The Revolution Starts Here

OK, I’m having thoughts. Especially after reading Dan Meyer’s blog post about feedback vs. grades. When I dream about a perfect math class, what I’m really after is engagement. Not just “fun” engagement (although that too), but also true intellectual engagement with mathematics. I want more dialogue, intuition, and justification. Less right/wrong or can/can’t. I’ve been working in a PrBL (problem-based learning) program, and that’s one way to get there, but it’s not the goal itself. *gasp*

This year my partner teacher and I had a basic structure that we liked a lot:

  1. Group problem; sometimes funneled everyone to the same solution, sometimes not
  2. Individual problem based on the group problem; usually led to unique solutions for each student, e.g. gathering their own data or adapting the driving question to fit their own scenario
  3. Skill practice to reinforce what they learned in the problems

It was like the I-do-we-do-you-do model as far as scaffolding, but more student-centered. Still, everyone was on the same 1-2-3 path. There wasn’t enough flexibility for early finishers or students who needed more time for productive  struggle.

Some kids need a confidence boost; others need a challenge. Some kids need lots of tasks to keep them busy; others need time to think deeply. Some kids need to fill holes in their basic skills while also engaging in higher order thinking at grade level.

What if students could self-differentiate? What if we offered a variety of tasks?

  • Real world problem solving (engaging but not the only way to engage)
  • Puzzle solving (problem-based but less real world)
  • Pattern seeking (making connections and building intuition)
  • Making/building artifacts or models (applying what they’re learning)
  • Skill practice and workshops (direct instruction and review)
  • Reflection (metacognition, extension, making connections, reaching out to teach others)

We wouldn’t have all of those for every math skill, but wouldn’t it be awesome to have more than one path for students to choose? I don’t know how to make that happen right away, but I know it sounds like a classroom I’d like to spend time in.

What would be some first steps for moving in this direction? What are some ways we could keep it manageable? What are some ways we could make sure everyone’s being productive?

My first instinct was a “one from column A, one from column B” approach, but I don’t think it really matters how many tasks they complete. What’s important is how much they learn from what they’re doing. I can imagine a student rushing through a skill practice worksheet and then getting totally into making a video or a board game to teach others the skill. They would be spending most of their time doing reflection, but would that be bad? Because like, as teachers we could point out that their audience might be more interested if they explained applications of the skill, and now they’re learning that too. And maybe even bringing in a partner who had chosen the real-world-problem-solving option and was now an expert on that.

This is probably just quarantine-induced delirium, but isn’t that where all the best thinking starts? 😉

NaNoWriMo Editing Checklist

This editing checklist is for my fifth grade authors and peer editors as they prepare their novels for publication in a class anthology. We’ve covered a lot of this in class (pause while I dash off to add “a lot” to the checklist!*). The rest, I’ll teach in mini-lessons on editing days.

Some of it is basic, such as plot structure, simple character development, and formatting. Others, well… After years of editing student novels, let’s just say that everyone has stuff they get picky about. Mine include “thought to myself” (as opposed to what?) overuse of “and then,” and awkward synonyms for “said.” Feel free to copy these documents and replace my pet peeves with your own.

Best wishes, happy editing, and DFTBA!

NaNoWriMo Editing Checklist

*If you’re looking for a memorable way to teach your students that “a lot” is two words, check out this brilliant post over at Hyperbole and a Half. Kids can draw their own Alots. Super cool.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Standards Review

Adapted from Pernille Ripp‘s brilliant idea (you can find the original here), here’s my version of a “choose your own adventure” standards review. I pared it down for my fifth graders and didn’t include all our reading standards*, but (I hope) the spirit is still there: Providing lots of ways for students to show what they have learned in reading this year.

Students will circle two choices on each sheet and turn them in ahead of time so I can plan my small group work.


5th Grade Reading Literature Standards Review

5th Grade Reading Informational Text** Standards Review

*Other standards are embedded in the projects, but I chose to simplify things by leaving that information off the sheet.

**It says “nonfiction” on the sheet, but I expect some of my students will use texts such as Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. Is fantasy informational text a thing? Aaaaaaabsolutely, at least in my world.

Rough Draft Feedback Form

I’ve been wanting a way to quickly (key word!) grade my students’ rough drafts and give them feedback before they write a final draft. 

Below is a link to what I’ll be using. Students will choose one area where they think they’re doing well (which I’ll grade at the rough draft stage) and one area where they’d like feedback (for which I’ll provide comments — but not a grade — on their draft).

Kids get meaningful feedback at the rough draft stage, and I get more grades in my gradebook with a faster turnaround time and less work. Untimely feedback is not helpful feedback! 

This is a paper-and-pencil form. If you upgrade to a Google Form, please share it with me! 🙂 

Feel free to use it or adapt it for your own class, genre, and grade level. My version is for fifth grade opinion writing, but the basic idea could work for anything. 

Click here to view on Google Docs

A Small Idea for More Choice in Our Curriculum

I *love* this idea for reviewing the standards while offering lots of student choice. I’m currently adapting it for the 5th grade reading standards and very much looking forward to using it in my classroom this year!

Pernille Ripp

It never fails; spring break hits and all of a sudden it seems there is very little time left of the school year.  The students feel it as they grow more restless, eager to explore more, not as satisfied with the same old routine.  We feel it as educators, too.  We feel the sheer panic of not having done enough, not having taught enough, not being enough.

So I wanted to do a review of the standards we have covered.  I wanted to give the students way more choice.  While choice and student voice is huge component of what we do, it can sometimes feel lost in the background as we create projects together and try to dig deeper into our learning.  So I wanted to facilitate more small group and I wanted to be able to meet the needs of more students.  I wanted to be more for more…

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This Is Why I Have Cut Back on My Work Hours

This, exactly:

It’s time to stop the teacher guilt, indeed. It’s time to stop putting my life on hold until the next break. It’s time to stop feeling obligated to put in all those extra hours because that’s what teachers do.

We have a choice.

For me, it’s time to start limiting my work hours to 40 per week. It’s time to start realizing that I am still an effective teacher when I do this. It’s time to start prioritizing my family and my physical and mental health over my job.

I still love teaching, and I find that I have even more energy to put into it when I’m not exhausted from working so many hours. My working conditions are my students’ learning conditions. My students deserve a teacher with a balanced life who’s happy to be in the classroom every day.


Genius Hour and Student Clubs? Hmm…

I had been meaning to introduce book clubs to my class, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. This year I wanted them to be an option for students during independent reading time rather than formal literature circles, and I needed to plan.

On Monday, one of my students — a student I have been wanting to engage more fully in class — asked if she could start a book club. Are you kidding me? That’s awesome! Of course!

The next day, she spent most of her Genius Hour considering logistics and inviting classmates to join. She made a special point of trying to include everyone, especially students who aren’t usually that into reading. It. Was. Amazing.

And then I made a mistake. Another student asked if he could start a club too — a board game club. I said a board game club would be great to pursue after school, but during class we’d stick to Genius Hour and book clubs. Wow. Way to think inside the box. Because when students spontaneously want to share their enthusiasm with other, that’s something I should definitely put a stop to, right? What am I doing, channeling Professor Umbridge? 😐

So I’m rethinking. If I allow a board game club and others (there were whispers about a writing club — how awesome is that?), two issues come to mind right away:

  1. How to keep students accountable for learning
  2. When to give them time for meetings

Both problems can be solved if student clubs meet during Genius Hour and work toward completing Genius Hour projects. A club could do a joint project, or club meetings could be a time when students working on separate projects could support one another. For example, board game club members could meet and talk about the games they’re creating individually. The focus would be on learning something, making something, and teaching or benefitting others, keeping clubs aligned to our Genius Hour goals.

What do you think? If you’re a Genius Hour teacher, has this come up in your classroom? Would you be willing to try it? What parameters would you set?

Thanks for your input if you have it, and DFTBA!

A Few Ideas for Better Writing Conferences

I love these ideas for giving power to students, treating them like the real writers they are, and taking some self-applied pressure off the teacher.

Pernille Ripp

Thea, our oldest, missed her bus today which meant that I missed my morning prep as I drove her to school.  Missing my prep is usually not a big deal, but this morning I was feeling rather sleep deprived (thanks to the amazing book An Ember in the Ashes which I just had to finish last night) and overall rather discombobulated.  My very first instinct as I tried to get ready in the 4 minutes before the students showed up was to cancel the writing conferences I had planned with the kids, after all, I was not ready.  I had not pre-read all of their drafts, made copious amounts of comments in them, nor had I carefully selected who I would meet with.  Surely, I could not lead their conferences.  Surely, they could would get anything out of it if I did.

Yet, a tiny voice inside me kept whispering…

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Novel Writing and Math

Good news: I met my word count goal for Day 1 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Woo hoo! My story is a time travel romance set in World War II Bletchley Park, and yes, Alan Turing will make a guest appearance.

I always have my students set up the elements of their plot before they begin. In honor of my mathematical setting, I have renamed my own plot elements as follows:

  • Beginning = Defining the Variables
  • Inciting Incident = Reality Is a Special Case
  • Rising Action = Problem Sets
  • Climax = Limit
  • Falling Action = Proof
  • Resolution = QED

Wishing a great November to all the NaNoWriMo authors out there! We’ve got this!

Should Teachers Work for Free?

Diane Ravitch's blog

This is a post that will resonate with most other teachers. The writer of this blog worries that she will be penalized if she doesn’t work for free.

I came home crushed today…my spirit shattered…my morale broken. Sometimes I feel like being a teacher in the public school system is like being in a dysfunctional relationship where you just keep finding reasons to justify the abuse you’re accepting. It’s like the battered woman that finds every reason to stay, because at the end of the day…it’s for the kids right? When is enough, enough?

I am writing this because I was literally penalized on my teacher evaluation because my family duties and responsibilities prohibit me from working free overtime. And do I still work overtime? Oh yes! Absolutely! Perfect example…on Friday I stayed on campus til 7pm. But that was mainly organizing materials for Science and Math. Writing a Science…

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