Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Out of the Box" Math Assessment!

I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a long time…and one thing I know is that I am always on a quest to find out what students know and don’t know.  I use exit slips. I give summative assessments.  I watch my students carefully and coach as needed.  I just always feel like something is missing…like there is too much “fill in the blank”.  On a whim, I decided to have my students create their own assessment a while ago to “show what they know” about area and perimeter.  It was a game changer for me—and my students.  Interested?  Keep reading!

So one day I decided to simply ASK them what they knew.  I typed up a simple form and told them it was a “demand prompt”—for math!  They have been given demand prompts in writing, but not in math.   They looked a little confused, so I explained a little more.

I told them that I felt bad that I didn't give them enough flexibility and creative time to show me the DEPTH of their understanding.  After all, when we give an exit slip, we have certain things we are looking for, don’t we?  What if our students know MORE than that or have discovered new insights that our assessments don’t expose?  I knew my students could show me more if I gave them the chance.  And boy did they ever!  Check out these pictures to see more of how this all unfolded!

This is meant to be a low prep, easy to do assessment task.  I put out lined notebook paper, graph paper, construction paper, rulers, and any other supplies I think will help.  If it’s relevant (like for geometry) I may set out protractors or other supplies that I think will help my students. 

My students love to make posters on 12x18 construction paper, but some students make booklets by stapling paper together.  Some make their displays very visual while others do it in a more narrative fashion.  If you have access to technology, feel free to let students use that as well.  Get creative—and encourage your students to do the same!  I gave my students 30 minutes, but if you don’t think that is the right amount for your group—change it!  Some topics might require more time than others, so modify as you see fit.

For me, the most important thing was to get my students reflecting on their own work.  We did some brainstorming about how teachers can grade (We use a 4, 3, 2, 1 scale).  Students had all sorts of interesting ideas about grading—and we had a great talk about the pros and cons of each—and of grading in general! We talked at length about why we assess and grade student work, and I made sure
that they understood that it is all about making sure everyone is learning—and so I know what to do next as a teacher.

We all have assessments that either our district mandates or that come with our textbooks, but I really recommend using something "out of the box" to collect additional information about how your students learn, process topics, organize their work, and explain their thinking.  Does this sound familiar?  That’s right!  The Standards for Mathematical Practice!  This activity was a great way to look for how students were modeling math, working precisely, looking for patterns, explaining their thinking, using reasoning, and more!  No matter how (or IF!) you grade your students, these “demand tasks” can help you see your students’ understanding in a very new way.

Try it!  See what your students can do.  I have turned this into a ready-to-use product that is aligned to the CCSS and most other rigorous curricula for grades 3 and 4...and grade 5 should be available this week!  Click the images below if you want to see more.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Cleaning Giveaway and Sale

As March comes to an end, spring is in the air.  The weather is getting warmer, the sun is out longer, and we are spending more and more time outside.  Another thing I know I look forward to is spring cleaning!  I love to open the windows in my house to air it out.  Putting away my winter clothes and straightening up around the house just makes me excited for the nicer weather that's just around the corner.

The bloggers at Upper Elementary Snapshots have decided to let you all do a little spring cleaning, too - but without actually picking up cleaning supplies!  We want you to clean out those TpT wishlists!  The best part is that we are going to help you get started!

We are giving away 6 $20 TpT gift certificates.  Use the Rafflecopter below for a chance to enter on March 25th and March 26th.

Then, on March 27th and March 28th, our individual TpT stores will be on sale.  This is the perfect time to grab some fantastic resources to finish up this school year!

Here is a list of our stores - get up to 20% off all of our resources for 2 days ONLY! (Friday/Saturday) Happy shopping!!

Our TPT Stores:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Introduction to Argumentative Writing

I am so excited to be writing yet another blog post for my favorite upper grades collab blog! Two weeks ago I began teaching our LAST writing unit for the year! Whoop whoop!!!!! Now, before you get too jealous, I still have other units to teach. This is just our last writing genre of the year. We started out with narrative and moved on to expository. The hardest best was saved for last: argumentative. Argumentative. Since argumentative writing has been on my brain nonstop for the last two weeks, I thought it would be an appropriate blog post. This is my first year in middle school, so this is my first year teaching argumentative. I taught a similar genre before, persuasive. My students were used to persuasive, so the first week was introducing them to the differences between persuasive and argumentative.

What’s the difference?
Most of my students wanted to say that argumentative was the same as persuasive: you are trying to get someone to change his/her mind. I had to be sure to point out precise differences to get them out of the persuasive way of thinking and more into the argumentative way of thinking.
I made the following poster for my students to see how argumentative writing differs from persuasive writing. There are many more differences that can be added, but this is the first year of argumentative writing, so I really just wanted to highlight the big differences to help my students transition their mindset.

Thank you KG Fonts and 3am Teacher for the clipart and fonts!

Argumentative writing really is presenting a side of an issue to the reader using facts, evidence, data, and research. Passion and emotions are left out. This was the MAIN difference I wanted my students to recognize. I decided to keep the poster simple for this first year of writing an argumentative piece and focus on this aspect.

Steps in writing an argumentative piece
As I was teaching my students how to write an argumentative piece, I offered a lot more support to them than when I taught narrative and expository. Narrative and expository does not change too much from 5th grade, but argumentative is a whole new beast genre. I wanted to provide my students with a step-by-step process so they could be successful. We did an entire piece together, using modeling and shared writing, which took almost two weeks. TWO WEEKS! But I know all that work on the front end will be well worth it as they begin writing their own argumentative pieces this week.

I have allotted two weeks for them to write their own. Ideally they will begin an argumentative piece and finish it within two hours since that is the time limit on the end-of-year test, but this being their first time, I didn’t want them to stress, and I wanted them to take their time. I also built in days where we could meet together and do check-ins so I could monitor their progress, and, if anyone was way off, we could quickly correct the mistakes before they were too far in.

Here is the chart we made with the steps in writing an argumentative piece. You may have your own steps, but I have found these to be helpful for my students. I also made a handout for them to keep in their binders so they cold easily reference it while writing their own (it isn’t fancy by any means AT ALL, so I didn’t include it here to download…I created it in Word and used Arial **gasp**). Each day we added a step after we completed it because I wanted students to feel ownership in it and actually use it. We also made a second chart that had the components of each paragraph so students could reference it as they wrote their own.

Nothing fancy. I just wanted them to have a reminder of each paragraph and what the content of each paragraph should be. I also had them color code the paragraphs from our shared writing argumentative piece, so they could have a visual of each component. I wanted them to have something that, as they were writing their own, they could reference.

We have to teach 5-paragraph essays, so this is how we broke down the paragraphs:
#1 Paragraph- Introductory paragraph (includes thesis statement)
#2, #3, and #4 Paragraphs- Claim paragraphs (include specific claims and supporting evidence)
#5 Paragraph- Conclusion (includes counterclaim)

My students are still working on their independent argumentative piece, but so far they are doing well with it on their own. They are reading an article I selected called “Back From the Dead,” which is a Science World Scholastic magazine about if scientists should bring extinct species back to life. I wanted to choose a high-interest article that would challenge them since I have the advanced ELA students.

I am hoping I can pop back in for my next blog post and show some example of my students’ essays. How do you teach argumentative writing? I would love to hear if you have any great strategies!

**Please excuse any typos as I don't have the super power of being perfect :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Interactive Test Prep Vocabulary

Standardized test!  Ugh!  Every year I dread the time when I have to really start to think about, “the test”.  The pressure is exhausting!

It wasn’t until this year that I started to really focus on the verbs of the standards.  You can read about that here.

Teaching students what it means to explain, cite, demonstrate, and categorize are among 42 of the words that my students interact with throughout the year.  We have a test prep interactive notebook that we add to.  Students are introduced to a word, they place the word in their notebook along with its meaning.  

Students provide a synonym and an antonym, then provide examples on how the word may be used in both math and reading.

We continue to refer back to the notebooks throughout the year.  It has been a powerful tool!  When a student comes across a word in daily practice or on a test, they like to go back to their notebooks and add the example.  There have been many ah-ha moments, which is SO exciting!

You can find the Interactive Notebook for Test Prep Vocabulary Notebook shown above HERE or by clicking the image below.  

To add a little fun we started playing bingo with these powerful verbs.  Since there are 42 verbs that we have covered at this point, I usually choose about half of them at a time when playing.  Students know which verbs will be called out during bingo, so they pick 16 of the words to place on their board. 

Then the fun begins.  I read the definition and/or give an example of how the word would be used.  For example, if the word is “cite” I may simply read the definition. My favorite is to give them an example, because it seems to be more meaningful.  For example I may tell them they may need to do this when describing a character and need to prove a point. 

The traditional rules of bingo are followed, and the students love it!  They are having fun playing a game while reviewing these crucial verbs!  Amazing! 

You can download the FREE Bingo for Test Prep Vocabulary HERE or by clicking the image below.  

Wishing you and your students successful testing!