Why I Use PowerPoint to Teach Middle School Math

Nowadays, one of the major components of many teacher evaluations – including mine – is student engagement. Especially as a new teacher, I struggled with what felt like a game of “Whack-A-Mole” – getting student A on task only to find student B across the room is flinging paper at the student in the next seat. It was a never-ending cycle that left me exhausted. No matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out a way to get every student on task, doing what I needed them (and what they needed) to be doing.

why teach PPT whackamole

It took me a while to figure out that there were two major reasons why my students weren’t always on task. And no, it wasn’t that my lessons themselves weren’t “engaging,” although, as a new teacher, that actually was part of it, but not the central part. I know this to be true because as I progressed in my teaching career, I learned how to make much more engaging lessons, but unless I employed the tactics I’m about to explain, I wound up with the same problems.

The two reasons my students weren’t always on task were

1) they didn’t know what to do/didn’t have something to do

and

2) they couldn’t do what they were supposed to be doing.

Many of my students were off task because they didn’t know what to or have something to do. I had way too much downtime in my lessons. The students who were mature were able to sit and wait until the next component – which, admittedly, wasn’t long. It wasn’t like I had 5 or 10 minutes of dead time, but any teacher can tell you that even just 10 seconds of space is enough to derail a student who is either immature or not self-directed.

Students goofing off in classroom

Students goofing off in classroom — Image by © Sean De Burca/Corbis

So, what’s a girl to do? I abhorred the idea of busy work – I still do. Whatever I had for my students to do, it had to be authentic and worthwhile. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the flash of lightning that hit me for the inspiration, but at some point, I decided to try PowerPoint lessons. I put together all the vocabulary, notes, examples, and practice problems for a concept into a slide show and required my students to take these notes for a grade.

why teach PPT projected slide

Do you know what it’s like to hear the angels of heaven sing?

why teach PPT angels sing

I suppose it sounds like different things to different people, but that day it was the sound of silence. It was my whole class on task. Seriously. Every single student. And I know that most teachers will confirm that novelty and/or gimmicks may solve a problem in the short term, but give it about two weeks and things often go back to the way they were.

why teach PPT wait_for_it

That didn’t happen. I used PowerPoints with the same success regarding engagement and on-task behavior throughout the rest of not that year, but subsequent years. This is because PowerPoints give students clear and consistent expectations of what they are supposed to be doing, and provides enough information on each slide to keep students engaged if they finish one definition or problem before other students.

The other reason my students were off task was because I was expecting them to do things they couldn’t. Many of my students – like so many in our country – were performing below grade level. When I was putting up one problem at a time and asking students to work on it, the ones who couldn’t do it were off task. Once I changed to PowerPoint lessons, though, this problem was eliminated. Instead of one or two problems at a time, I was able to have several – sometimes up to ten different problems on a slide! I was able to have different levels of problems so that everyone was able to do what I wanted them to do. Additionally, the other slides alleviated this problem because everyone can write down information from a slide. This may not seem worthwhile, but I made sure my students knew two important things about this: 1) this was building notetaking skills, where were vital for their future in education, and 2) these notes were graded, so even if they didn’t fully understand the lesson, just by writing down the information on the slides, they could earn a grade that would help them overall.

why teach PPT important

And guess what? This all had an unexpected side effect: because these low-performing students now knew what they had to do/had something to do AND could do it, they actually began to improve their understanding and comprehension.

why teach PPT whaaat

If you’ve never tried using a PowerPoint in your middle school math classroom but you’d like to, I’d encourage you to check out some ready-made lessons that are Common Core-aligned. These are my most popular and best-selling lessons:

Independent vs. Dependent Variables

Ratios and Proportions

Integers and Absolute Value

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Why I Taught Formulaic Writing

Obviously, I am a writer. Obviously. You’re reading something I wrote right now. I write a wide variety of works, everything from poetry to book reviews. I’ve published a novel and create unique curriculum resources. I even write in the world of fan fiction. I will be the first person to champion free-form, creative writing. In fact, I am not a huge fan of strict structure in most writing (have you ever actually tried to write a sonnet?). So, why would someone like me resort to teaching formulaic writing in my classroom? I’m not talking about “beginning, middle, end” structure. I’m talking about essentially fill-in-the-blank templates for students. It might seem counter-productive. I’ve even had other teachers side-eye me when they hear or see what I do. Heck, I’ll be honest, the first time I saw this type of writing instruction, I side-eyed it.

formulaic writing side eye.gif

But I have my reasons. I have taught 7th, 9th, 10th, and 12th grade ELA (in that order). Every single grade level I have taught I kept hoping it would get better. I kept hoping that my students would come to me as good writers and I could take their writing and help them soar. I wanted to take them from good to great. I wanted them to enter contests and win scholarships. I wanted them to score straight 6’s on the state writing test. But for 3 years, my 7th graders demonstrated over and over their inability to form a coherent paragraph (some even struggled with a coherent sentence). When I moved up to high school, I was sure the students would have more basic skill. I was wrong. I started my formulaic writing in middle school and continued it in high school for 1 simple reason: I had to.

formulaic writing desperation.PNG

I taught low-performing, low-achieving students. I won’t pretend that I had any sort of Michelle Pfeiffer, Dangerous Minds experiences, but I had students routinely performing at level 1 and level 2 (level 3 is considered proficient in my state) and in remedial reading classes. I had ESE students in my FUSE classes. I had scores of students who either couldn’t write, thought they couldn’t write, or didn’t want to write. I would give writing prompts and watch as students put their heads down on their desks without writing a single word. Over and over I would try to get to the root of the problem. “Why aren’t you writing?” I would ask. Over and over I would hear some variant of the same answer: “I don’t know what to write.”

formulaic writing student head down

Well, finally, I said enough was enough. No one should not know what to write unless they’re halfway through a novel and can’t figure out how to relate a once-vibrant subplot to the theme. The prompts that the vast majority of my students were asked to write on were no cause for this answer. They didn’t require endless wells of creativity. They required some basic grasp of the main writing traits: structure, conventions, and ideas (I know there are 6 writing traits, but for students who typically hand in a blank sheet, even just getting 3 three under control is a major accomplishment). The vast majority of my students will not only likely never be published authors, but also don’t have any desire to be. I just had to figure out a way for them to live within their reality. I had to figure out a way to help them demonstrate some sort of mastery of the basics. If I could do that, then I could consider myself successful.

formulaic writing success

And so my formulaic writing was born. I began with my lowest students and created the skeleton essay. This is where I put every structurally required element in for them and they only had to come up with quasi-coherent content. I began with the three basic paragraphs: introduction, body, and conclusion. I skipped the hook (because face it, you can have a functional essay without one) and wrote the thesis statement for them. I wrote all the transition words and the blueprint for the body paragraph as well as the conclusion paragraph. I started with easy questions. Inflammatory questions. Questions that are in no way related to the higher-order thinking prompts required on state writing tests and SAT and ACT writing portions. But you know what? That’s okay. Starting with the hackneyed, “Should there be school uniforms?” is okay when you’re trying to get a kid from blank-page-head-on-the-desk to turning in something with meaning – something that shows him/her writing is something s/he can do.

formulaic writing argumenet

I started with blueprint, formulaic writing with insanely basic prompts and allowed anecdote after anecdote for “evidence.” I fostered the mentality that “no one cares if what you write is true; the reader cares if what you write is reasonable and related.” Once my students knew the formula and felt “allowed” to (essentially) make up evidence, they had no excuse. There was no room for “I don’t know what to write.” Because now they had a blueprint. They had a formula. They didn’t have to figure out how to start. I began having students who would write absolutely nothing turning in multi-paragraph essays. Not grade-level vocabulary or even sentence-length, but they felt like they had accomplished something.

formulaic writing happy student

I’ve learned over the course of my teaching career that I have to meet and teach students where they’re at. If I asked my 4-year-old to do Calculus, he’d hop down from the chair after less than a minute and want to go play. He wouldn’t care if it was state-mandated that he demonstrate mastery. He wouldn’t be able to do it. I have had to let go of the idea that I could get every kid performing at or above grade-level over the course of the year. I have seen time and time again that if I teach a student where s/he is at, engagement is higher, motivation is higher, and that student’s achievement is higher. Have I made up for years’ worth of deficits? No, but have I prevented yet another wasted year? I like to think so.

If you’d like to see (and perhaps try!) some of what I used to improve my students’ writing, come check out my mini-lesson on writing thesis statements or my writer’s workshop!

New Resource for RI.6.8!

It took me an extra week, but I finally finished my newest CIM for RI.6.8: Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

6th grade CIM RI8 a

This CIM follows the same format as my others, and it uses seminal US documents – adapted for 6th-grade students: Patrick Henry and the Declaration of Independence. So not only is this a great resource for 6th grade ELA teachers, but it could be incorporated into a Social Studies classroom as well if you’re studying the American Revolution time period!

There are 3 questions per lesson, so depending on your students it could take anywhere from 3-5 days (if you’re not familiar with my CIMs, there are 3 separate lessons: I do, we do, you do, and they are designed to take about 10 minute each). Of course, just like my other CIMs, included are 1) pages to display questions with answer choices and questions without answer choices, depending how you choose to teach; 2) information for how to get to the excerpts for each day to display, as well as graphs for lessons 1 & 2 to display; 3) the lesson scripts/guides for the 3 lessons. Pages for students are also included (but in separate files).

6th grade CIM RI8 b 6th grade CIM RI8 c 6th grade CIM RI8 d

If you’re wondering if the CIM model is right for you, check out my freebie: RL.6.1

I’m working on RI.6.9 this week and plan to have the RI 7-9 bundle, the whole RI 1-9 bundle, and the full 6th grade CIMs (all RL and all RI standards) up by Cyber Monday, so be sure to follow my blog and my TpT store for updates on when these great resources will be available! Also, I will begin work on the 8th grade standards next, inter-spliced with CIMS from other grade levels 3-9/10.

Have a great week!

Common Core Practice with Non-fiction in the Middle School Classroom

It’s hard to get kids on board with reading non-fiction. Fortunately, there are websites out there with kid-friendly articles that are topical and approachable. It was these websites I went to when I needed to find non-fiction, informational text to create my Continuous Improvement Model mini-lessons for CCSS.ELA.RI.6.7.

CCSS RI6.7

This CIM has 3 different mini-lessons designed to take about 10 minutes each. Every lesson has 2 questions to help students practice this standard. I was able to find appropriate non-fiction, informational text on www.timeforkids.com and also on http://kids.nationalgeographic.com.

timeforkids   education nat geo

What’s great about this resource is that it ONLY targets the standard RI 7 (Reading Informational Text 7). All the other practice out there that I have seen has multiple standards, which is great if you’re doing summative work or have lots of time to go over every single standard with the students, but if you are wanting practice that pinpoints a single standard, mine is the only thing I’ve found like it. Mine also has scaffolded practice, which is the only resource I’ve ever seen with that as well. Other practice out there tells which answers are right and why, but mine has 3 separate lessons that follow the “I do,” “we do,” “you do” model so students are scaffolded on their journey to mastering the standard. It even includes a script for teachers for the first and second lesson, along with detailed explanations on answers for the third lesson, in case the teacher needs to re-teach/explain.

6th grade CIM RI7 c  6th grade CIM RI7 b   6th grade CIM RI7 d

This CIM is targeted for RI6.7, but because of how Florida redid their standards, it is also applicable for LAFS.6.RI.3.7.

If this sounds like something you could use with your 6th graders, you can check out the free version (RL.6.1) and then go from there.

Otherwise, you can go straight to the CIM for RI.6.7 here.

6th grade CIM RI7 a

My Newest Common Core Practice Bundle

I’ve been MIA for a while because I grossly underestimated how much work it would be to go back into the classroom! But I put in a lot of work into making my Continuous Improvement Models (CIMs) for RI.6.4-6 (Author’s Craft & Structure) so I really wanted to post about it. I just want to give an overview of the CIMs in the bundle and explain to you why you should be interested in my resources if you teach upper elementary/lower middle English/Language Arts.

I’ve been working on my CIM for RI.6.7 and I was having trouble finding texts and even looking for resources with sample questions to make sure that my resources are valid and on point with the standards and other resources out there. Well, I started realizing there weren’t any resources out there that target individual standards. Sure, there are lots of things out there for teachers that have texts and questions for Common Core, but everything I’ve found gives teachers a handful of questions that target multiple standards. For example, I might get 7 questions, but each one only targets 1 standard, so I really only get 1 – or maybe 2 – questions on any given standard. And nothing I’ve found uses the format I do – the “I do,” “we do,” “you do.” And none of the resources I’ve found give teachers the tools to work through teaching students how to correctly identify answers for the given questions. Everything I’ve found only identifies which standard the question assesses and the correct answer. Sometimes it will have reasoning for why it is the correct answer, but nothing more than a few sentences. My resources are much more in depth. There are 3 mini-lessons for an individual standard. In this particular bundle, each individual lesson has at least 2 questions. For lesson 1, there is a full script that explains, in depth, how to determine the correct answer(s). In lesson 2, there is a script to guide students through determining the correct answer(s) themselves. In lesson 3, there is ample explanation on why the incorrect answers are incorrect and why the correct answer is correct, in case students need re-teaching or explanation.

If this sounds like something your students could use, check out my newest bundle for Reading Informational Text Grade 6 standards 4, 5, & 6.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/6th-Grade-Common-Core-Practice-RI4-5-6-Authors-Craft-and-Structure-Cluster-2120055

Newest Common Core Practice Resource

I am continuing to work on my Continuous Improvement Model (CIM) line of resources for Common Core ELA and have just finished the mini-lessons for CCSS.RI.6.4.

6th grade CIM RI4 a

If you’ve not had a chance to use any of my 6th-grade CIMs, here’s a little bit about this lesson and why you might want to use it in your classroom this year.

The CIM is the basic “I do,” “we do,” “you do” method of teaching. What’s important and unique to my resources is that the “I do” section, where the teacher models the process targets meta-cognition. The teacher’s modeling of the skill and application of concept takes students through the reasoning needed to find the correct answer. It is more than just an explanation of why the answer is correct: it literally is a running commentary of the thought process behind figuring out the correct answer. The “we do” mini-lesson helps teachers guide their students through figuring out the correct answers, and the “you do” mini-lesson has detailed explanations of the correct answers.

6th grade CIM RI4 c

Another important reason you should use this in your room is that is a NO PREP resource. That means you don’t have to do any of the front-end work. It comes with an answer key and all explanations. The only thing you need to do is read through it before you teach so you know what you’re going to say and can stay on point. You can print out student pages if you want, but you could just choose to display the questions and have students answer on loose-leaf paper. It’s a huge time saver.

6th grade CIM RI4 b

An additional great feature of this resource is that you can choose to use multiple-choice questions or extended-response (open-ended) questions. Some teachers prefer one over the other, so I’ve included both in the product to give teachers the option. The explanations are even tailored for the specific question types.

6th grade CIM RI4 d

In this CIM there are 10 total questions (“I do” has 3, “we do” has 2, and “you do” has 2). It’s enough to determine if students really “get” the concept but not overwhelming and exhaustive. It’s perfect for bell work (starters, etc.) or a quick end-of-period lesson if you need to fill up 10 minutes.

If you think this sounds like something you’d like to use in your classroom but you’re not sure you want to shell out the cash, you can check out my free version that targets RL.6.1 and then go from there.6th grade FCIM RL1 freebie

Common Core Practice RI.6.2

When I started working with teachers two years ago upon CCSS roll-out in our state (which was slapped, tickled, and relabeled LAFS – Language Arts Florida Standards), it became clear there was going to be a void. Teachers I worked with and spoke to became nervous that there weren’t enough practice materials for students to master the new and more rigorous standards. I began creating resources for them, such as question stems, and they gave great feedback. As time went on, though, and the new state tests loomed on the horizon, I began to see that students in my district weren’t going to get enough test preparation. This was a function of the curriculum our district uses in English/Language Arts. I won’t elaborate beyond saying that it is completely void of any real, consistent, useful traditional assessments and how the curriculum potentially relates to what the students will see and be expected to demonstrate mastery on when they take the state assessment. I figured that if this was the case in my district, it was probably true in others. Based on this assumption, I began creating my CIM line. CIM stands for Continuous Improvement Model. It is based on the “I do,” “we do,” “you do” model of instruction. Students get three rounds of practice – once at the teacher level, seeing the metacognition that goes on during the problem-solving process; then in a guided setting, where the teacher can begin to see the areas needing focus and re-teaching; and finally, independently, demonstrating mastery or lack thereof. For those of you not familiar with the term CIM, I didn’t invent it. It comes from the reading curriculum our district uses, except we call them FCIMs – the “F” standing for (no, not that F word) Florida. Since the LAFS correlate pretty much identically with the ELA Common Core Standards, I just dropped the “F” and my CIMs are designed to help any student in a state with either Common Core or LAFS – or a state who did the same thing Florida did and just put a brand new coat of paint and called it a horse of a different color.

6th grade CIM RI2 d

I’ve gotten good feedback from these lessons, so I’ve continued my quest to fill the void. I’ve done almost all of 6th grade Reading Literature standards CIMs (putting the finishing touches on RL.6.7…it should be ready by next Sunday) and have started on the 6th grade Reading Informational Text standards CIMs. That’s what this post highlights: RI.6.2 (central idea and summarizing). This resource has three lessons. Lesson 1 is a scripted teacher lesson that presents questions and a passage, along with commentary and reasoning for students to hear the process aloud to see how the teacher arrived at the answers. Lesson 2 is a guided practice lesson where the teacher helps students reason and analyze their way to the correct answers with a little help here and there. Lesson 3 is an independent lesson where students must demonstrate that they can come to the correct answers on their own. The results of Lesson 3 dictate either re-teaching or moving onto the next concept. These resources aren’t units and they aren’t meant to be stand-alone products. They’re designed to be more like bell work or class starters. They’re only supposed to take about 7-10 minutes each. My plan is to have a full line of RL and RI CIMS for grades 3-11 (I’m not sure 12th grade would have much of a demand, since most states stop testing in either 10th or 11th grade), so you’ll periodically see blog posts from me about the newest CIM I’ve added to the line.

6th grade CIM RI2 b

6th grade CIM RI2 c

I have a free version you can test out if you think this might be something your students could use. The good news is that if you’re at all familiar with Common Core or LAFS you’ll know that the secondary standards are remarkably similar, so if you have some students who aren’t quite reading on grade level, the 6th grade series might be a good place to start to build some confidence. Of course, if you use it and you like it, leave some feedback and rate the product. It helps me reach my goals and improve my products. Thanks!

6th grade CIM RI2 a

Summer BOGO #3!

Have you been waiting to see what my newest summer BOGO will be? Well, the wait is over! For this week (from today through Saturday, 6/20/15), I have decided to offer a project BOGO. If you purchase my best-selling and highly-rated Probability Project, you will receive my Scale Model of the Solar System Project for free!

June BOGO 3

Both these projects are fabulous ways to assess your students’ understanding in a hands-on, authentic way. In the Probability Project (which is designed to take place at the END of a probability unit of study), students create their own carnival-style games, predict outcomes, play the games, record data, and analyze the data they’ve collected.

prob proj cover

In the Solar System Project (which is designed to take place at the END of a unit teaching scale and scientific notation), students research the planet sizes and distances from the sun in our solar system. Then, they create a scale model of the solar system and discuss (through writing) their processes.

scale model solar system

My students LOVED both of these projects, and I’m sure yours will, too. They are aligned to CCSS (Math), but would apply to any state’s standards regarding probability, scale, and scientific notation.

Depending on your standards and curriculum, these projects would be appropriate for students in grades 6-9.

I hope you’re having a great summer!

Follow this link to the BOGO offer!

Are You Testing Me? Part 3

As a classroom teacher, I was always looking for ways to effectively assess my students’ learning. I came up with some great ways to differentiate through product, but sometimes, I just had to use a traditional assessment. I always thought I was pretty good at creating those assessments, but once I got my current job working for Assessment and Accountability, I realized I’d been doing lots of things that are not best practices when it comes to traditional assessments. I’ve decided to share some biggies with you in the hopes that your classroom assessments can be more valid, effective, and help you inform your instruction.

Be cognizant of item complexity, difficulty, and the distribution. We want assessments to tell us about our students. If there is a test that is so easy everyone gets 90%+, that doesn’t discriminate well at all. We don’t learn anything about what needs to be retaught or extended. If a test is so difficult that the average is 30%, that doesn’t discriminate well, either. We still don’t learn anything. It’s important that there are a variety of items in terms of complexity and difficulty. Think about it this way: you want to have some items that will tell you the difference between your D and F students. Yes, every A/B student will get those items right, but that’s okay; you’ve put them on the assessment to tell you about the struggling students’ mastery. Then, you have items that will tell you the difference between your A and B students. yes, every D/F student will get those items wrong, but that’s okay; you’ve put them on the assessment to tell you about the high-performing students’ mastery. Now, difficulty and complexity are NOT the same thing. Difficulty is how many students answer the question correctly (high correct % = easy question; low correct % = challenging/hard question). Complexity is based on the Depth of Knowledge (Webb) or Taxonomy (Bloom). You can have a high complexity question that is easy and you can have a low complexity question that is hard. You won’t know the official difficulty level of a question until students take the assessment. You can speculate on the difficulty level, but that is performance based. Complexity, however, is NOT based on performance. A simple recall question is low complexity, regardless of how students perform on the item. You need to have a balance of both. When you write your questions, try to keep these ratios in mind: 10-15% easy, 15-20% difficult, the rest should be average. 10-15% low complexity, 15-20% high complexity, the rest should be moderate. So, for a 50-item test, the breakdown might look like this: 7 low complexity questions, 10 high complexity questions, and 33 moderate complexity questions. When planning/writing I might anticipate a difficulty breakdown of 5 easy questions, 10 difficult questions, and 35 average questions. Now, when my students take the test, I might find that the actual difficulty breakdown looks like this: 2 easy questions, 40 difficult questions, and 8 average questions. I know now that my test was too difficult. It’s not telling me anything useful. I really should make a new test. OR it might look like this: 30 easy questions, 5 difficult questions, and 15 average questions. I know that my test was too easy. It’s not useful. I really should make a new test. The more questions you write, the more information you get. That being said, sometimes quizzes will only have 5-10 questions, so do the best you can with what you have to work with.

Sometimes, you won’t have the time or ability to make an entirely new assessment if your first one didn’t perform as you’d hoped. In that case, it may be time to employ a scale (or curve). Here, there are some important things to take into consideration. The first is the overall grade distribution of your class. If you are a consistent grader, then your students’ performance on any given assessment should be similar to their performance in your class in general. Essentially, you’d expect an A/B student to get an A/B score on any given assessment. In general. So you can use that distribution to scale your assessment score. If your class breakdown has 4 A’s, 7 B’s, 11 C’s, 6 D’s, and 3 F’s, then you can scale the assessment to be close to that breakdown. That DOESN’T mean that you give the 4 A kids an A on the assessment. They might have performed really poorly and end up with one of the lower grades. What matters is the distribution. Don’t look at names. Here’s what your scaling process might look like:

Grade breakdown in class Grade breakdown on assessment (based on traditional 90-80-70 scale) Raw score on assessment Scale score on assessment
13% A (4 ST) 3% A (1 ST – 44) 45-50 40-50 (4 ST = 13%)
23% B (7 ST) 10% B (3 ST – 40, 41, 44) 40-44 34-39 (6 ST = 19%)
36% C (11 ST) 16% C (5 ST – 35, 35, 36, 38, 39) 35-39 29-33 (11 ST = 36%)
19% D (6 ST) 32% D (10 ST – 30, 30, 31, 31, 32, 32, 33, 33, 33, 34) 30-34 20-28 (5 ST = 16%)
10% F (3 ST) 39% F (12 ST – 29, 29, 28, 28, 27, 26, 20, 19, 19, 18, 17, 15) <30 <20 (5 ST = 16%)

As you can see, the distribution of grades on the assessment is now similar to that of the class as a whole. You could also do it by looking at the overall distribution of grades for ALL your classes (for that course). Now, the original average for the exam was about a 61%. It is difficult to calculate a new assessment % based on scale grades, because there are no raw scores from which to work with. As a teacher, you’d have to come up with the % you’d want to assign for an “A”, “B”, “C”, etc. You could also break down the scale even further to include “+” and “-“ grades if you wanted to get more specific.

Another option is to go through the assessment and look at items that performed below a certain threshold (perhaps 25%, since that’s the guessing rate) and throw them out. Recalculate the grades and then go from there.

Another option is a flat curve, which is where you add a set amount of percentage points to everyone’s scores. This does NOT work well when one or two students performed very well but everyone else tanked. One way you can do this method is to look at your highest score and see how many points it would take to bring that score up to a certain threshold. For example, on this assessment, only 1 student earned an A (>90%). However, that raw score might have only been a 45/50. So as the teacher, I might say, “I’d like the highest score on the assessment to be a 98%. That would be a 49/50. So I’m going to a) add 4 raw score points to everyone’s score or b) add 8% points to everyone’s score.” In this scenario, the distribution of assessment scores won’t relate to your class grades, but it will raise the average. You can see that the scores are not similar to the overall grades in the class, but the overall average for the test is higher (8% higher, actually). The original class average was about 61%. Now the class average is about 68%. Much closer to that “C” average.

Here’s how that would look:

Grade breakdown in class Grade breakdown on assessment (based on traditional 90-80-70 scale) Raw score on assessment Flat curve score on assessment
13% A (4 ST) 3% A (1 ST – 45) 45-50 +4 10% A (3 ST)
23% B (7 ST) 10% B (3 ST – 40, 41, 44) 40-44 +4 13% (4 ST)
36% C (11 ST) 16% C (5 ST – 35, 35, 36, 38, 39) 35-39 +4 32% (10ST)
19% D (6 ST) 32% D (10 ST – 30, 30, 31, 31, 32, 32, 33, 33, 33, 34) 30-34 +4 29% (9 ST)
10% F (3 ST) 39% F (12 ST – 29, 29, 28, 28, 27, 26, 20, 19, 19, 18, 17, 15) <30 +4 19% (6 ST)

Yet another option is to scale the assessment so that it follows a normal distribution curve. In this case, you would want to end up with a roughly equal (but small) number of both A’s and F’s, a roughly (but slightly larger) number of B’s and D’s, and then the majority of scores would be C’s. For this particular class with 31 students, I would anticipate my normal distribution curve to look something like this: 2 A’s, 4 B’s, 19 C’s, 4 D’s, 2 F’s. There’s a little room for playing around. I might want it to be 3 A’s, 5 B’s, 17 C’s, 4 D’s, 2 F’s. That’s pretty close, too. I then adjust the grades accordingly. I would list the students’ grades from highest to lowest and the top 3 would be A’s, the next 5 B’s, the next 17 C’s, the next 4 D’s, and the last 2 F’s.

Keep in mind that these methods of scaling/curving/norming individual assessments can be done for overall class grades, too. This is useful if you have a particularly low-achieving class but won’t be looked favorably upon if you have 20 failures at report card time.

It’s important to realize that if you curve/scale/norm your assessments, that doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You can still get information about your students’ mastery and use it to inform your instruction without punishing the students for faulty questions or a test that you simply made too difficult. The important thing is that if you realize your tests are too difficult, make an effort to change it. Either change what/how you teach or change the anticipated difficulty of your tests. Think about why you are assessing students.

Final Thoughts: Think about the purpose of assessment. Any assignment, really. We plan, we teach, we assess, and continue the cycle until our students master what we’re responsible for teaching them (or the end of the year gets here…whichever comes first…usually the end of the year). Assigning something or testing students with the sole goal of “teaching them a lesson” or intentionally promoting failure doesn’t fit into that cycle (plan/teach/assess). Assessment sometimes gets a bad rep, but if it truly fits into the cycle, it shouldn’t. Assessment (testing) is a part of the education cycle. If we don’t figure out what kids know, how can we teach them appropriately? And keep in mind all assessment doesn’t have to be summative or cumulative. We can design, give, and use interim (ongoing, formative, whatever you want to call it) assessment to make micro-cycles of the plan/teach/assess loop. Teachers do it all the time without realizing it. Every question asked is an assessment, whether it’s during a discussion or on a paper/pencil test. Making traditional assessment work for you and your students is just one piece of the puzzle. I hope this series has helped with that.

Summer BOGO #2!!!

Maybe last week’s BOGO wasn’t for you. Maybe you teach something other than math. Maybe you teach English/Language Arts. Maybe you teach a subject where you teach students about non-fiction writing (persuasive, informative, research). Even if you’re not an ELA teacher, you are still (if your state has CCCS or something like it) responsible for teaching writing in the content area. But writing is a skill, and it’s a difficult one to master for many students. For many struggling writers, teaching writing in small, manageable chunks can make learning how to be a better writer more accessible. For many struggling writers, visual examples of what good writing should look like can make learning how to be a better writer an easier process.

For example, when teaching students how to write essays or papers, instead of simply assigning a paper (topic, prompt, etc.) and grading the finished result, try assigning specific parts one at a time. Spend a bit of time (1-2 days) just on writing quality thesis statements. Once students have mastered that, move on to instruction on additional components of the paper.

For example, pick an arbitrary topic and write an outline for a paper, talking about the process out loud to your students as you go through and write. Present students with sample topics to mock-outline to practice. Then when you assign the real topic, they’ll feel comfortable with making their own outline and produce a better end product.

For example, pick an arbitrary topic and write an essay, color coding the various elements (thesis statement – original or restated is red; supporting details are green; transition words are blue; arguments are yellow; refutations are orange; etc.). Then show students how the elements fit together so they can see how a thesis threads through a whole paper, or where transition words should appear, etc.

Of course, give your students consistent feedback using some sort of writing rubric. It might be your state’s writing rubric, but you might want something a bit simpler for less involved writing assignments.

Do these things sound like something you’d like to have or do in your classroom next year? Well, you are in luck! This week’s summer BOGO is a writing resource package. Purchase my best-selling and highly-rated How to Write a Basic Thesis Statement lesson and receive my best-selling and highly-rated Sample Outline for a Research Paper, my Writing Rubrics, and my Color-Coded Essay for free! This BOGO is only available through Saturday, June 13, so click on the link now to take advantage!

June BOGO 2

Summer Writing BOGO!