Friday, November 16, 2012

Taking a Risk

Well I'm finally back here to post about something math related.  I must be honest though, this post is for selfish reasons...I came up with something brand new (for me at least) this week and I'm writing about it mainly in an attempt to help myself think it all through a bit more.

First a bit of background info:
This class is a special needs group of 10 students (whom I absolutely love!) and my class is their second math class of the day.  They take algebra 1 and then they also take my class.  My class is a supplement designed to work on additional skills and I also use it to work on algebra skills with them in an attempt to help them be more successful in algebra.  The kids are easy going and such good spirits that I feel comfortable taking risks and trying out new ideas.

Currently they are working on solving equations in algebra, which is of course super important.

The problem is though that they are all at SUCH different levels right now.  It is such a challenge to find anything to do with this class because the difference in kids is so extreme.  I've tried to give things that were a little challenging with the thought that the higher kids could work independently while I worked with the lower kids, but it didn't work out.  I've taught the whole class the basic skills, but I just end feeling like I'm wasting the other kids' time.

This week I decided I needed to put some serious thought into figuring something out.  Here's what I figured out...

I separated "solving equations" into what I consider 7 checkpoints, or skills.  Each kid took a pre-assessment that covered the first 5 of these skills.  Each section had 4 questions.

Student Report Sheet
I then filled one of these out for each kid.  For any skill that they scored 4/4 of on, I stamped the corresponding skill box.  This means that they do not have to work on this skill.

Practice Sets
I created 7 different practice sheets (using Kuta) and drew lines to split them into "practice sets."  Each practice set is 4 or 6 problems.  I also created notes that explain how to solve each type of equation.

On the left is the 7 different practice sheets and on the right is notes that correspond to skills A-D.
Practice Sets

During class the kids are responsible for working on the practice sets that they have not yet mastered.   They are to complete one practice set then check the answers (there is one answer key per table that has all of the answers).  If they get answers incorrect they need to figure out why and then work on the next practice set.  They continue this until they feel confident with the skill.  

When the kids keep making mistakes on a particular skill, then I will come work with them to help figure out what's going on. 

Activity Log
As the students complete practice, they are recording their practice sets on their record sheet.  They write the date, which set they did, and the score.  This is just to hold them accountable so they don't sit and waste time all period.  At the end, they will receive a classwork grade on this.

Once a student feels that they are consistently getting problems correct, they can request the skill quiz from me.  Each quiz is 4 questions focusing on one type of equation.  If they score 4/4 I stamp the corresponding box and they are able to move on to the next skill.  If they do not, they must do more practice (at least one more practice set) and then they can re-quiz.  I have 5 different copies of each quiz to ensure that they always have new problems.

They can request a quiz at any time during the period and they just leave it in my inbox when they're done.  I do not grade these during class.

My Part
I created a file for each kid...

At the beginning of the period, they take their file.  They hold onto everything they do all period then leave it all in the file as they leave at the end of the period.

In the morning when it's nice and peaceful I take my time and look through each file.  I glance at their practice and stamp off confirmations on their activity logs.  I then grade any quizzes that were taken.  If they scored perfectly, I mark off the skill as complete.  I leave the graded quizzes in their file.

My Thoughts...
First of all I really thought I was taking a risk with this.  I was worried that it may be too complicated (it might sound like it, but trust me it's really running smoothly) or that the kids would just sit there and do nothing.  The whole thing involves a lot of independent work since I'm not standing over the kids telling them what to do.  Everything that they do is their own decision.  They decide when they want to take a quiz and when they're not quite ready.  They decide how much practice they need to do before moving on.  I was nervous, but I figured that the worst case I would just scratch the whole thing if it flopped.

I'm so glad I went for it because I am so in love with how it's going.  The kids know what to do when they come in and they don't need nearly as much of my attention.  The only time a kid calls me over is when they are really stuck on something which is exactly what I want.  I want to be able to spend my time working with serious problems and not all the other stuff.  The kids are learning how to work independently and study math which I think is so important.  I also like that the kids don't really know what everyone else is working on so they aren't trying to keep up, they're just working at their own pace.

When kids master all of the skills I plan to have them start work on some different types of challenge word problems.  As far as grading goes, I really hope that I can give all the kids an A because that would mean that they have mastered all the skills.  I don't think that is too unreasonable since I'm letting them re-quiz until they score perfectly, but we'll see how it goes.

I think that my favorite part of all of this is the spirit of it.  Assessments aren't that stressful because if they don't go well the kids can do some more practice and then reassess.  I know very little about standards based grading but I believe this is the idea of it?  I will admit that SBG sounded overwhelming, but if it similar then I think I might start looking into it a little more seriously...

Have any thoughts on any of this??? I'd love some feedback

ps- I've been planning something Sandy related all week that I'm crazyyyyyyy excited for.  I seriously can't wait for next week!!!


  1. You posted this at a time I really needed it. I'm going to share with others.

    Would you be willing to write a bit about how you taught your students to do this? I find that teaching them the procedures or routines I want them to follow is critical. The few times I've given my math class choices it's devolved into chaos and little work gets done.


    1. Awesome, I love it when that happens! When you say teach them to do this, do you mean work independently? Or work on this particular activity?

      Getting them into a routine is definitely crucial. When giving up control and putting the responsibility on them I try to have some aspect that holds them accountable for doing something. For this, they know that they are responsible for filling out the activity log. I glance over it everyday to make sure that they actually did the work they said they did and then stamp off. I just told them that I don't care what they are doing (work wise) I just care to see that they are doing something.

      I do have to say that I have good kids so luckily I barely had to explain what to do and they just got it. I think they key though is making sure there is a very firm structure set up when giving them freedom. That way they know exactly what they need to do, leaving less room for slacking.

  2. This is exactly SBG!

    Also, what font did you use on your activity log sheet? I notice you use it on all of your stuff that I steal so now I'd also like to steal your font. Lol

    1. No way, really?! Haha ok I really have to look into that more seriously...

      and the font is called Elephants in Cherry Trees... I also use Appleberry on a lot of things looks a little bit similar :) Steal away!

  3. This looks great. Any chance I can see a sample of your "notes" that you give them?

    1. Yes! Sorry for the delay, but I just posted what I'm using for notes. The files are all there to download too.

    2. Can't seem to find where this is posted. Love this idea!

  4. This is great and I couldn't have read it at a more perfect time! I just talked to my intervention specialist today about doing an independent unit on equations after Christmas. I'm glad to hear things are going well! One of my main concerns was how this independent learning would fit into the INB, are you having your kids work out of the INB for this unit or not? My kids are so trained with the INB I feel like it may completely mess with them if I don't use it or if they are all 'putting something different on page 92" haha. I'm also trying to get over my fear of not teaching EVERY section to EVERY student and allowing those who prove they understand it to move on to more challenging work, reading about how you are doing this gives me confidence that doing this just may work. I'm just starting to develop the unit so I may have more questions later! Thanks!

    1. Oh I love it when things work out to be timed so perfectly. Things are going really well indeed, I actually feel like my kids have a good handle on what they're doing.

      They are just using their ISNs as needed. They take the notes when they get to a new topic and they are all going on the same page. I completely agree that I need them to all have the same pages set up, so that's why I set it up the way I did.

      I would also strongly suggest giving it a try if you're interested..I honestly thought there was a good change it was going to be a huge disaster but I figured it was worth a shot. What happened instead was actually that some kids blew me away with how smart they are, up until now they didn't have a chance to work through things at their own pace so letting them go was really impressive.

      If you have more questions please ask!! Feel free to drop me an e-mail too :)

  5. Did you post your pre assessment or student recording sheet anywhere? If not, I would love to have a copy! I can't wait to try this!

    1. Hmm..pre assessment probably not because it wasn't anything spectacular. I just did like 2 problems on 1, 2, and 3 step equations and 2 each on combining like terms and distributing. I'm not sure about the recording sheet's just a basic table in microsoft word though, nothing too fancy. You could create one and customize it with whatever skills you're working on.

  6. I would love to have a copy of what you're using for notes if you are willing to share. I didn't see a link to download available.

  7. I am not able to find the notes you are using- thanks for all of the great ideas

  8. I'm also unable to find the documents. I'd love to see the notes, practice and quizzes!

  9. How do you "end" your unit. When some kids are all the way done with all the skills and then some are still stuck on two steps?

  10. Have you thought about putting your stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers? I would totally pay to have this package of stuff! I am trying to recreate it now, but I am slow at the worksheet editing process!


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