Letting Students Grapple: Formative Assessment

Editor’s Note: Math teachers across the country are learning about the power of formative assessment in their classrooms. In this video series, we bring you an opportunity to see formative assessment in action, with the help of math consultant Ann Shannon and resources from the Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP). Ann provided the initial training for teachers in Kentucky’s Kenton County on how to implement MAP and frameworks from the Math Design Collaborative. She observed teachers in the classroom, gave real-time feedback, helped facilitate the after school meetings to analyze student work, and helped build capacity in the district so that the work would be sustainable.

As teachers, sometimes we talk too much. We might do more of the telling, and have kids do less of the doing. Personally, I’ve always been someone who loves explaining things to people, so as a teacher this was an easy trap to fall into. I might get halfway through a unit of study, sense that my students are struggling, and decide that the best way to solve their misconceptions was to talk even more. Telling them what to do seemed easier, faster, and more direct. But in fact, that was my own misconception! Sometimes, the best way to help our students is to subtly guide them through their own struggles.

In our series Engaging Students with Productive Struggles, we took you inside two middle school math classrooms that are using formative assessment to do just that. We saw seventh graders deepening their understanding of proportional relationships, and eighth graders tackling the work of linear equations. Now in this new set of videos, we visit Meghan Mekita’s geometry classroom to watch her tenth graders deepen their understanding of transformations.

In these four videos, you’ll see Meghan’s students engaging in a formative assessment lesson that addresses their misconceptions and moves them forward in their learning.

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Checking For Understanding with Formative Assessments

As teachers, we all know what it feels like to grade a pile of tests and discover the unsettling truth that our students did not perform as well as we had hoped or predicted. For instance, after three of four weeks of teaching the Pythagorean Theorem, we find out that most of our students can’t consistently identify the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

For years this was a frustration while teaching high school Algebra and Geometry. Adopting daily exit tickets to assess more frequently only solved some of my problems. I still needed to more deeply understand my students’ misconceptions, and I wanted students to be in the habit of explaining what they were thinking.

Lessons from the Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP) turned out to be the perfect way for me to check for understanding in my Geometry class. Two-thirds of the way through a unit, I will spend about 90 minutes working with my students on a Formative Assessment Lesson (FAL). FALs are excellent pre-written lessons on different mathematical topics for grades 7-12, with materials included. Find the website here. Ninety-minute lessons can be found under the “Lessons” tab. There are shorter formative assessments under the “Tasks” tab. Every FAL requires students to work on rigorous problems with a partner who is equally matched for that skill. There is very little teacher talk time on FAL day. During that time, I’ll listen to students debating with their partners, and collect data from their written work. After the FAL is complete, I adjust my teaching for the remainder of the unit based on what I learned: I can increase the rigor to ensure I am challenging them, and I can address their misunderstandings.

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Boosting Your Practice: Anytime is a Good Time With These 12 Tips

Now that we’re getting back into the groove of the classroom, it can be a good opportunity to try some new things, improve on the old, and reignite your classroom vision. With help from Instructional Coach Katie Lyons, I’ve come up with a list of quick adjustments to your practice that will have big payoffs:

1. Revamp classroom management: Do you have some classroom management loose ends? Take some time to hash out those situations with your students and revisit classroom expectations. Together with the students, form new expectations if necessary, and the consequences for not meeting them.

2. Get organized: Are ungraded papers cluttering your desk? Create an organization system that is easy to manage. If you don’t have them already, create a file folder for each student. Have three baskets available on your desk for papers returned, papers that need to be graded, and papers that need to be filed.

Boost Your Practice

REBOOT Reflections: 5 Lessons for Staying Sound

I’m good at projects, at taking on the next new challenge. I’m energized when I start something new, and tend to give myself entirely to whatever venture is in front of me. In short, I’m either “all in” or “not at all.”  Teaching, great teaching, is an act of complete presence. An act of sustaining that complete presence. An act that accrues a special kind of exhaustion. My 5-Day Reboot reminded me that falling into funks may be a normal passage for hectic lives, but a concentrated restart leads to more conscientious living. Reflecting on my own reboot has given me five lessons for staying sound.

Lesson #1: Don’t Forego the Physical

I’m one of those teachers who can’t really plan for the new school year until my room is organized, arranged, in order. I’m one of those people who works through a stressful situation by creating some clean physical space first. For me, the physical makes way for the cognitive. It’s easy to forego the physical, and sleep is always my first victim. Of course, this leads to being less productive and to being less healthy. I’m not proud to admit that I have to actually work at sleeping. Really work at it. Partially because of how I’m wired, partially because the work is never finished, partially because I have a tough time saying no. Regardless of why, I learned that the doorway to de-funk must be constructed of sleep, exercise, and healthy choices.

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7 Tips for Successful Collaboration

Who We Are and What We Do

We are National Board Certified Teachers who have been collaborative partners for almost a decade at Oceanside High School in New York. Our collaboration works because we’re working together towards a common goal: helping our students reach their fullest potential. We teach two integrated sections of ninth grade Honors English and Social Studies, where our students move as a cohort between our classes, giving them an experience that illustrates how English and Social Studies are related by providing them with the opportunity to read text deeply, and link themes occurring across both classrooms. In addition, we team teach a Conference class where students delve deeper into the humanities, exploring concepts that link us all in the human experience.

Every year we have the opportunity to teach grades other than the ninth grade integrated program, and we choose to stay together. We love working together to mold new entrants into high school, teaching them the skills they’ll need for high school, college, and career success, while we encourage each other to be the best teachers we can be.

The following seven tips come from our decade of experience working together as collaborative partners.

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Classroom Management: Is It Okay to Let It Go?


Most new teachers plan to create calm and productive classrooms. But as we all know, things don’t always go as planned. When I observe new teachers, I often see them using a great selection of classroom management tools: counting down, waiting for all students’ attention, giving consequences, reminding the class of the class agreements… and on and on.

But sometimes when teachers are so focused on classroom management, entire lesson periods are spent trying to get students on task. This is exhausting for both teachers and students — teachers never get a chance to truly teach, and students never get a chance to learn the content.

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On the Road: Find Teaching Channel Teams at ASCD 2015

Teaching Channel is heading to the annual ASCD conference (March 21-23), dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading. We will be showcasing Teaching Channel Teams, our video-based, professional learning platform that supports continuous professional growth when and where teachers need it most.

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REBOOT: How to Restart When You Can’t Stop

A few weeks ago, I realized I had been slogging through too many days in a row. Maybe it was the let down of finishing one semester and starting the next one. Perhaps it was the post-holiday sugar detox I was sorely in need of. Or maybe those weeks of sleeping too little and pushing too hard had finally drawn their line in the sand. Whatever the reason, I found myself realizing I had been holding my breath for too long.

Even though I’d just come back from winter break, I still heard myself saying, “I need a vacation!” It wasn’t the kind of exasperated quip I sometimes spew at the end of a long week. No. I was serious. I needed that feeling of taking in clean air, of seeing something beautiful, of breathing deeply. It was clear: I needed to reboot myself right out of this funk. Not one to stay funk-ified for long, I decided to figure out exactly how one restarts when you just can’t stop.

Given all of the constraints staring me down (time, resources, commitments), there was a lot I didn’t have. Conveniently, we teachers are used to those kinds of limitations. So I put on my thinking cap and designed a way to reset my purpose.

Here’s my 5-DAY REBOOT — a little bit of a fresh start to help kick the chaos and restore some balance.

5-Day Reboot

#TchLIVE: Where Do You Find Motivation?

The subject for this month’s #TchLIVE Twitter chat is motivation. We all need it and we all find it in a variety of places. When you’re having a tough class, day, or week, where do you turn for motivation?

We’ve come up with an assortment of ideas and activities to try, and we can’t wait to hear what fills up your motivation tank during our #TchLIVE Twitter chat.

Reboot and Reset

Sarah Brown Wessling was desperately in need of some rebooting, so she came up with a five-day plan to reset and give herself a fresh start. Here’s Sarah’s 5-Day Reboot. Go on, give it a try! You’ll be glad you did.

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Collaborating Across Disciplines: Planning & Team Teaching

Throughout my teaching career, I was lucky to have teaching partners that I loved to collaborate with. Because of our appreciation and respect for each other, we were able to enrich each others’ thinking and plan rich learning experiences for our students. Best of all, we had tons of fun doing so.

Watching high school teachers Erin Gilrein and Jen Wolfe collaborate reminds me of the magic that happens when teachers gel with each other. Their joy and collaborative spirits are infectious. While watching their planning sessions, I wanted to jump right in the room with them to bounce ideas around.

At Oceanside High School in Oceanside, New York, Erin and Jen collaborate to teach a ninth grade integrated program. Jen teaches Global Studies, Erin teaches English, and together they team teach the students in the program. Jen and Erin align their curriculum closely so that students are working on similar topics and skills in both disciplines. Part of this close alignment comes from the dynamic collaborative planning sessions that Jen and Erin regularly engage in.

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