Collaboration With Accountability: Pooled Responses, Individual Assessments

poolThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


Here’s the conundrum:

You’ve composed a prompt for an assessment. It has many possible answers – and many ways to succeed.

That’s good!

But some students, sitting at home, alone, will have trouble formulating a quality response.

Take this quick quiz to see if you should use Pooled Responses, Individual Assessments: 

1. Do you encourage team-work?

2. Do you feel that the best ideas are piggybacked on other good ideas?

3. Can you use a computer?


pool3

If you answered YES to all three, then you should use Pooled Responses, Individual Assessments. Here’s how:

1. Present the prompt in class.

Be sure the prompt is complex, has many possible solutions, and is relevant to the Essential Questions / Enduring Understandings of the unit.

2. Have students individually write 3-4 answers / solutions to the prompt.

3. Students partner up and together, they choose from their (now) 6-8 responses their agreed-upon top-three.

4. Students write these 3 solutions / responses in a grid in a Google Doc, accessible to the class.

5.  At home, students will be able to review a dozen or more solutions. Rather than create ex-nihilo, they can modify and build a complete response based on the best of the best.

In other words, they have pooled the resources of thoughtful solutions, but it will be up to each individual to identify and analyze the best responses.

Caveats:

1. Students must quote the ideas’ authors by name (and are permitted a note card if the assessment involves an in-class essay).

2. Students may quote the idea verbatim, but must put it in quotes.

3. Students will still have to 1) explain the idea in his/her own words, 2) justify the idea with proof texts and additional support.

4. You could even require students to pull at least one idea from his/her own partner session, and decide whether to support or critique a classmates.

Ultimately, Pooled Resources / Individual Assessments sends the message that while each student is responsible for his/her own work, progress and learning takes place as a result of the collaborative efforts of many people.

Hmmm. Sounds like real life…


For part 2 on Pooled Resources / Individual Accountability, click here.

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Getting Hesitant Students to Meet With You: A Great Solution

lolcat calendarThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app,Class Dojo.


The worst thing is… a student not getting the help he needs.

The worst thing is… a student going from struggling, to drowning, because she lets a small problem become a big problem.

The worst thing is… a student letting go of the chance to correct mistakes because of the hassle.

That’s a lot of worst things. But they happen way too often.


Here’s how I dealt with this for eleven years:

  • I lectured students on the need to meet with me, especially when things don’t go well.
  • I told students to meet with me.
  • I told parents to tell students to meet with me.
  • I threatened students who wouldn’t meet with me.
  • I exacted consequences on students who should’ve met with me but didn’t.

bowties

Q: Wait a minute… the author of magnetiCClassroom.com is also the author of StyleForDorks.com? A: Click the pic…

Here’s what happened: students who had the proclivity to ask for help would meet with me and would thrive. Students with social anxiety, who were afraid of my bow ties, or who were too dang busy would not meet with me, and they paid the consequences.

What did those students learn about the importance of meeting with a teacher? Probably nothing.

Then, there was the other side of the problem. Students would email to ask if they could meet.

Email 1: Student: Dear Mr. Wolk. Can we meet to go over my project?

Email 2: Me: Sure. When are you free?

Email 3: Student: A block and B Block.

Email 4: Me: I teach A, B, and D.

Email 5: Student: How about Lunch?

Email 6: Me: I’m free Tuesday and Wednesday.

Email 7: Student: Wednesday Lunch works. See you then.

That process would take 2 days.

Then, on Wednesday, I would sit at my desk during lunch, until 2 minutes before the bell rang. And that’s when the student would show up to review his project.

OR: When I was free during students’ study halls, half of the period would pass, and then three students would show up at the same time.

I wanted to teach students that when you’re in crisis, you should ask for help. But asking for help was inconvenient for everyone. A pain in the butt. Time consuming and cumbersome. A headache for the student and for me.


There had to be a better way…

  • A way for a student to access my office-hours calendar – in class, immediately after a confusing review session, right when the panic and anxiety hits.
  • A way for the student to offer me two times, and where I could pick the most convenient one.
  • A way for students to reserve 5 – 20 minute blocks which wouldn’t be “poached” by another student dropping by.
  • A way for multiple students to fit into one 55 minute period.
  • A way for me to approve or request a reschedule while on the go – from my phone.
  • A way to sync appointments with my own Google Calendar and with my school’s Outlook system.
  • A way for me to survey all the times a student has met with me, to include as feedback on ClassDojo.

Schedule Once

As it turns out, there is. Schedule Once – I used the trial free account, then upgraded (gladly) to the pro account. It’s worth it.

I have more students visiting than ever before, but in a more orderly, dependable way. A student who panics when receiving a low grade on a test knows exactly what to do: make an appointment, now. They are empowered. And everyone’s happier.

It’s a good thing.

Music in the classroom? Yes. When? Now.

astrocatThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


What’s the first thing you do when you come home at the end of the day?

Turn on the TV? Take a shower? Pet the cat? Untangle your children from a roll of duct tape?

Many people put music on. It sets the tone, creates a certain kind of space: relaxing or energized, comforting or upbeat.

Each class period is a “space.” One class is fun, one is silly, one is energized, one is noisy. Sometimes this is due to the lesson plan, sometimes it’s related to what the students bring into the room. Students can bring an exhausted mood into a room or a chattery, distracted mood. They can bring frustration from whatever happened the block before, or anxiety. The mood students bring into the room can support student learning, or it can undermine it.

I use music to set the tone in the room. I use upbeat (but not frenetic) music — picking tracks that many students might not know but which they may enjoy.

Students know that when the music is playing, it’s not a good time to come ask me questions or distract me with questions about my weekend. All this must wait until “housekeeping.” While the music is playing, it’s time for students to find their seats, to look at the lesson plan (posted online or on the board), to see who their work partner will be, and to begin working on First Thing Work.

While the music plays, I take attendance, prepare my notes, check in with students with emergencies, and so on.

When it’s time for quiet, I begin counting down from ten and drop the music. When I hit zero, the music is silent…and so are the students. No shushing, no noise.

The mood is positive, and if I choose good music, the classroom feels like a great place to be.


audiophileAdditional ideas:

  • Have a playlist ready on your iPod or laptop, so if a song ends, another, appropriate song will begin, and so you don’t have to think about what to play.
  • Avoid ultrapopular (or worse, waning-in-popularity) music that might provoke a distracting reaction.
  • mini x

    For 25 bucks, you can find a speaker small enough to fit in your backpack or briefcase, loud enough to fill a room with music. Try my current favorite, the x mini II.

    Consider playing quiet music during quiet work or partner-work time. I find that some classrooms enjoy mellow jazz or classical music in the background. It’s not necessarily distracting, as long as it’s quiet, and in some cases, it actually helps maintain focus, especially if, for example, two students are working together out loud while others work silently; the music will help the quiet workers not to be distracted by the students working aloud.

  • When you finish class, consider playing music as the students leave! Why not send them on their way with something upbeat?
  • Invest in a 25 dollar micro-speaker which lives in your briefcase, backpack, etc. When you walk into class, turn it on, plug it into your iPod, hit play, and the beat is on! (I suggest a “Curve” by Cambridge Sound Works, an X Mini ii, or an iHome mini speaker.(The former is a little pricier and sounds better, but is a bit bigger. The latter two are cheaper and smaller and, for me, plenty loud for their purpose.
  • Once in a while, I like to slip a song onto the mix that I know a certain student likes (I look at what T-shirts the students wear or which concerts they talk about). This gives you a chance to bond over music; what better way to build rapport? But don’t fake it. Students know when you’re being phony.
  • Sometimes, the student will make a positive comment about your choice of song. After class, ask the student for more suggestions, ask about the concert, or, if you are already a fan, yourself, start a conversation on music. Many of these informal chats have built rapport with a student who I previously had trouble connecting with.

Where to Begin? Music/Musician/Genre Suggestions:

  • Anything by Dave Brubeck (Jazz) or Modern Jazz Quartet
  • Pandora stations: Rocksteady, Salsa, Frank Sinatra
  • Graceland – by Paul Simon
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • Andrew Bird
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Thomas Mapfumo (If you haven’t listened to him, do it now. Seriously.)
  • The Shins
  • Vampire Weekend

Just is just for starters. If you find a “magic album,” comment below and tell us about it!

Youtube Search n’ Review: Lesson Plan Example

confirmation kittooseA Youtube Search n’ Review is a great way to start a class. It’s interesting for the students, and it buys you time. Sip your coffee and clear your head while they work!


INSTRUCTIONS to CLASS

1. Do a YOUTUBE SEARCH on the topic of “Confirmation Bias” or “Confirmatory Bias.”

2. Watch TWO videos (must be under 4 mins, each). Use headphones. If you don’t have any, use the headphones in the bin in the back of the class.

3. After watching, in your class notes,

A) explain confirmation bias in your own words.

B. Give the video a Grade (A thru F) in TWO categories. Category 1: how clearly it explained it. Category 2: How fun it was to watch.

C) explain why you graded it this way.


Then, discuss.

The Calendar and the Template: The Batman and Robin of Lesson Planning and Presenting

batmanThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


The hardest thing about lesson planning is the blank page.

And the hardest thing about starting class: when students enter the room, unless you make it so, your classroom is a blank page. Sure, you have posters on the wall, and you’re midway through a unit.

But unless your posters and unit are as interesting as whatever the students were talking and thinking about in the hallway on the way to class (and let’s face it, to most students, it’s not), the students walk in the room with their own agenda. Their agenda is: try not to do anything.

The good news is that most students, being social beings, will step into line as class begins, even if you’re not playing your A game. The better news is that if you’ve set up class effectively, the span of time between “blank page” and “being productive” can be shortened.

How do you get students to get into gear? How do you reduce the behaviors that make it hard to start class? How do you get students thinking, quiet, and productive — reviewing the themes of the class —while you take attendance? How do you organize your lesson planning workflow so you never forget to include essential components?

The answer is the same for all these: lesson plan with a template, and make the lesson plan available to students upon entering class.

There are low-tech and hi-tech ways to do this; allow me to share a few, and their pros and cons.


Hi-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Google Calendar

By far, my favorite way to present the days work, including the vital “first thing work” that gets students quiet and engaged for 5-10 minutes is a shared Google Calendar. While many schools have a Learning Management System that allows teachers to post their lesson plan for the day, I often find that these LMS calendars similar to, well, the free email that comes with your Cable Internet – you know: lmaluddite@Glopast.com. It works. But the tool doesn’t get updated or improved or work well across the most common devices like Google Calendar does.

I begin the year, during the first week of orientation, teaching students how to bookmark the shared class Google Calendar from a laptop, and even a smartphone/tablet.

Each day, as students enter the room, they open their tablets, phones, or laptops and see the entire day’s lesson plan. It always begins with First Thing Work, and ends with Homework and students I need to meet with. For a detailed description of the various elements built into each day’s template, I invite you to check out A Template For Change – And Workflow.

Additional Benefits:

  • Unlike some other class calendars, a student can open the class Google Calendar integrated with their own Google Calendar. As a result, if they have already begun using Google Calendar for their own lives, they can easily keep track of classes they missed and the lesson plan, homework, and announcements for that day – on the same calendar they check which day they have Disney Musical Club, their Jai Alai tournament, and their family trip to Walla Walla.
  • If you make a mistake that needs correcting in class – the link to an assignment is broken, say, or you decide you want to change the homework assignment — once you change it in the Google Calendar, it’s changed for everyone, instantly.
  • You have the same access to the class calendar from excellent smartphone apps that you do from your work laptop. This means you can COMPOSE YOUR LESSON PLAN ON GOOGLE CALENDAR! I suggest you combine the calendar with a Template – to keep your thinking organized. For more on lesson planning with Templates, I invite you to read: How Not To Cook From Scratch.
  • Referencing how you did something last year: I used to use Word for lesson planning, and by the end of the year, I had dozens and dozens of files – one for each day. I could never find anything. Now, when I want to see what I did last year, I can browse the classes on the calendar – or search for a word or phrase I know I used in my lesson planning.
  • Fast and Portable Lesson Plan Fixing and Peeking: You’re in class, moving around the students, keeping an eye on the playing field. Are you going to bring your laptop with you? No. What do you do when you need to check what’s next? You look at your smartphone, where the same Google Calendar is ready for you to look at. Or, on the way to class, you can adjust a prompt, fix a page number, or jot a note under: assignments. From your smartphone! While walking!

Cons:

Students need regular access to a device: school provided or “BYOD.”


Low-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Overhead Projector

Ah, the lowly overhead projector. It’s actually not so lowly. It has major benefits over the whiteboard (the other place you might write a Low-Tech lesson plan)

Mainly: with a teeny bit of planning and the flick of a switch, your lesson plan is ready. You can write your plans in advance, file them in a filing system, and refer to them as needed.

Benefits:

Besides being low tech and inexpensive, it’s easier to browse your lesson plans written this way, just as it’s easier to browse through a book than to click and click and click.

Rewarding students for checking the calendar: how do you reward students for coming to class, checking the calendar, and getting to work? ClassDojo! The first three students quietly working get a badge! The last two also get a badge!

FTWs are your BFF: Using “First Thing Work” to Get Off to a Good Start

party dont startThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


“All beginnings are difficult.”

  • I remember the horrendous, red track-suit I wore on the the first day of sixth grade – and discovering that it did very little for my social cache.
  • I remember the anxiety of the first day of fifth grade; I was terrified I’d be assigned to the homeroom of the witchy-looking lady I’d seen in the hallways and I prayed I’d get the the tall, gangly guy. I got my wish, but it turned out that the tall, gangly guy was sort of mean. The witchy-looking lady, I later learned, only looked witchy.
  • I remember the first day of fourth grade, where our teacher introduced us to an octopus, pickled in a jar of formaldehyde. It lived in his supply closet. If he caught anyone messing with his supplies, he said, he’d lock us in there with “Octy.”

All beginnings are difficult.

This sentence, written in the Talmud, and which I learned on the first day of my Educator’s Program, helps us to anticipate difficulty – and to grasp that the emotional challenges that accompany new chapters are normative.

Indeed, every class, four years of study, and 12 years of teaching later, features difficulty — I am both nervous and excited. I am prepared but I never feel utterly prepared from my head to my toes: there is unknown in every class.

The first 10 minutes of class is the time when students are most unruly, you are most vulnerable, and where getting down to business is most challenging.

The solution is First Thing Work. It is posted in the class agenda, it’s ready the moment students walk in, and their job is to do it first. My job is to avoid distraction, set up my computer, take attendance, and check in quietly with students who have emergencies.


Here are a few models for FTW:

Model One: Looking Forward

  • Offer one or two prompts on a theme related to class. For example, in a class on Hamlet, the prompt may be: “Write about a time when you wrestled with a difficult choice, where the stakes were high. What happened? How did it turn out?”
  • Carefully compose prompts that the vast majority of students could answer.
  • Offer a second, more general prompt: “How do you deal with making a difficult choice?”
  • A third, more general prompt, might be, “What advice do you have for people facing a difficult choice?”
  • After writing on their choice of prompts, students then work on “Anchorwork.” Anchorwork is, as it sounds, work designed to keep students focused — and not to drift away from the environment for learning you and they have created for the last five minutes.
  • Anchorwork can be a drill, a fascinating article, a creative project they have been working on for a few weeks, or even a headstart on the homework.
  • After five to seven minutes of quiet writing, ask students to share their stories, ideas, and conclusions. Offer a few summary remarks, and move on to your lesson plan.
  • Additional benefits: many students have reported in my classes that these sharing sessions help them learn about their classmates’ lives – people they see and interact with every day but don’t always really know. This bonding contributes to a warm class atmosphere and to better learning.
  • Alternate model: use an online service like Polleverywhere.com (or jerry-rig a low-tech silent poll with dry-erase markers on the board – each student leaves a check next to their choice) to poll students about something in their lives.
  • Offer a second prompt where they assess or speculate about the results of the poll. For example: why did 75% of the class feel that Kale is the new broccoli? What factors might have contributed to this? What might lead to a shift in these results?

Model Two: Looking Back

  • Use FTW as a time for summative assessment. (For those watching at home, “summative assessment” refers to mini-quizzes you do during a unit to see how students are coming along, evaluate your strategy, plan interventions, etc.)
  • For example, use an online service like exittix.com or socrative.com to have students answer some simple questions about the homework and, through the miracle of the internet, see their scores immediately. Students who struggle meet in a seminar with you for clarification. Students who “pass” move on to the next step.
  • (If you need a low tech version, prepare answer keys students can grab when they are ready – or have them grade each others’ work).

Summary

No matter what you do with your FTW, the following principles apply:

  1. Students must be able to access it immediately upon entering the room, whether it’s online, in a binder on your desk, or rested in stacks in the students’ work area.
  2. It should be work students can do with minimal questions or clarification, since you’ll need that time to check attendance, set up your computer, launch ClassDojo, etc.
  3. It should not be work that needs grading. You have enough to grade as it is. That said, I do have colleagues who collect and grade them and, well, I trust their rationale.
  4. Teach students, at the beginning of the year, that FTW factors into their Student Ethic Modifier. If a student is slow on the draw one day – misses a class – or misses FTW due to tardiness, s/he doesn’t need to make it up, necessarily – as long as it is not a pattern. For more on Class Ethic Modifier, I invite you to my blog, “The Most Helpful 3% In the Class.”
  5. While bell work can, without much planning, make beginnings of class “less difficult,” with practice and effort, it can become an effective way to introduce ideas and materials for a powerful class experience.

“My name is Evan and I’m addicted to Koosh Balls.” — Using Speakers’ Lists and Koosh Balls for Discussion Facilitation.

IMG_20141028_151931

My name is Evan and I’m addicted to Koosh Balls.

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


It all started with a peanut.

The teacher was offering salty, shelled peanuts to students who answered questions correctly. It was my turn and she asked me the question, something about verbs. Or adverbs. I blurted out the answer, and hands shot up; I watched in horror as the teacher called on another student to answer and gave him the peanut. My peanut.

The worst part was that the second I said the wrong answer, I realized my error…but I could do nothing about it. My peanut was gone.

Solution 1: The Speakers’ List

Years later, as an adult, I joined a housing cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin. The co-op system had meetings to decide everything: whether to invite an applicant to live in the house, how to invest our $10,000 budget windfall, whether to stop buying cheese.

Those meetings might have been nightmares (and indeed, sometimes they were), but one thing kept meetings orderly: when it was your turn to speak, one thing made sure your peanut was not given to someone else.

The speaker’s list.

If you wanted to speak, your name went on a list. When it was your turn, it was your turn. And you were not done speaking when someone else said you were done; you were done when you said, “pass.”

Was this abused? Sometimes. Rarely.

Mostly, it made people feel heard and seen and in control of their own words.

As a teacher, I quickly adopted this technique. I would ask a question, and instead of hands popping up and competing for my attention, I would simply assign numbers. No more than 7. The next student didn’t get to speak until the previous student said “pass.”

While this method isn’t not good for debate, per se, it’s very good for exploring ideas, which is most of what my class is about.

Solution 2: The Koosh Ball

Still, something was not complete. I was still serving as the speakers’ list keeper and calling on the next speaker, and sometimes, the list felt a little heavy handed. Furthermore, sometimes, I would ask a question and find that getting even one or two speakers was a challenge.

In a groovy book on leading “Rap Sessions,” written by somebody in the 70s with incredible, spherical hair, I encountered the idea of a talking stick. The person with the stick speaks. Everyone else listens.

But what if the next person to speak is 15 feet away? Could a talking stick be easy to catch, easy to throw, and soft, in case someone got hit in the eye? The answer is yes. If the stick is a Koosh Ball.

A tennis ball will bounce and roll, creating havoc. A hackysack is easy to throw but hard to catch. A bowling ball is too heavy. The perfect catchable, tossable, safe “talking stick” is a Koosh Ball.

They used to be made by , but you can buy them here for a few dollars each. I have one in my backpack at all times. And I only go through one or two a year.

Here are some additional benefits to using speakers’ lists and Koosh Balls:

  1. The Koosh serves as a visual reminder of who is speaking. This is one piece in the classroom-management-without-raising-your-voice puzzle.
  2. The Koosh gives you a way of correcting out of turn speakers in a concrete, non-judgmental way: “Make sure you’re only speaking when you have the Koosh” is much more clear than, “Stop talking out of turn.”
  3. Some students like to fidget with the Koosh while they speak, and while I also teach articulate speaking in appropriate contexts, the kind of dreamy rhapsodizing that comes with having something to fiddle with while speaking can actually allow for freer, more creative expression.
  4. While you can create a hybrid speaker’s list / koosh conversation, where the next person on the list gets the koosh, the koosh can also allow the currect speaker to choose who speaks next.
  5. Facilitation through speakers’ list and/or Koosh Balls allows you to step out of actively facilitating the discussion, allowing you to listen more deeply to the individual students and the class “gestaldt” — after six or seven students speak, then, offer your observations and conclusions. I call this “curation,” you can read more about “Curation As Discussion” here.
  6. Using a speakers’ list and Koosh Ball helps you focus on the quality of your questions. Fewer, clearer, open-ended questions are far more effective than many, guided, leading questions. When you get accustomed to asking questions that seven students can answer seven different ways, you’re developing your skills as a master teacher.

Conclusion: These two techniques are part of creating a class atmosphere that is lively without being frenetic, and where students feel seen and heard. Please share your tips and ideas for discussion facilitation below.

Q: You know what I’d pay you for a good idea?

A: Peanuts.