Little steps and big ideas

Even before the end of the year, I am making notes about next year. These are made in red ink in my classroom diary and they consist of the small, great ideas that I think will make my classroom a more supportive place, make me a better teacher, make kids look forward to coming to Math and Science class, and head off the gaffes that happen every day. This is me making a note to learn from an event.

For example: make bathroom passes (two pink ones for the girls, and two blue ones for the boys); establish a three-step dismissal procedure for the end of class; and devote an entire class to getting “clock buddies” complete and accurate, and then using this system twice each week.  Basic stuff that veteran teachers take for granted, but tripwires for the novice.

I have strategic goals for 2013–2014 as well.

Teach discussion:

  1. “serious argumentation of the kind demanded by the Common Core is at the heart of the matter. Rational and respectful discourse requires clear agreed-upon criteria by which contributions can be dispassionately judged. If we agree to the criteria together, then my asking you to see any disconnect in the criteria vs. your example advances understanding with no loss of face.”

  2. “This constant demand for justification addresses the challenge of dicey comments nicely: you as a teacher don’t ever have to say someone is “wrong” since you need only ask the speaker or other students to find (or not find) the relevant support. Such an approach dignifies the comment (since we seek to find out the degree of its truth) and underscores the core lesson that mere opinion is not sufficient. As I used to say to my English students: no answer is certain or true, but some answers are better than others – and our job this year is to figure out how that is so.”

  3. “Core routines and protocols, therefore, should not just be about “behavior” but intellectual norms that de-personalize disagreements. Here are some Seminar Norms from my teaching days. At the very least, get everyone in the habit of following your lead in asking: “Where is that in the text?” or “What evidence supports your idea?” When students routinely ask such questions and take on such roles, discussion moves to a higher and more rewarding plane.”

Grant Wiggins “Granted, and…~thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins”

I read Grant Wiggins regularly, and we use “Understanding by Design”, Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe (ASCD 1998) as a foundation text for curriculum design and pedagogical practice.  These concepts dovetail nicely with the practices outlined in “Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn” Chapin, O’Connor & Anderson (Math Solutions Publications 2003).  I have already been practicing these techniques in my math classes and have studied this text in detail. My lesson plans for Math will use Math Talk as a foundation for learning.

Teach writing:

This is a practice that I learned from my colleagues, Kay O’Dwyer and Pamela Miller, who operate a very successful model in the Fifth Grade.  What they shared with me were graphic organizers, rubrics, and sample paragraphs which were originally designed for an ELA and Global Studies curriculum, and I have adapted them for my use in Math and Science.  This model has allowed me much greater control over the progress and quality of the childrens’ product. By breaking the writing down into individual sections and assigning multiple drafts over as many weeks, I can assess each step of the writing process.  I have written multiple rubrics, adapted from the Miller-O’Dwyer model, as well as my own paragraphs, to show the kids what the paragraph looks like in a finished form.  In addition, I now require students to submit their work in Google Docs, where I can comment and grade it; students now only receive a marked rubric in class, with no grade, and the instruction to check Google Docs and Powerschool for their grade.

My plan is to begin using this model at the very beginning of the 2013–2014 Academic Year,  building our skills and confidence through the year, and see just how far we can go in our writing skills.  Now that I have a framework to work within, and some real experience with what works in the classroom, I will be reviewing and analyzing the resources that I identified at the beginning of the year, looking for solutions to problems and opportunities to expand this practice enhancement.



About gblakney

Middle School Mathematics Teacher, passionate EdTech user who loves to experiment with new methods and tools in the classroom. Following the lead of Dan Meyer and Jo Boaler, I create a safe place for kids to discover the fun and beauty of maths. I use Number Talks and Groupwork to make maths accessible for all of my students. I enjoy Mathematics and I'm enthusiastic about teaching; the kids really respond to that.
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