Write, Think, Learn

I just finished reading Write, Think, Learn by Mary K. Tedrow. I heard about this book in a blog post on MiddleWeb that Tedrow wrote about the power of writing everyday. In one of my professional book-buying binges, I purchased this book since I am interested in getting more writing into my classroom. I work at a private school that places a lot of emphasis on specials, so my classroom time is even more limited than most teachers’. I want my students to become better writers, and I thought it would be good to get them to just write more. I want them to be better readers, so we read a lot; I figured this could work for writing too.


This book starts by outlining the Daybook, the notebook that Tedrow has her students write in. This is not a journal or diary, but it is definitely more of a collecting space than a drafting space. Students can write openly or the teacher can provide prompts. One of the main messages of this book is that any teacher of any content area can use something like this to connect writing to their content area; it doesn’t just have to be used in English class. She provides a lot of prompts that you can use and refine to fit your needs: prewriting, prereading, reflection, analysis, postreading, prediscussion, postdiscussion, all of these kinds of thoughts can go in the Daybook. She works with high school students, but as a fifth grade teacher, I found all of her ideas and prompts usable for my students.

I found some of her lesson ideas particularly useful. I introduced inference to my students this past year, and while in the end I feel like most of them had a pretty good handle on it, it was a long, hard slog because I didn’t really know how to teach them to make inferences about their reading. We mostly got it through sheer repetition and modeling. Tedrow outlined a great, short lesson about “showing, not telling” that I think could also work well with inference. Write a simple sentence about a person or pet. Something like: my brother is gross (her example). Then, write a short description of an event that shows that character trait without writing the word. In pairs, students can try to guess each other’s traits just by reading the description. A good activity that pushes students as both readers and writers, since the two skills are so connected. And I have found that students struggle with both of these skills.

Another strategy that she talked about was “pulling a line”. This can be done from students’ own original writing or from a text that they are reading. Basically, students pick a line from the text that they think is important or want to explore more fully or think is provocative or even one that they disagree with or have a question about. Anything that will encourage them to think deeply about through writing. Students write the line at the top of a page and then write about it. Tedrow likes seven minutes as a time frame for her short writing activities, but I think any amount of time could work. (Maybe less time at the beginning of the year or with younger students, building up stamina over time. Or I have found it helpful to break liger writing times into shorter segments. Write for three or four minutes then share with a partner. Continue writing for three or four minutes then share with a partner.) I like this “pulling a line” activity because it gets students to think about a text more specifically. It also allows them to get their ideas down on paper before prompting a discussion with a partner or as a class. That is one of the easiest strategies that Tedrow encourages: anytime you want students to talk, have them write first. It encourages less confident students, helps all students organize their thinking, and provides a record of their initial thoughts. Doing a similar activity at the end of a discussion allows students to go back and see how their ideas have changed through the discussion.

Finally, an idea to help with writing essays. I think this strategy could be used for both informative and persuasive writing. Tedrow talks about how students choose topics one of two ways: either they do a lot of research on something first, so they already have a bulk of the thinking done, or they pick something randomly, having to fit their thinking into that framework. Of course, we want students to do the first, but I am guilty of, for the sake of time, having my students do the second. I struggle with my students in getting them to find evidence to “fit” with their topic which never produces very good writing. Tedrow outlines a plan that starts with students listing what their initial thoughts are about a topic. Then, they make a three column list: truths, not-truths, and not-sures about that topic. Not only does this help them solidify what they already know about a topic, it gives them a good basis for what they need to explore next. This activity would be great with a partner or small group to generate more ideas and help clarify truths vs. not-truths. She also has students write different sides of an argument as if they are having a dialogue, loosening the rigid essay format to encourage the flow of ideas. She also has students do this with another student, writing down the dialogue between them. She suggests doing something that I actually already do: writing a “final” draft early on in the process. Lucy Calkins calls this a “flash draft” where students just write what they know about a topic before doing any additional research. They can then use this as a starting point: what am I interested in about his topic? What structures am I already using in my writing? Where do I need more information/evidence? Forcing students to actually put their ideas together into something vaguely coherent but without the threat of a grade allows them to try things out, see where they are, and make goals for what to do next. It is also helpful as a teacher because you can see all of those things too.

I found this book to be really interesting. The  strategies outlined here will definitely make an appearance in my classroom this next year, and so will many more of her suggestions. I would recommend this book to any teaching looking to add more writing into his/her classroom, particularly English teachers. I think this book is applicable to any grade level, though perhaps more useful to upper elementary and older classrooms. I’m really glad that I read it, and I feel energized for writing in my classroom next year.


Reflecting on a Year of Teaching Writing

  • Name three successes from your year of teaching writing.
    • They all increased the amount that they were able to write for for a sustained period of time.
    • We wrote rubrics together for all of our writing assignments.
    • I taught them how to analyze quotes in literature.
  • List three things you want to change about your writing instruction next year.
  • How often did you teach writing? (Daily, 3 times a week, etc.) Did you feel this was enough time?
    • I teach writing daily for 30-45 minutes. I could use more time, but I just don’t have more than that with my schedule. On some days, I could have an hour, if the math lesson was shorter that day.
  • Where could you add more writing time next year? (Beginning of day, transitions, content areas, etc.)
    • We do a lot of writing in reflections, and I would like to do more written reflections throughout our social studies and science units, not just at the end.
    • Even though I taught some note-taking strategies, they still didn’t take a lot of notes when they researched. I am going to have to be more diligent with that next year. I taught them sketchnoting, which they liked, but I never saw them use it in their own research. I obviously have to make my instruction more explicit. Maybe I model it with some of my own research, then we do it together based on a shared resource (something short), and then they do it on their own. I could also increase accountability by having them show me their notes as they finish using a resource. It would also be good to have them think about when to use each system so they can make a good choice when they are taking notes on their own. Some strategies for taking notes that I could introduce next year:
      • Note-taking on notecards
      • Note-taking on post-its (preferred since they stick in their notebooks)
      • Sketchnoting
      • Cornell notes
      • Outlines
      • Mind map
  • How would you describe the level of student engagement in your writing classroom?
    • It depends on the lesson; in general, I would say not overly engaged. It seems to take forever to pull rubrics out of them when we write them as a class. They rarely write on their own, but when it is time to write, they do pretty decent work. They were more engaged when they had control over the topic and/or the format.
  • What writing activities did your students find most engaging?
    • Exhibition (student-created unit that is part of the IB Primary Years Programme) writing
    • Literary analysis
    • Persuasive writing
  • What writing activities failed to engage your student-writers?
    • Research report
    • Poetry
    • Narratives
  • What were some of the most important writing lessons you taught?
    • How to analyze a quote
    • How to write a topic sentence
    • How to write a conclusion sentence
    • How to write an introduction paragraph
    • How to write a conclusion paragraph
    • How to make a plan for your writing
  • What writing lessons needed more time?
    • Taking notes and making them into paragraphs for research report
    • Narrative story arc, making characters, dialogue
    • Choosing subtopics for persuasive writing
  • What writing lessons did you not teach this year, but want to include next year?
    • More specific elaboration strategies
    • More higher-level grammar structures to make their writing more mature and engaging to read
    • Sentence structure variety
    • Transitions
  • What writing lessons/activities/projects do you want to be sure to include again next year?
    • Research report
    • Evidence-based argument essay
    • Literary analysis
    • Open choice for Exhibition
    • Poetry
    • Narratives
  • What were the major genres you taught this year?
    • Poetry
    • Informative
    • Persuasive
    • Narrative
    • Analysis
  • What is a new genre or project you’d like to try next year?
    • Personal informative writing (beginning of year?), definitely before the research report
      • Different formats too: pamphlets, feature articles, nonfiction books, websites, textbooks, research reports, encyclopedias, atlases, guide books, blogs, recipes, 
      • “examine a topic and convey information and ideas clearly”
  • What is a current writing project you want to change for next year? How do you want to change it?
    • Research report! It was so bad this year. Way too structured for when I taught it. They didn’t have any freedom with it, and the writing was dry and boring. And it didn’t teach anybody anything about how to really write a research report. I hated the way I taught it.
  • How did you incorporate writing into another content area?
    • A lot of our writing was actually based on what we were learning in science and social studies. Our literary analysis and poetry fit in with what we were reading, and our Exhibition essays fit with our research topics. Other than narratives, which we also read during that time, everything was part of another content area.
  • How did your students write for an authentic audience (someone beyond just you, the teacher)?
    • Ugh, I did a terrible job with this. Sometimes they gave peer feedback on a final draft, but other than at Exhibition, they usually only wrote for me. For Exhibition, they gave their types drafts with their rubrics to their mentors to get a little feedback that they could use before the final Exhibition day. They were actual able to tweak their writing to make it better. I definitely want to do more of that next year.
  • What skills did you see your student-writers struggle with the most this year?
    • Topic sentences
    • Conclusion sentences
    • Adding detail
    • Elaboration
    • Sentence variety
    • Transitions
  • Describe the pace of a typical writing unit. In general, were the units long enough? Too long?
    • I would say most of our units were too long. They lasted approximately the length of one of our units of inquiry (6 weeks). Some units were slightly shorter, like poetry and literary analysis. I would really like to see my units be closer to four weeks in the future, except maybe Exhibition. Though for Exhibition, I want more time for feedback and revision with their mentors at the end of the unit, like the whole last week.
  • How did you see students living the life of a writer?
    • Most of them do not write much at home. I didn’t really encourage living a writerly life. I wanted to do the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge with them, but we never used their Edublogs so there wasn’t a place for them to write their posts. Next year, I want to offer either reading or writing during our morning time. I am thinking of starting this with this group during the last unit. I don’t know if anyone will do any writing, but maybe they will if I keep it really open without a lot of requirements, like I do for reading. Pretty much the only requirement is that they read for the whole time.
  • Did your students keep a writer’s notebook? What are your thoughts on this?
    • They wrote in their unit notebooks. After trying unit notebooks this year, I am not convinced that they are better than subject specific notebooks. In fact, I found it stressful that math and writing and research were all mixed together. I would like to switch back to math, writing, and unit notebooks next year, but I will ask my class what they thought about that before I make any decisions. It would also be good to talk to next years class to see what they prefer. I know they used one notebook per unit at least with Anna.
  • Describe, in general, how your students planned their writing.
    • Outlines, lists, non-graphic forms.  I didn’t introduce a lot of different ways to plan. I did for narrative writing, and they preferred storyboardimg for narrative writing, but they liked lists the best for informative writing. I also had Venn diagrams and other graphic organizers available that they liked to use when they were comparing things.
  • Describe, in general, how your students drafted their writing.
    • As the year progressed, they got more comfortable writing, writing for longer periods of time, and writing longer amounts each time. By the Exhibition unit, they were comfortable taking their notes and writing a draft. Most of their drafts were fairly well organized, if they lacked the finesse with correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, and other grammar mechanics.
  • Describe, in general, how your students handled the revision process.
    • Ugh, revision was not good this year. I actually bought a book with some revising strategies to have some better tools to teach my students. My initial look through the book seemed to include more fiction than nonfiction resources, but I have found a book that is all about nonfiction revision strategies that I want to read this summer. They didn’t have many opportunities to take feedback from peers or others to make their writing better. They did conference with me about their writing throughout the drafting process, and they were able to take my feedback and apply it pretty well. I just don’t want to be the only person giving them feedback. Even their self assessments tended to be at the end of the writing process, so it was more summative than formative. I did introduce the idea of having them choose what they wanted feedback on during their conferences with me, and that was somewhat successful. I’m not sure I gave them the best tools and language for that. I want to use more standards and objectives with them next year to give them ideas of what to ask for beyond spelling and capitalization.
  • Describe, in general, how your students edited their writing.
    • They weren’t great with grammar mechanics this year. We typed up all of their final drafts, and that helped them pay more attention to their spelling. I wanted to introduce student editors that were particularly proficient in spelling and mechanics but I didn’t get that started. I only had one or two students that I think could’ve really done that and that would’ve been overwhelming for them.
  • How did you celebrate the efforts of your student writers?
    • Every time I met with them, I gave them at least one positive piece of feedback before any critical feedback. I also followed up with their revisions after our conferences to support their efforts and celebrate the revisions they made. We did not do a lot of sharing and celebrating of final pieces. Our celebrations tended to be peer and self evaluations which, while important, are not very celebratory. I would like to do more writing celebrations with those evaluations next year.
  • Did you write along with your students? What are your thoughts on this?
    • I wrote a lot of the mentor texts I used with my class. I didn’t write with them during the time. I can see the value in having my students see me write, but I often meet with students during writing time, and I want to be available for that. I think I will write with my students if I am not meeting with students; if I am meeting with students, I will be engaged with that.
  • What resources did you find most helpful in teaching writing this year? (www.TeachWrite.org, ReadWriteThink, etc.)
    • I used my Units of Study the most as my resource for writing. I also used some resources from the internet, including ReadWriteThink, to supplement my lessons, provide mentor texts/sentences, or to provide additional practice (topic/conclusion sentences/paragraph, grammar, etc.). I also used a lot of picture books as mentor texts, especially for narrative writing.
  • What were some of your favorite mentor texts and how did you use them?
    • I really like using picture books as mentor texts. I found so many to use, and I want to continue to use a variety of picture books next year, especially for my persuasive and informative writing. I didn’t have a favorite mentor text, but my students always enjoyed our lessons that were centered around a picture book.

Thank you, TeachWrite, for providing these reflection questions for me!

Sharing the Load

Imagine you had five students and 10 teachers to help them.

For the next few weeks, that is what my classroom is going to look like.

Of course, it’s not exactly like that, except for the fact that I do have five students. And in our current unit, they are utilizing the expertise, organization, and support of nine teachers, in addition to me, their class teacher.

Each student is doing his/her own unit of inquiry, chosen and researched entirely independently. There are a number of different components that the students need to complete to show their learning at the end of the unit. That’s where these lovely mentors come in.

  • The 2nd grade teacher is brainstorming ways that one student could come in and lead a lesson for her students.
  • The 3rd grade teacher is suggesting additional ways for one student to learn more about his topic.
  • The 4th grade teacher is discussing different ways for the students to take action with their knowledge.
  • The art teacher is helping them create unique, original, content-related works of art.
  • The P.E. teacher is creating an action plan for the next steps of one student’s writing and performance.
  • The IT/STEM teacher is guiding them through the engineering process as they use technology to explore their topics.
  • The 1st grade teacher is encouraging them to focus their performance and bring all of their disparate topics together in a way that is both informative and engaging.
  • The learning specialist is brainstorming possible topics for a paragraph in one student’s essay.
  • The Spanish teacher is focusing one student on his plans for his action project.

I didn’t use mentors last year during this unit, and I realize now how valuable it is for my students. They have another adult to talk to about their ideas, another brain to pick if they need help, another support if they need to change something. It is also helpful for me, as I have a bevy of adults that are helping me guide my students through all of the expectations of this rigorous unit. I am also very invested in these projects at this point (we are five weeks in to a seven-week unit), so the perspective that these new brains bring is invaluable at this stage.

Thank you to all of the teachers at my school who are helping me share the load.

A Different Kind of Assessment

At the end of my last math unit, I decided to try something a little different. I have a very small class this year, so I made this assessment an oral one. It was a bit like an interview: I asked them a question, and they solved it and explained how they got their answer. I used a website that I used several years ago with an advanced math class that I was teaching, and I thought it would be a good fit for this unit and this class.

The Math Reasoning Inventory is an oral and written formative assessment that covers concepts around whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. Students answer about four questions on the written assessment and about 10 questions on the oral assessment. img_6634

We have been working on explaining our thinking clearly and using correct terminology (i.e. you don’t times numbers, you multiply them), so it was good for them to practice and for me to see how they are doing with those skills in a more formal setting.

What does this look like when you are administering the assessment?

Your student sees a card that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 1.50.20 PM

You see this screen that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 1.47.57 PM

Once the student solves the question, you mark if they got the answer correct or incorrect (with a space for you to write what answer they did get); there is also a space to mark if the students self-corrects his/her answer at any point in the process. I like this feature because it helps me see if the student is reflective as he/she is working through each of the problems.

After they share their answer, they have to explain how they found out that answer. Each question lists a number of common strategies for solving it, with an option for another “reasonable explanation”. There is also an option for guessing or giving faulty reasoning. Not only is it helpful to see which strategies each student is using, but it is also valuable for you to see how often students guess or explain things incompletely. The space for notes is open; I usually write down what the students say as they explain their thinking, so I have a record of their explanation that goes beyond the marked strategy.

The students pick up the pattern of the questions pretty quickly, and they all enjoyed this type of assessment when I asked them about it at the end. I personally enjoy some one-on-one time with my students and hearing them talk about math.

The reports that you have access to are also really useful. There are several different formats, including individual and whole class reports.

One of the individual reports includes a question by question breakdown of answer, explanation, and notes, so you can quickly see how many questions each student answered correctly and what strategies he/she used.


Another student report shows the strategies that each student used, and whether they were appropriate or not for the particular questions. I like to see what strategies are sticking with my students, and they are finding useful in their math work. There is a similar format like this for the whole class.


This whole class report puts all the questions and strategies for the whole class on one page to look it. This format lets me see which topics we need to spend more time on and which strategies are being used by the class.


This website requires a little bit of set up before you start using it. Once you login, you need to input your students’ names with a class name. Then, you can start assessing students.

I liked this so much, that I am going to start using this format more with my students, taking advantage of the small class size. I also want to use the other assessments (whole numbers and fractions) with my class next year.

January #Blogamonth

As the world is busy making resolutions, what is the most important ‘lesson’ you want to teach your students?

This week, I had to deal with an issue that really made me think about this prompt. When I think about great lessons that I have taught in my classroom, I usually think about the math or writing lesson that went particularly well. But while those lessons will fade in my students’ memories, lessons on how to be a good person will hopefully stick with them a lot longer.

I try to encourage my students to be advocates for themselves. When someone does something that bothers them, I teach them to confront the other person, respectfully, to try to change the outcome. This is true for both teachers and other students. Teachers make mistakes. Most are willing and able to admit these mistakes when they are brought to their attention in the right way.

This week, I had a student kick another student, and, in his defense, this other students broke an expensive piece of technical equipment. I thought about how to handle this situation and decided that the principal needed to be informed since something that belonged to the school had been damaged. I told the two students that they would have to explain what had happened to the principal.

The student who kicked accepted this without challenge, but the other student felt this was completely unfair. I told him that since I wasn’t there, he needed to share his side of the story with the principal and advocate for himself. I trusted that my principal would be fair and that both students would explain their sides of the story with integrity.

I want my students to be able to express dissatisfaction with adults in a way that is appropriate and respectful. I want them to see that adults will take them seriously if they handle themselves the right way in these situations. I want them to know that they can have difficult conversations with authority figures and be heard. I want them to advocate for their positions and opinions, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Sentence Boot Camp #sol18

Since we have been back from Winter Break, my 5th graders and I have embarked on a “sentence boot camp”. This became necessary when I realize just how shaky they were on things like “nouns” and “what makes a sentence”. Clearly it was time to go back to basics.

So we started with subjects and predicates. What makes a sentence? I used my first Nearpod lesson, and it was great! The class loved it, even the silly Schoolhouse Rock video.  Then, we classified sentences as fragments (using proper terminology to talk about what was missing), correct sentences, and run-ons. Run-ons is what I really wanted to focus on because I wanted to talk about compound sentences, commas, and complex sentences (eventually). But one step at a time…


Top Activity: Sentence Writing Activities and Task Cards by Laura Candler                               Bottom Activity: Simple and Compound Sentences Task Cards by Language Arts Classroom

Day 2: Compound sentences. We started by reviewing fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. We watched Conjunction Junction, did a Nearpod lesson on it, and then did a quick sort on simple vs. compound sentences. They seemed to mostly get the differences between simple and compound sentences.

Day 3: Complex sentences. Complex sentences are definitely more tricky. I made my own Nearpod lesson for this one, and we talked about the difference between subordinate and coordinating conjunctions. We practiced writing a lot of complex sentences, and they did better when the dependent clause was at the beginning of the sentence. For some reason, when the dependent clause was at the end, they kept trying to make compound sentences instead. Hmm..


Top Activity: Dependent and Independent Clause Sort Printable by 2 Georgia Girls                Bottom Activity: Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentence Sort by Love Learning

Days 4-6: Let’s just say that sorting compound, complex, and simple sentences is pretty challenging for them. We practiced a little bit every day, and I’m not sure if we actually made any improvement with it. Sigh. We’ll keep trying. We talked about different parts of speech: adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions. I decided to focus on these since we have already talked about conjunctions with compound sentences, and nouns and verbs when we talked about subjects and predicates of a sentence. We started each lesson by reviewing what we talked about yesterday, using sentences from our read aloud or book club book to find particularly parts of speech. Then, we watched a SchoolHouse Rock video about that part of speech. We practiced expanding sentences using that part of speech on white boards. We put some of our best sentences samples on an anchor chart.


Mentor sentences: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I would say that overall my sentence boot camp experience was semi-successful. They certainly know more than they did before we did it, but we definitely have a lot of practice ahead of us before we really master all of the vocabulary and nuances of the different types of sentences. Luckily we have great books in the classroom to give us an endless supply of mentor sentences. 🙂



November #blogamonth

In honor of the month of thanks, our November post is…what is one small delight in the day that you always look forward to or are thankful for?

I know that I have written about this before, but my favorite part of the day is read aloud. No matter what book we are reading, I always enjoy sitting with my students and sharing a book with them. We are currently reading The Giver, which I love, and they seem to really be enjoying so far. I love hearing what they say about the book, the predictions they make, the questions they ask. It’s the simplicity of sharing a good story together. It’s a quiet time, a calm time, where other distractions are minimized and we all get swept away in the book together. I think read aloud has always been my favorite time of day, no matter what I am teaching. I look forward to it every day.

Other things I am thankful for in my teaching life:

  • Working with other teachers whom I love talking to, about life and lesson planning
  • When my students make me smile
  • Helping a student learn something new and seeing them “get it”
  • Looking out my windows at the view of the lake
  • When my students make me laugh
  • Learning something new with my students
  • Talking to my students about books
  • Solving a difficult teaching problem
  • Discussing difficult topics with my students
  • Being a part of my students lives, even if only for this year

I am thankful that I get to do my favorite thing every day: teach.

A Little Experiment with Student Agency

I finally tried it. I had wanted to try it since I moved to fifth grade last year, but it just didn’t work with my schedule; I had too many short blocks of time that didn’t allow for much freedom of movement. I was a little nervous about how it would go, but after several days, I would say that it has been a success.

I gave my students the opportunity to pick their own schedule for the day.

I had a lot to accomplish with them one day last week, and I thought this might be a good way to fit it all in; let them be master of their own time management.

Well, I would say that it has been a huge success: students loved it, I loved it, everyone got everything done, and everyone was motivated and engaged all day. It was fun to see what each student chose to do first, second, etc. during the day.

We’ve done it a few more times since then, so I have a bit of a routine in place. We start the day with everyone setting up their schedule based on available time and the tasks they need to accomplish that day. We schedule whole group things first, then fill in the gaps. I don’t have them block out specific times, but I do include the amount of time in each block, as well as a suggested amount of time for each task. I don’t really want them to get hung up on what specific time they are supposed to be working on something, in case something takes longer than they thought. It’s more about the order of the tasks than when they accomplish them.

I started by blocking out whole class minilessons and read aloud times in the schedule, but I quickly moved to asking the class to come to a consensus on when to meet for those activities. It gives them more control over the whole schedule, not just what they are working on. It doesn’t really matter to me when these kinds of whole group activities get accomplished, just that they get accomplished. Plus, they can then find out when they prefer to do math, writing, reading, etc. without me telling them what I think is best for them. Then I can save my own input for really important things that can’t be moved, like assemblies and field trips.

October 4, 2017 Schedule

I have already seen a few advantages to using this kind of system with my students. I am able to meet with everyone more often for guided reading because everyone is reading at different times. Students can practice their self-management skills in an authentic way by deciding when they want to accomplish each task.  I can differentiate everyone’s schedule if they need to finish up something they were supposed to finish the day before. Not to mention how much more productive they are, how excited they are about each day, and how things take less time when we don’t spend a lot of it transitioning en masse from one activity to another.

In the future, I want to get to the point where students are are choosing their tasks as well as their schedule. I don’t think I can jump to that soon, but that is the end goal. I can tell them what they need to accomplish in a week, and they can decide how to split up the necessary tasks to achieve that goal. I could start by listing the recommended steps at first and then move to just the end goal. I guess we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good!

New Math Assessments

This year, I wanted to be more intentional with my assessments. I wanted students to have more of a say in their learning, and I wanted students to be able to explain what they had learned and what they needed more practice with.

I tried this first with math by creating a rubric for each unit. This rubric has each objective that we discussed listed, along with three options for how comfortable the students feel with each objective: Not yet, starting to, and yes.

The first time they saw this rubric, it was near the end of the unit but before the assessment. The students self-assessed their understanding of each of the objectives. Listed next to each objective were the review problems that addressed that objective. Then, students could spend time practicing the objectives they were “starting to” to understand or “not yet” understanding.  Students could have some ownership of what parts of the review to complete based on their individual learning needs.

After the assessment, both the students and I filled out the same rubric, this time with the assessment questions listed next to the objectives. Students could look through their assessment and see how they did on the questions that pertained to each objective.

Then, students chose an effort-based and attainment-based sentence that described their effort and understanding of the content in this unit. These are part of our school’s grading policy, but at this point, there are no grades attached to these descriptors.

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Last week, we did the whole cycle of our assessment reflections for our first unit. In general, I like it because it really gets the students involved in the grading process and makes the learning more on-going.  It’s not just finished whenever the unit is over.  We have already been able to use this “growth mindset” for choosing homework on a night we didn’t finish a math lesson. They chose a topic from the first unit that they need extra practice on from our extra practice workbook.


We wrapped up this process by having individual conferences about their thoughts, strengths, and goals for the future.  I think the conference was a good way to tie all of this together, but I want to take it a little further next time. I want to hear what they were thinking when they were solving particular problems or go through word problems they didn’t understand. We could also talk about ways to practice the skills that they feel they need more practice with in the future.

This time, the whole process took a week, with all of the reflections and assessment corrections. I hope that we are able to do it in a more timely manner to keep it relevant and fresh in their minds.  Ideally, I think we could do it in about three days (I have a very small class).  We’ll see how it goes in the second unit!

September #blogamonth

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for…is a class that already knows each other.

I teach at a small, private school with only one class per grade, so most of the students were taught by the same teacher the previous year (except, of course, any new students).

Last year, my school merged with another school so half of the class was new. While the two groups of students blended easily and quickly, as the teacher, I had to deal with the fact that half of the students were taught by one teacher and the other were taught by a different teacher. They brought in a wide range of skills and understandings that took a lot of time to pull together, especially in math.

Of course, this is not unusual for teachers. Most teachers have to deal with this every year, as the students get mixed up from year to year; at other schools, I have had to work with students from four different teachers the year before.

This year, however, I didn’t get any new students at the start of the year. I only have to deal with the way that one teacher taught something last year. Students have their own strengths and weaknesses, of course, but they are a much more homogenized group this year. Math took off quickly at the beginning of the year, as they were taught with the same curriculum last year that I am using this year. I can talk to their teacher from last year, which helps me adjust my instruction and attention for each student and the class as a whole.

It is very nice to have a class that had the same teacher last year. It makes the start of the year go a lot more smoothly.