Graphing Understanding

One of the things I would like to do with my students is have them graph their understanding of different objectives and mathematical practices. This would help them visualize their progress at different points throughout the semester. It would also help me see where they know they need help. Both asking questions in class approaching a teacher after can be intimidating and a bit nerve-wracking for some, so I think this would be a very low-key and passive way for them to tell me how they think they’re doing. I imagine something like a y-axis of levels of understanding, including statements like “I do not understand this at all,” “I understand parts of this,” and “I fully understand this.” On the x-axis would be the different elements students have been exposed to.

Obviously this would not used to grade them. I would only use it as an informal, formative assessment to help let me know what to reteach or which students needed intervention. I think another way this could help my students is to visually show them that they have, in fact, learned something over the course of the class. If they start with a graph at the beginning of the year with low levels of understanding and increase over the semester or year, they will be able to give a tangible answer to the question, “What have you learned this year?” It would also be useful to show parents during conferences as a way to illustrate (albeit self-reported) learning or during interventions to show which elements the student definitely struggles with. It would also be interesting to see if some students understand past elements better after applying them to newly learned material. There is no doubt that students need to learn certain information before moving on. But would the deliberate practice and application help increase that learning after they did move on? Also, I wonder if I were to measure their understanding immediately before and after breaks, would there be a drop in knowledge due to the time off?

This is an activity I would like to take class time to go over at least three times a year, though ideally it would be done once every month. I think it would be helpful to me as an informal, formative assessment and a good illustration of self-reported knowledge for students, parents, and administrators. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Syllabus Components

Today’s post is a list of elements I plan to have in each of the syllabi I make for my classes. Many of these are things I know to be required at my last university. I’ve also added things that I managed to remember from the first days of high school some years ago. In no particular order:

  • School mission statement

  • Instructor info (name, office, hours, phone, email)

  • Location, period

  • Course description (catalog info)

  • Pre-requisites

  • Learning outcomes

  • Program outcomes (bigger picture)

  • Measurable content objectives

  • Resources (book list)

  • Timeline/instructional procedures “subject to change

  • Grading system

  • Class policies

  • Signature page (for guardians)

  • late/absent policy

I plan to have this aligned with the school/district requirements, but would also like to keep things in that I know would be useful (as a previous high school student). Is it too long? Are there things that can be better commented on later in the semester? Is there anything I may be missing from my list? Please let me know!

Substitute Survivor Guides

I’ve been considering how substitutes will regard the lesson plans I’ve been writing. I’m trying to make them as clear as I can, assuming they know (and remember) 10th Grade level math. But what I’m really worried about is how they will get through the day. I remember subs in high school having nothing but a seating chart to go on, and those days weren’t very productive. Some classes were filled with responsible students, and we were able to read the plan and go through the lesson helping each other. Unfortunately, not all classes are like that.

I’ve found a lot of ‘survival kits’ for substitutes to bring or fall back on, but want to focus on what I can do as a regular teacher to make anyone who comes into my classroom have an easier time getting by. Here is what I’ve been able to find so far. Please add recommendations in the comments!

  • On a Clipboard:
    • Substitute Feedback Forms
      • These tend to have things like overall class behaviour, absences and tardies, and concerns. I plan on drafting one of these for my class, to give substitutes a voice as well as enable me to address any problems or successes after my return.
    • Sign-in Sheet
      • Having a back-up sign-in sheet would be great in case the sub is unable to find the attendance program on the classroom computer.
    • Period Overview
      • I found one PDF that consisted of each period, the lesson plan topic, and trustworthy students. When my mom first started driving our middle school bus route, she relied on a couple students to tell her where to go and which houses to stop at each morning and afternoon. I imagine having a go-to student (and even fellow teacher) for questions would be helpful and reduce stress.
    • What to Do/Where to Find
      • Another PDF I stumbled upon had two columns: What to do about… (attendance, homework, tardiness) & Where to find… (lesson plans, grade book, class lists). Having a compiled list like this would be a godsend if I were to substitute at this point, so I plan on making this available to my subs.
  • SubPack
    • Many resources talk about kits called ‘SubPacks’, which substitute teachers can bring into a new school. This usually has things like school supplies, activity ideas, and motivators. I’d like to have a small kit of something similar, that would have extras of things found around the classroom. Locating materials in a new environment can be tricky (just ask anyone who’s tried to find something in my mom’s kitchen), so I plan to have the necessary supplies stored in one place for the convenience of any newbie. One resource also listed first aid materials as a kit element. While I assume most classrooms will have this nearby, having some basic items (gloves, band-aids, etc.) would be handy.
  • Guidebook
    • I’ve found a printable document that lists virtually every policy and classroom activity that a sub might need to address (like evacuation plans, classroom procedures, and special education info). It is left blank, so that teachers can fill in the information for their schools and classrooms. I will definitely be making my own one of these.
  • Welcome Letter
    • I didn’t actually find this in any of the recommendations I viewed. But I think it’s a good idea to give someone filling in for you a nice greeting. I would appreciate it, anyway. It will not only have a basic welcome and thank you, but some basic info that may not be covered in the rest of the kit, as well as where to find the elements of the kit. Maybe some tips, too. Like who near the school is quick with to-go orders or who owes me favours they can spend. Something like that.

Brochure for Parents

Parents' Brochure

I designed this for a class I’m taking, and was hoping for some feedback from others. (Technically, I’ve just submitted it, so I haven’t received any feedback yet.) It think this is a good introduction to parents, and a few of the MOOCs I’ve taken have mentioned writing to parents. Would this be a better replacement for or addition to a letter to my students’ parents/legal guardians?

Parents' BrochureParents' Brochure 2

Constructive Feedback

Constructive Feedback

I’m currently drafting a stock lesson plan to use when I begin teaching. While writing, I realized it would be nice to have a go-to graphic for teaching constructive feedback during peer reviews and discussions. I’ve used the Passive/Active Positive/Negative system I learned from Dave Levin from KIPP Public Charter Schools in a previous lesson plan. I assume I’ll be needing it again for another.

So I created a graphic!

Constructive Feedback

I think it’s simple, and kinda cute. I figure whenever I need to teach my students what kind of feedback I expect from them, I can print it out on cardstock so they can hold onto it for the remainder of the year.

Feel free to use it for your own purpose! All pictures were taken from free clipart sites.

Bring Your Beef through the Door

In my MOOC “What Future for Education?” an interviewed expert disputed the concept of “leaving your beef at the door.” This phrase encourages students to keep emotional baggage and responses out of the classroom. This idea is perpetrated in my education program, with the reasoning that baggage and inter-student beef hinders learning in the classroom. The interviewee brought up the point that we can’t expect students (especially those in the pre-teen and teen years) to be able to remove themselves of their emotions. While everyone can agree that we don’t want students bickering during a lesson, it’s kind of silly to think of emotions like a jacket or scarf one can just take off when it becomes inconvenient.

Emotions and moods shape how students take in information. Naturally, we want students in the most receptive state possible. Without expecting them to leave their day’s events at the door, is there a way to help students enter the classroom in a better mindset? Can I do an activity at the beginning of class that will (truly) give students a break from their lives or from drama? Often people think stretching or doing a “fun” group activity can bond others or start the day fresh, when in actuality this activity only helps those already in a good frame of mind. How do I guide my future students in preparing themselves to learn without disregarding their feelings and baggage in the process? What do I do when a student comes into my classroom crying after receiving bad news or breaking off a relationship during passing period?

What High School Is

This week’s assignment for my MOOC, “How to Teach Us” is to create a ‘dream day’, consisting of a schedule or narrative that explains how I would like to plan my day. Part of it will vary due to the school-wide schedule, but I’ve based it on my ideal. Please give feedback in the comment section.


My Schedule
High School
Student Day Length: 5 1/2 hours

  • 9am– School buses begin to arrive
    • I open classroom for students who need tutoring and prepare my room for the lessons ahead.
  • 9:30– School day begins
    • Students arrive for their first period.
  • 10:25– Passing period
  • 10:30– Second period
    • This subject is the same as the first. (I may try different methods of teaching this lesson to see which works best.)
  • 11:25– Lunch period
    • My class is open while I eat for students who want tutoring. I use this time as a prep period.
  • 12pm– Third period
    • Students arrive for a new subject.
  • 12:55– Passing period
  • 1pm– Fourth period
    • This subject is the same as the first. (I may try different methods of teaching this lesson to see which works best.)
  • 1:55– Passing period
  • 2pm– Fifth period
    • Students arrive for an honor’s class.
  • 2:55– School day ends
    • I open classroom for students who need tutoring. I use this time as a prep period to collect paperwork and tools for the next day.
  • 3:30– I go home

Class schedule:

  • 0 min.– Bell rings. Students may collect supplies and ask questions before sitting down.
  • 2 min.– Students should be sitting and working on the entry task.
  • 5 min.– Go over entry task as a class.
  • 10 min.– Merge from entry work into related lesson.
  • 17 min.– Brain break. (This is a 30-second opportunity for students to move their bodies, which increases blood-flow and glucose to the brain.)
  • 30 min.– Brain break. Transition to next section.
  • Work time. Students may use this to work on their daily assignment, unit homework, or other class work.
  • 53 min.– Students are allowed to begin packing and preparing to change classes. (This gives them time to mentally prepare for the change– something important for those with agoraphobia or sensory disorders– and some extra time to walk so they can use the facilities between classes.)
  • 55 min.– Bell rings. Class is dismissed.