This year has been very different for me! Last year I was at a school where every student had a macbook and I was teaching one level of each course to different ages of high schoolers. This year I am teaching only freshmen with no technology and at tracked math levels. I will be getting chromebooks next semester though!
I've been asked a lot the past few months as I transitioned to a new school if I would continue to model my classroom in a self-paced manner without technology. After all, with objective based mastery grading focused on quizzes, canvas as an LMS, and pre-made notes and videos from flippedmath.com, my self-paced structure seemed to depend heavily on technology. I'm happy to say that while it has been more difficult, I have been able to keep my class self-paced in most ways.
what has changed
1. Self-paced math by units & projects. When I was one-to-one, it was easy to let the students loose and push them to work as hard as they could to progress through the material. This year, with no technology, doing so would mean I would potentially not see many students or put supervision of them on another teacher when I would send them to a computer lab. I also would have little interaction with them and having a lot of one on one interaction is my favorite part of the self-paced experience. To fix this issue, I set due dates and assigned a project for each unit. This way, when a student was able to fly through the material, it just meant they had more time to work on the project, a great way to dive deeper into what we were working on as well as put their own individual spin on it! I have loved the projects so much that I may not go back to my old way...or I may still require a due date for a project but let them loose on the other material...I'm not sure yet, look for the 3.0 version for the answer to that one!
2. Notes are difficult but can still be done. A big improvement I made about a month into my self-paced classroom last year was continuing to do full class notes. While some students learn best watching the guided notes videos, some really needed the live option. This wasn't difficult because my guided notes were pdf.s and I was able to project and write on them from my iPad or load the problems onto my projection software. This year I have expo markers and dry erase boards and while it was weird to get used to no projection/interactive board option, I am getting used to it. I have to be very strategic about when I teach lessons to different courses because re-writing the examples is not fun. I also hate the idea of making students wait on me to finish writing something that they already have on their paper. In my experience, this is an easy way to lose engagement quickly. So to combat this, I give notes for my Regular Algebra class one day, Academic Algebra the next day, and Academic Geometry the following day. Having the rotation allows me to draw the problems students have on their guided notes ahead of time and re-use them throughout the day as needed. Like I said, it is very different for me, but still doable.
3. Bellringers have been made part of the routine. Without technology, students seem to have a hard time defining that the bell has rung and they need to get to work. I did not have that issue last year. Canvas made things very easy to navigate and students were pretty motivated to work through the material. I had students from multiple grades in the class together. This year I have only freshmen and they seem to have a problem getting started or remembering content at a mastery level. Because of this, I have students complete three problems to start each class. I have not typically given bellringers but I can definitely see why teachers do make it a habit of best practice. This has helped create a daily habit and review for students and I love it!
What I still want to change
1. Notes by Nearpod. When I get chromebooks, I plan on using Nearpod to give my notes in a more engaging way than my current whiteboard technique. I can't wait for those!
2. Self-Regulation and Work Skills...maybe? One of the tracks of Algebra that I teach is specifically for students who plan on entering a trade after high school rather than going to college. We do not have a social emotional curriculum at ,my new school and there are some definite gaps. I have thought about adding another grade for some work skills. I'm not quite sure what to do here but it is just an idea, still floating here!
3. Is speed enough of a differentiation? In talking with another math teacher here, I have thought about creating more options for students. Right now my differentiation is simply how fast you master the material and how far you may end up. Do I need to differentiate the depth of content, too? Another thought I am thinking through!
That's where I'm at right now! If you have any suggestions, I am open to them!
See my first self paced classroom reflection here.
For teachers, conferences are both something to look forward to and something that we dread. They are necessary so that we can talk to parents about their students progress in class. They are difficult because those conversations can be hard, awkward, and sometimes confrontational. At the secondary level it is also a struggle to get parents to come to parent-teacher conferences at all. It can start to feel like a waste of time when there can be so much preparation involved.
Both of us (Danielle and Becca) have conferences this week and we assume that they are fast approaching for others as well. Maybe you are a first time teacher or maybe you just continue to be on the struggle bus with conferences. Either way, here are our thoughts and ideas about have successful parent teacher conferences.
To start, many schools are different in their opinion of how to structure conferences. Some schools want students to be there and have student-led conferences and some would say it should be just parents and teachers present for conferences. Is it open house style or do you need to schedule times with specific parents? What materials do you need to have ready for parents who do attend?
The best conferences I (Danielle) have ever participated in were the conferences my building did when I taught middle school. I taught at a true middle school where we had two 6th grade teams. Every teacher had a homeroom/advisory class. When it came to conferences we would schedule conferences with the parents of our homeroom class. The school scheduled one day after school for conferences and then on the next day the students did not have school and we were there until 4 but we were open all day for conferencing appointments. We scheduled an appointment with those 20-25 parents of students in our homeroom. Then my 6th grade team would meet and discuss which conferences we wanted to have as a team. If there was a student that really struggled or had specific behavior issues, we would all block out that time slot to have a team conference with that parent and student which was student-led.
In the weeks leading up to conferences, we would take time in homeroom to organize a portfolio of work from each class and the students would write reflections on their work that they would go over with their parents during the conference. I would discuss any issues that had been brought to my attention by the other teachers and answer any questions I could. If the parent wanted to talk to a specific teacher, then they could also schedule time for that during conferences as well but the main responsibility was for the homeroom teachers and meeting a different teacher was more of a special case. When we did it this way, I felt really supported since I had my team and a lot of preparation ahead of time. The responsibility was really on the students because they were leading the conference and they knew what issues they were going to have to talk about with their parents.
I (Becca) have not had experience with scheduling conferences, though that sounds like it may make it more worth the time! I try to have some candy available as well as a folder for each student containing student work and some student reflection. As parents arrive, I offer candy, ask them to sign in, and show them student work along with their grade. Most of the time the student is not with them. I explain how the grade is calculated, how their student behaves and performs in class, and how they could get better. I express any concerns I may have and check for questions. With any time left (many times the parent is trying to get around the building to see 6 other teachers and may be in a hurry), I make sure they understand our LMS so that they can have as much information about their student’s grades and attendance as possible!
The few times that the student is with them, I always include the student in the conversation. I have found that students are much more likely to say what they may need to be successful while sitting one on one with a parent present. While many would not pull you aside in class and tell you then need help being reminded what to do or would like more examples, they might in a conference setting! I have seen many students take some responsibility when I can tell both them and their parents what I think their strengths are. If their grades are not correlating well with their ability, they more often than not will take responsibility for their part. I would much rather have that conversation than just talk to a parent about what their student communicates to them versus what they communicate to me. Again, those are rare occasions for me, to have students present.
When it comes to conferences and if your district is considering any changes to your conference procedure, I would suggest the following:
If you don’t have control over your structure of conferences, try to find ways to work within your system.
We have talked about this one before, but I feel like it deserves to be brought up again. This is a great tool to get quick feedback from students on what they are learning. Like its name says, it is all about formative assessment. You can build a variety of questions and now they can be tied to standards which makes data tracking easier. There are functions for math equations and they are very responsive to questions from users. I use this often in my classroom as bell work, exit tickets, and practice quizzes/questions to see how my students are processing our content.
Canva is a great tool for the blogger and social media user, but it could also be great for teachers. I know many teachers that use Canva to make posters and memes for their class. Students could also use it to make posters or infographics to showcase their learning or as a multimedia product for a concept or project. There is a lot of potential in this for classroom use.
Padlet is a great collaboration tool for students. Basically users create a board and then invite others to share that board. Users can add websites, pictures, video, etc to it with text. It can be arranged in a few different formats. This could be great for students to use for collaborating on a project, a way for teachers to share websites and resources for content, or a way for students to organize research. This could also be used as a graphic organizer, because of the different formats the padlet can take.
This is a great tool for schools that are 1:1 iPads. This tool allows you to share a presentation with students and control the pace that students move through the slides. At the same time is also allows you to add in places for the students to interact with the material like polls, questions to respond to, and drawings while the students go through the presentation. This takes lecturing to a new level. This is a great way to keep students engaged in a whole class activity like a lecture or discussion with guided prompts where students respond on their screen and you can see it.
Newsela is a great website to look for nonfiction reading material for your classes. They have a variety of types of articles that you can assign to students. The best thing is that the articles can be adjusted by lexile level. The teacher can adjust them and the students can as well. If you are looking for a way to add current events to you classroom, this is a great way to do it. The articles are well written and factual. They articles for math, science, ELA, and social studies. They allow you to organize information into binders for your students and you have students take reading quizzes after the article as well.