Thursday, March 24, 2016

Metacognition in the Algebra Classroom

One of my colleagues, Mrs. C, uses Khan Academy's Math Mission has her curricular framework for her Algebra students.  This particular class is a cohort of students who typically struggle with math.

A typical day in her classroom starts with a "Mastery Challenge" that students can work on for about 10 minutes.   Then, she does about 15 minutes of direct instruction surrounding the "Practice Tasks" that they need to work on.  The remainder of class time is spent working on those skills needed to master the Practice Task Blocks.

Mrs. C felt like her class, scheduled at the end of the day, was lacking motivation and wanted to use student self-assessments to recharge her class.  Students were already expected to track their progress through the blocks using a handwritten document.  The document identified the Skill, Level and the students would calculate their points based on what Level they had completed.  After some discussion with Mrs. C, we decided to add "Attempt Tally" to the chart.  Students are now asked to record how many questions they had to answer to get to their current level.

In addition, students are now asked the following reflection questions at the end of the unit:  

1.      Looking at the data above, which blocks were easy to complete? Explain why the block(s) were easy to complete e.g. block was similar to another block, really understood concept of _________.  

2.  Look at the data above, which blocks were difficult to complete? Explain why e.g. block was similar to another but same rule doesn’t apply, I didn’t understand the concept, took me while to apply skill consistently.

These questions are written to get students to think about in which concepts they should feel confident and which concepts still remain a challenge.  Students can approach the summative exam with a strong understanding of their individual Learning Needs.  After taking the summative assessment, the Reflection provides students an opportunity to connect their "Attempt Tally", "Level" to their performance on the test.  Low-achieving Students sometimes need help to see how persistence with a difficult concept can result in success.  

After implementing this intervention, Mrs. C and I had a follow-up conversation to see how to adapt the work.  She liked the reflection questions but thought some of her students could include more detail about the reasoning behind the ease or difficulty of the block.  She is going to continue to work on modeling how to identify Learning Needs with her class.  Also, students in this class need to a little more direction to connect the "Tally Attempts" with their scores because they are not used to associating the two ideas.  Finally, I think it would also be helpful to have a final reflection question after the summative assessment to ask, "What does information mean for my future learning?"  This makes the summative assessment for a math concept turn into a formative assessment for metacognitive skills.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Importance of Regular Reflection

In an article recently posted on the Harvard Business Review website, Laura J. Adler articulates why it is important for leaders in a organization to journal regularly.  My father clearly had the same information because my sister and I were required to keep a journal starting in fifth grade.  My journals have always been a place of comfort and growth even though I resisted my father in the beginning.  Over the years, they have definitely changed in size, shape and content (high school drama!) but they have remained a consistent tool for my personal and professional growth.  Adler discusses several key components to journaling that will make it a more worthwhile process.

  1. Buy a journal - There is something about a composition book that I just love.   I have received many gifts of pretty journals but I always feel like there is too much pressure to write something profound.  But over the years, I have used binders with plain notebook paper too.
  2. Commit to reflecting - When I am most productive, I am also journaling all the time.  It helps me focus my thoughts and prepare for the next day.  I usually write my journal at the end of the day right before I go to bed.  I have fallen asleep writing my journal many times and I think that I probably should avoid writing my journal in bed.  My goal has been to fill up at least two pages of writing every night, an idea I got from reading The Artists Way many years ago.  Sometimes I succeed - other times I don't.  But the goal is set.
  3. Find a quiet place - I often struggle with this because of my two young children who pop up out of bed from time to time.  Still - my room is quiet and comfortable and meets this criteria.
  4. Choose the right time - As an instructional coach, there is no such thing as not being interrupted when I'm at school.  I want to be available to my teachers for anything that might come up.  This means I have to journal at home and with my sons at home - this can also be a challenge to find.  
  5. Write whatever comes to mind - Going back to the idea of always writing something profound - sometimes empty pages are incredibly daunting to me.  Part of writing for most people, even accomplished writers I have heard, is just doing it.  I will (and do) make excuses to not write but just getting the messy ideas down allows for the better ideas to come to the surface.
  6. Don't share your journal with anyone - I have to say I disagree with this one.  I am not saying that we should always share ideas all the time - certainly there are ideas that I want to keep to myself.  But I do think that selectively sharing our ideas, even the messy ones, with people in our thought community or personal learning network can help us grow.  But then again I am a huge Vygotsky fan and agree with him that knowledge construction happens through dialogic communication.  
I also like to track patterns in my journal.  I like to end each entry with:
  • Things that I'm proud of:
  • Things I need to work on:
  • Book(s) I am reading:
This regular pattern helps me close out my final thoughts for the night. 

I would love to hear if you keep an off-line journal.  If you do - how many of Adler's ideas are you able to apply?  Is there any ideas that you struggle with?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

16 posts?

It's been 10 months since my last post.  This year has gotten away from me and I have failed to keep up with my goal of posting once a week.

This morning I was able to attend the DuPage County Instructional Coaching Network Meeting in District 58 and the closing activity was a "Start Continue Stop" reflection which we then had to share with others.  So here is mine to share with the world:

Start:  Blogging again - once a week!
Continue:  To reach out and network with amazing teacher leaders
Stop:  Trying to work with people who don't want to work with me

Let's make this happen!