college credit math ready (meaning they will know enough to take and pass college algebra for credit).  When you couple college/career ready idea, which is a "good" goal, with the fact that ~40% of incoming Freshmen to college are not testing into credit math you can figure that there will more than a few students who struggle in my class. {Side note that 40% had to take the Alg 1/Geometry/Alg 2 sequence so there is an issue}.  And it is easy to compare Little Johnny to Little Jimmy from a neighboring district where a 70% is a C and it is a D- at my school....  But I like our scale and I demand college/career ready skills.

The issue that was raised with my policy to make sure they're ready was with their GPA.  Now what I know and accept from the college admissions people is they don't put a lot of faith in GPA anymore.  So ACT and just an overall GPA is what they look for (we are not talking Ivy League here).

But at the same time a lot of my students don't react until they have a solid D going (or lower), and even though I allow retakes on everything - multiple times - a students own rosiness on what they can do makes it so some get Ds first quarter.  (I react at the D/D- level with mandatory rework for the student, except with students in Pre-Calc Calc and Senior Math -- these upperclassmen should be ready).  I always talk about the semester grade, effort and the need for the student to get the math skills to succeed at college.  But I have hit the GPA argument too, how is the student going to get into college with the D (or even a C with some parents).  My reply is they will get the skills, do well on the ACT and get into an appropriate college.  Better to struggle with me -- I care, push, provide extra work and opportunities -- versus at college where a remedial math student is admitted under a cloud of graduation uncertainly. Where they don't have an ally.....

Some of my benchmarks for performance are based on my acceptance of two things: 1) if you don't use it you lose it and 2) I know that the average student will not work at a subject hard for a grade, so I make everything about the skills.

What that means is my curriculum and grade system is set to make college ready math students.  It does not incorporate things for "nice or good" students, it does not give fluff at the end of the quarter so the parents won't yell at the students or me.  (Or the best where parents yell at students, then student says "It is not my fault," and they then call me and without pause start yelling at me...)

So I expect students to learn, understand and apply all skills in the 3 courses at any time in the 3 courses once mastered.  I quiz twice per week on these skills with no partial credit.  It means I can give a factoring quiz in middle of Geometry, or a congruent triangle quiz in Alg 2.  Or a quiz on basic 8th grade material anytime I want....

To end, I am unable to tell a student they have an average grade {C} if they cannot move to the next task -- college or career.  I am willing to work with them, help them, console them but I will not just pass them....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Skills or responsibility....

So as the quarter ends I am having the same thought as always -- is it skills or responsibility or a little bit of both.  What is a grade?  What I mean is every quarter I am descended upon for help to raise grades at the 11th hour.  So my policy is to have grades represent skills & conceptual understanding, not time and not work ethic.   For that reason I have paths for students to do work and have retakes, but after grading my 100th retake in a few days (for only 95 students) I am left wondering if this path is doable for me and/or best for my students.

It works though, Juda's math abilities are increasing -- whether checked by my assessments, the state assessments or the ACT exam.  And I don't worry about the struggler who works hard and just needs more time.  But I worry about the procrastinator and what I may be reinforcing.

So my new big move this year was only 1 retake a day rule (that works pretty well).  Last year without it I had students lining up for 2 or 3 quizzes, which is just a panic drill.   I also enter whatever grade they get (not the best) so the grade represents current understanding.  Yet when I talk with professors in the UW system I wonder if I am doing my students harm, if I making them think this is how it works after HS (I do preach that HS and college are different - but why believe me...)

So here I sit; quarter ended, grading globs of re-tests and re-quizzes -- but I see growth.  It just takes some external pressure (the end of quarter)  -- so until I figure something better (or copy somebody's "better") I will continue with this.  Because it is better than students just giving up, or deciding not to learn.  It really allows me to hold high standards....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Math Team -- Math Meet

So I am writing this post over 2 days. Currently it is the eve of the Tri-State Math Meet at UW-Platteville.  I am excited about taking my students on a "fun" off campus math experience.  This year I have 54 out of the 92 in the High School attending -- I am sure a couple will not make school for some reason but it is a great thing.  I have an excitement about math going.  (It also does not hurt that we have done well in the small school division (Division 4) for 4 straight years)

Some have asked if I am nervous about the meet, and I presume they mean winning it.  And I really don't worry about it.  I just want to make sure each individual student takes pride in what they do, how they do it and enjoys themselves.  My biggest worry is someone not having fun.  I also believe that we just keep doing our thing and the right thing happens, all runs end.  But making sure the students see math as something more than problems in a book is important (even though a math meet is not all that different - it is different).

So - when asked do you think you will win?  I reply that some students should do well and that I think we will place....  I believe it shows we have a strength, any day, any given test can give slightly different results - but I just want the students to feel good about their efforts and support each other and we do that  well.

My plan is to continue this post, tomorrow or Thursday discussing the day......

So it is Wednesday night and I just came home from the meet and we had a great day.  There was a bus and a van of students applying, thinking and doing math.  The day started and ended well with Juda placing 2nd overall in our division.   It is impressive that year in and year out these kids take the time to work at the math and the way they support one another is great.  I really enjoyed today and I am looking forward to our next meet in the spring.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Targeted Practice.....

So at my school this year we stripped 3 minutes from each class in an eight period day to create a Homeroom where 4 days/week are dedicated to silent reading.  (The other day is meetings.)  As a side note this change has played havoc with me all quarter, I am just getting used to it now.

I do not get a homeroom class, instead this time is for RtI (response to intervention).  This is time where students who are struggling can be pulled to my room for small group or individual work.  And so far this is working.  When there are students that need help I can pull them and get 20 minutes of focus on a concept or misconception.  It really works well for students who are putting in solid effort but need a little more.  This week I pulled some students that aren't putting solid effort in and it worked well too.  The question I struggle with is "When to pull a student for help?"

A student that does the work, puts in solid effort - is easy to decide when to pull, at the first critical sign of struggle you pull them.  Because of the effort of the student as a teacher I can quickly tell what is happening and what should happen next (usually).  The student who does not put effort in, copies homework, just will do anything to be done is so much harder to decipher!  So on a test a less than studious student will not be able to do a problem, must likely due to lack of practice.  Then I struggle to decide "Is it time for this student get extra help or will they get it?"  In the beginning of the year my answer was to just handle the students I know had issues that I could identify.  The other students I waited for more information - but what I learned that the lazy become the lost.

Now I have evolved to pulling students as they show struggle whatever the reason for targeted practice, but not on homework.  The practice is in addition to the homework.  This helps me with the problem about when to pull.  The studious student has really tried the homework and needs something different, practicing homework is not going to help.  The less studious can get more practice and I can still expect homework to be completed - so the time does not become extra homework time.  I also only pull students whose grades are below expectation.

Any way my lesson is that I don't care about a student's attitude or laziness or whatever.  My job is to have them understand how to do math and problem solve for the future.  These are basic skills and I cannot just let a student not get them because "I don't feel" like the student is trying.....