Testing season is upon us for some or has just passed for others. It is always a time of stress and anxiety for the subjects that are tested. Even those of us that are not tested feel some of the strain. I am not one of those teachers that has to directly deal with testing and am usually at war with myself about my feelings on testing. I am relieved that I do not have the testing stress that other teachers have, but at the same time I feel like my subject has been slighted and diminished to a subject that is not as important.
I teach social studies in Missouri at the secondary level and have never experienced what it is like to be a tested subject. In Missouri the only thing that is tested in my content is government which is taken by seniors at my school. There really isn't much pressure on me as teacher except to do some things that support government so that when students get to government, they will hopefully have some foundation.
When I taught middle school there was even less pressure on me as my only experience dealing with testing was an encouragement to support English teachers by having activities that included reading and writing. Honestly I would do that anyway because I think it a good practice and skill for any person and especially as a social scientist.
Many of my co-workers have told me that I should feel lucky that I don't have to worry about the stress of jumping through the testing hoops. Honestly I am happy that I don't have to worry about it. I don't agree with testing and I don't really feel that the tests that have been created really tell us if they are learning, but it is what we use so we have to deal with it. However, even though I’m not an advocate for state testing I have always been bothered by the fact that they don't test social studies because of the message it sends to schools, parents, students, and communities. It sends the message that social science and social studies is not as important as the other subjects.
In my career I have had the conversation with students and parents about why it matters for them to take history classes when they aren't tested. I recognize that this is a subject that I love dearly and am probably biased when it comes to its level of importance in every single person's daily life, but I have come to realize in our current society that we have lost what it means to be a citizen... I don't mean the legal requirements of being a citizen but the knowledge required to participate in our society and understand the significance and meaning behind it. Dealing with the big issues of our day are all relevant and many are connected to the social sciences. The lack of testing just reinforces the sense that this subject isn't as important as its counterparts.
I realize that I am probably overreacting and to be honest I do enjoy the freedom that is allowed to me as teacher that doesn't have to teach a very specific curriculum for the test. I have the freedom to evaluate my standards and create learning experiences wrapped around needs that I see in my different classes. I also realize that I am not alone in teaching a subject that seems to be undervalued or that as teacher we all recognize that the learning experience is more important than the test, but we are all stuck in this give and take of balancing learning and testing. I am not even sure that I would want social studies to be more heavily tested because I don't like testing, but I am frustrated as a teacher that wants her subject to be valued and understood. I think that is really what it boils down to. I want all of us in education to be taken seriously and valued like we should be.
I guess my message in this post is this: teachers that are not tested are both envious and relieved at the prospect of not being tested. We love the freedom but wish to be taken more seriously. My hope for the future of education is that we come together as an education community and show our country and community how important all our subjects are and how they work together to create a citizen that can participate in our society.
A comment on one of our most recent posts asked:
How do you manage to have EVERYTHING for the whole year prepped ahead of time?
I'm struggling to stay about 4-5 lessons ahead of my students... this is in part because of my team. We have common assessments that we create during our PLC time (roughly 4-5 lessons ahead of when we plan to give them) and sometimes, throughout the course of the semester, our experiences determine that we need to add, remove or rearrange a few learning targets to meet the needs of our students!
Additionally, I've 2 students who are just plain outworking me! They're quite persistent and as soon as I've completed a lesson, they're working on it and have it finished (and, yes, mastered) before I've got the next one ready!!!
I love my self-pacing (as do most of my students) but am definitely looking for ideas to help improve things for next year.
I've had some conversations recently that addressed some similar questions or concerns so we figured we would dedicate a post to answering those!
How do you have EVERYTHING ready for the whole year?
I most definitely do not have everything for the whole year prepared ahead of time. I wish I did and I'd like to get there someday but that day is not today. I try to stay about 3 lessons ahead of my students but I do not have to work in a team to make common assessments so that allows me some freedom to stay ahead of my students who are currently working. Sometimes that just doesn't happen though! I have had a couple of times this year when a student would let me know they are ready to take the assessment for goal number __ and I didn't have it done. At this point I asked them to email me that they were ready for the quiz so that I had a digital reminder to get it completed when I went home that day. After they send the email they have 3 options: keep working ahead and start to study for the next goal, help another student study for their goal (this student must not be taking an assessment), or work on their math project. Adding the math project this year has been a life saver in multiple ways. It allows me some extra time when I feel like I am drowning in work. I don't feel like a bad teacher when I don't have the assessment finished for a student 100% of the time because I'm not stopping them from working. The project has so much more engagement and ownership because they are 100% in charge of designing what their project will be. I also love not having to look at the same project or repeating the same directions/guidelines 1,203,920,409,459,345 times. If you are looking for something other than busy work to give to students when you just don't have the next thing done, I definitely recommend a student led project.
What do you do when students aren't working?
You do the same thing you would do if students weren't working in a traditional class period - whatever that means for you. I've talked with some teachers who have said that's the student's choice and if they want to waste time it's on them. Others would ask students who aren't working to leave the room. Whatever your strategy is in a traditional classroom, do the same thing in a self-paced room. The nice thing however is that you can have individual conversations a lot easier without calling attention to a student because everyone is doing their own thing.
How do you grade so many tests or make sure they don't just tell each other what is on the test?
I use Canvas to create my self-paced course. It allows me to make question banks filled with the types of questions I would ask for each goal but will pull only the amount I ask it to. Basically, I could have multiple students sitting next to each other, each taking the same quiz but none of the same questions. Canvas grades the quiz immediately giving feedback to the student so that they know if they need to do more work or are ready to move on. If they pass the quiz (12/15=80% or higher) then they show it to me and I enter it into the grade book immediately. Our school also has GoGuardian which allows me to monitor their screens or restrict them to specific sites. This helps me to catch students who may be cheating. At my previous school we had lockdown browser which locked students into Canvas and kept them from going to any outside sites.
How do you test things like graphing?
There are some goals that just don't lend themselves to the test setup on Canvas. I do create paper tests for those goals. I create multiple versions of each and get really good at grading them quickly after a few tries! I've considered making them multiple choice tests but right now I just think having them graph the problems are more important.
Do you give partial credit on Canvas tests?
Not unless it is blatantly obvious that the students knew what they were doing. I encourage students to do the work on paper so that they can check their work. If I see that they have the correct work and answer but just mis-typed something in the computer I give them partial or full credit for the answer.
What other questions do you have about self-paced classrooms? I'm more than happy to answer them with what I do in my classroom. It is 100% not perfect but I am trying to do what I think is best for helping students master math! Bring on the questions and good luck with the last month or so of school! :)
Year 2 in my student-directed classroom honestly started off pretty rocky. If you have been following us, you are very aware of my struggles. If you are new to following Becca and my teaching adventures here is a summary of how my year started off.
I had such grand intentions of making this year amazing and that all my self-paced plans were going to work out just perfectly. When this years started though I was hit by some serious distractions. My classes suffered from apathy and behavior issues and I didn't respond fast enough. Going into my semester break I knew I needed to restructure and regroup, so I spent some time really thinking about what I need to do. I read a great book and got my head on straight. I knew going into my second semester I was going to need to make some changes.
Overall my second semester has gone so much better! It has been a relief to see some improvements in all of the areas I set to work on.
On the whole things have really improved and I think that my classroom has gotten stronger and the student-directed aspect of my class has gotten stronger as well. This will definitely go down as a year where I have questioned myself as a teacher the most and grown the most as a teacher.
We're nearing the end of the year! I've loved having technology and really embracing the self paced classroom this semester but I'm most excited about seeing the final projects. It's also the thing I've had the most questions about from students.
They are used to getting a lot of structure and most of the time, I try to provide that and be fairly predictable with class. We know that a lot of kids don't have that at home and providing it helps them in more ways than one. In my class, they know what format the quizzes are in and how to access resources. They know the expectations for classroom behavior as well as what goal they should aim to be on each week in order to be "on track". What they don't know is how to get full points on a final project...and I am loving it!
This has been up on the board since the first week of this semester and when students ask me about the project, I tell them it needs to be high school level math...and that's it. When they start to get that confused look on their face, I tell them they can pick something they like in math and I will help come up with a topic or they can pick a topic they like and I will help them come up with the math, but that it is completely up to them as long as it is a high school level math project. They do not have to present in front of the class and they can work on it when they want to in class (as long as they are "on track" with the quizzes).
As most students are nearing the end of their quizzes, they are trying to come up with project ideas and it is so great to hear the different ideas. I love that they have buy in to the project and I love that I will be able to differentiate the expectations based on the student and what they've done all year.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- I have a student who carries a transformer figurine as a fidget. He loves that thing so much. He informed me that when it is in the form of a jet, it is a replica of a real jet. He is going to find the dimensions of the real jet and compare it to his figure. After that he will change it into the transformer and calculate the "real" dimensions of the transformer using the scale factor he found.
- I have a student who loves their phone (who doesn't?) but is always concerned about her battery. She is collecting data using a Google Form about the top 4 apps people use in a 24 hour period and how much of their battery percentage each has used. She'll be calculating averages and finding the most popular apps as well as researching if particular apps are used more commonly on specific days of the week.
- I have a student who would like to compare clothing costs at different stores. She is going to find the same article of clothing at two stores and compare the price. She'll do this with multiple stores and connect at least five stores so that she can compare the markup at different retailers despite being the same brand of clothes purchased.
- I have a student who is going to research the history of pi and create a children's book about it.
- I have a student who is going to calculate the number of seconds spent in school in a single school year, throughout high school, and K-12. They are then going to use different units to share their findings. ex: I could listen to my favorite song, _______ x amount of times
- I have a student who is comparing the cost of buying a house against building the exact house from scratch...so much work....and they know it...and they still really want to do it!!!
Are these projects super relevant? Maybe not. Are my students more engaged in this than they have been all year? YUP!
I have heard a lot of really good ideas and I am excited to see them come to fruition and share them with you. I just wanted to share how AWESOME it has been to step out of the rubric life for just one project and really let them do something crazy and interesting!
Only a month or so left! Let's finish this out strong! :)
By Genevieve Laucher, 6th grade teacher in San Jose, CA
Summer: that time of year to recharge, a time that teachers look forward to as much as (if not more than) their students do. However, as a brand new teacher who just started teaching full-time midway through the year this February, I felt that I hadn’t quite earned my break yet and wanted to keep my momentum going for a bit longer. I decided to teach summer school; specifically, Speech & Debate and Creative Writing for incoming sixth through eighth graders. Although a part of me envied my teacher friends who were taking trips and sleeping in, teaching summer school turned out to be a very enjoyable learning experience.
Having never taught these subjects before, I set out to do my research on the internet. There are so many resources out there that can be helpful for new teachers, but the challenge was sifting through and making my own tweaks to fit the needs of my eleven to thirteen-year-old audience. Finding lesson plans is great, but every group of students is different, and our lessons should reflect that. Throughout the planning process, I kept in mind that it was summer—my students wanted to have fun in their learning and so did I!
In my Creative Writing class, one of our favorite lessons was having my students create a “Fictional Facebook” for a character they were working on. They drew out a “profile picture” of their character, listed his or her hobbies, interests, birthday, relationship status, and more, and even wrote “status update” posts from the character and posts from the character’s friends and family members. As we know, students are on social media younger and younger, so why not take note of this interest and use it as an educational activity? My students were fully engaged, laughing and being creative as they developed fictional personas. At the end of the activity, they better understood the importance of character development and were excited to write their characters into a story.
For the Speech & Debate class, one of our most successful debate activities was a simple one: the Four Corners Debate. I made signs that read Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree and put one in each corner of the room. I then wrote a statement on the whiteboard and students moved to the corner that best matched their opinion. There, they talked with other students in their same corner and put together an argument to persuade the students in other corners of their position. Each corner got a turn to share their reasoning and finally students could switch corners if hearing other arguments had changed their mind. Some interesting topics included “Schools should require students to wear uniforms,” and “Homework is beneficial for students.” I had an opinionated group of students, so they were excited to share their thoughts. This activity encouraged them to take sharing a step further and explain not just what their views are, but why they disagree or agree with the given issues. The ability to reason and persuade others will help them throughout middle school, high school, and beyond! One of the more controversial topics, given the 2017 trends that teachers love to hate, was “Fidget spinners help kids focus.” Surprisingly, this issue was evenly divided! What this means for the future of fidget spinners in the classroom, we will have to wait and see in the fall…
Overall, teaching summer school gave me more insights and experience with lesson planning, something I’m getting used to as I begin my teaching career. Throughout the regular school year, my goal is to provide variety in my lessons and keep them engaging. The first step is to know our students and plan activities that will best fit their learning needs while also appealing to their interests. Something else that I always want to keep in mind is that learning can and should be fun—both for the students and the teacher!