Monday, May 13, 2013

Ressurection and Rebirth

I was aware when I began blogging last summer that it would be difficult to maintain when the school year began. I didn't anticipate that difficult was actually a euphemism for impossible. Between three preps, including one written nearly from scratch, first year teaching, standards-based grading, graduate school, and getting married I'm surprised I managed to eat, sleep, and breathe. Now we're in the last 1.5 weeks of school and I'm feeling ready to approach this next summer with PD and restructuring in mind.

1) Everything I thought I knew about teaching is wrong
2) Nobody is willing to tell you exactly why the current pedagogy is wrong or how to fix it until graduate college (are they trying to hook us into the profession by denying us the reality until it's too late?)

On Curriculum:

My district is planning to transition to CCSS (Traditional not Integrated) in the next year or two. It's going to begin with Scope and Sequence workshops this summer and eventually lead to new curricular units. As the optimistic and naive educator that I am I've run into two forms of opposition in the form of my peers:

1) Why would I waste my time writing curriculum? I didn't get my Master's in curriculum development. That's not my job.

2) This is all fine and dandy, but these kids can't even count, how am I supposed to teach them anything else?

The negativity surrounding the state of this year and the "impending doom" for future years is intimidating. I want to be a part of the change, I want to change (and I don't mean cure-all-instantaneous-solutions for all of the ills of math education, but actual, painful, trial-and-error change). But I can't go it alone. I need colleagues that I can work with who not only want to work, but who are excited for the possibilities and potential the CCSS provide to us.

What I'm doing:

1) Casting my vote in every workshop/training/collaboration session I can get my grubby little hands on.
2) Probing the teachers at my site, in my district at other sites, and in other districts to create my own groups to meet with and collaborate with this summer.
3) Taking graduate courses which (for the first time in my post-secondary education) provide applications and experiences that I can immediately implement in a classroom

On Assessment:

Even though it was my first year, I knew that I had a big problem with how I was graded as a student and with how I was expected to grade as a math teacher. I spent the entirety of last summer researching and designing my own version of SBG and spent the entire year implementing it in my classroom as the only teacher in my entire district to change the way grading looks.

What I learned:

1) SBG does not change how students learn, how motivated students are to learn, or how successful students are at learning
2) SBG does change how students talk about their learning and how students think about learning.

In my experience, having only changed my gradebook and literally nothing else, my students did not perform any better or worse than the students in other classes with other teachers who used different grading systems. The biggest change that I noted was that students now knew what to "call" what they were bad at. For some students this became a way to study and improve. For others, this was just another way to expect the teacher to do all of the work for me. For example, Student A: "Ms. D, I was looking at my gradebook and I got a 1 (barely understanding) for Solving Rational Equations. I looked over my notes and I think I understand what I did wrong. Can you watch me solve this problem to make sure I get it, and then I'm ready to retest". Or more vaguely, Student B: "I can tell from all the 1s that I really don't understand Trigonometry at all". On the flip side, Student C: "I've got a 1 on "Solving Non-Right Triangles, whatever that is". Or worse, Student D: "I don't get any of this."

I think that SBG was a step in the right direction, but until I have the support and/or freedom to change my curriculum or my assessments (I was required to use the same tests as all other teachers for every unit) I won't be able to get the maximum potential from Standards-Based-Grading.

What I want to do:

1) Restructure my assessment format so that each skill is clearly and distinctly labeled.
2) Narrow down my list of standards (60 per semester is too many!)
3) Create a rubric-style system for grading similar to the PLDs recently released from PARCC (here)
4) Find a way to imbed self-reflection, formative assessment, feedback-not-grades, and remediation into my assessment system

On Education as a Profession:

I feel like my whole world has been turned upside down / ripped wide open. I've read resources such as The Teaching Gap, Understanding by Design, Lesson Study, NCTM's Illuminations. I've participated in more collaboration and professional development through my courses this semester than I did in my entire first year teaching, all three internships, and my part-time semester. I've attended workshops so useless I actually dozed off and workshops so engaging I couldn't shut up about it. I've had conversations that lead me to believe I am not alone in feeling that the system is broken and that change is needed now. I've grown tired of PD "solutions" thrust at my decontextualized with little support or follow-up concerning implementation and I'm ready for PD that is created by the teachers, centered around the students.

What I've learned:

1) Lesson Study is to Professional Development as SBG is to assessment
2) Giving teachers PLC time without guidelines or expectations is like leading a horse to water and expecting it to drink.

Throughout this year, the district has attempted to give us tasks such as deconstructing the CCSS and then undermining our efforts by doing things such as scrapping our hardwork and buying the deconstructed standards from a third party. We have been two hours, every two weeks, to work together on aligning curriculum and sharing ideas, but did not spend a single minute actually accomplishing this. Next year, we will have 2 hours every week for professional development in our profession learning communities and I'll be damned if I sit at another table to listen to my colleagues complain about the district, about the standards, and about their students without talking about how to chane it.

What I'm doing:

1) Discussing with my department head things I've learned about Lesson Study and how to make the most of our PLC time
2) Surrounded myself with colleagues that have similar interests to form a "defense"
3) Taken the leadership role for the Algebra 1 PLC (as a second year teacher- yikes)

The time for change is now, whether we're ready or not. It's up to us as professionals to decide whether we want to be a part of that change, whether we want that change forced upon us, or whether we want to jump ship. Unfornately, many that I know have already cast their vote with the latter two.

1 comment:

  1. You are just the colleague I love working with...hopeful, passionate, progressive! I have been teaching math for 26 years and till feel every year is different and new and accept the challenges and rewards of learning something new all the time!