Common Core Practice for RL.7.4

For those of you who read regularly, you’ll remember that I’m working on my 7th-grade line of Continuous Improvement Model mini-lesson resources. I’m making good progress and I have recently finished and posted the CCSS.ELA.RL.7.4 resource.

If you’ve never heard about or used my CIM resources, they use the research-based “model – teach – assess” technique. They are quick (10-15 min) mini-lessons that target specific standards. In this resource, there are 3 lessons. Lesson 1 is a teacher-modeled lesson. Lesson 2 is a collaborative lesson where the teacher leads the class. The students complete lesson 3 independently. This resource is, in and of itself, a scaffolding tool. It is designed to help students master standards in a gradual manner.

When I was working in my district’s assessment office on ELA exams, I searched high and low for standard-specific passages and questions after which to model our items. After copious and time-consuming searches, the only Common Core practice I was (and have since) been able to find is general and mixed-standards. Mine is the only one I know of that does individual standard, targeted instruction and practice. It’s low-prep and easy to implement.

I use literature in the public domain from reputable authors (like Kipling, Twain, and Poe – this resource uses poems by Dickinson, Frost, R.L. Stevenson, and Poe), so you’re exposing your students to quality literature with targeted standards practice. It takes out all the prep and guesswork!

If you’re looking for a quick, targeted, and easy resource for this standard, come check it out!

Advertisements

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

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.

Be Prompt; Be Prepared

I know I feel this way and I am getting the feeling that so many other teachers are feeling similarly: These new standards and unknown state assessments make us feel like we’re in a ship in a storm without a map. Or a captain. Or maybe even the ship. Whether you think it’s ethical or not (or just somewhere in the gray area), test-prep is a huge industry. Barron’s makes a gazillion dollars a year on AP prep. There is ACT and SAT prep materials. Kaplan charges people hundreds of dollars to prep for major tests at the post-secondary level (and below). State tests, in the past, have had a variety of test-prep materials. Probably the most-used (most-valuable, etc.) are the released tests. You get old versions of the assessments and you give them to your students to practice. Makes sense, right? I mean, that’s how kids study for and pass the AP tests. Many states even had targeted assessment resources – workbooks with practice items, CD-ROMS with practice tools, even whole websites with practice for students across the grades.

But what happens when the tests change? And not just a little change, either, but a change so significant and monumental that there simply aren’t any really good ways to institute formal test prep. Whether your state has adopted the PARCC, Smarter Balance, FSA (for Florida), or some other new tool to assess the CCSS, you are probably desperately looking around for resources to help prepare your students for these exams. I mean, really, all you know is that your students will be tested on how well they “master” the standards. But what does that really mean? Really? No one knows. Yes, PARCC has a nice site with a handful of sample items. Yes, FSA released item specs with context-less contextual sample questions (with no answers, I might add). And there is a sample test. But seriously, how helpful is all of that? Minimally. It’s better than nothing, yes, but it’s nowhere near what teachers need. Or what their students need. Don’t even get me started on the ambiguity of the standards themselves. The interpretations are far and wide, which makes it virtually impossible to know not only what will be asked, but how the assessments will ask it.

It’s frustrating. It’s beyond frustrating. Do I have all the answers? No. But I do work with the new standards every day (yes, I’m in Florida, and technically we have the LAFS, not the CCSS, but at the secondary [6-12] level, the LAFS are, for all intents and purposes, identical to the CCSS), and I work with people who get to go to all sorts of symposiums and trainings to learn about the new standards and rubrics. I don’t know exactly how the different companies are going to interpret and assess the standards, but I am certainly more familiar with the standards and their potential assessments than an average classroom teacher. Therefore, based on my own trainings and those I work with, I have created question stems for the standards grades 6-8 and the 9-10 and 11-12 standards. Each level (6-8) has over 200 question stems. My middle school documents are extraordinarily popular (and highly rated), and I have noticed that many teachers buy not just one level, but multiple levels of stems. In response, I have decided to bundle my 6-8 stems so teachers can get all 3 levels for a reduced price. I am also working on revising and bundling my high school stems documents, so if you haven’t become a follower of my store, go to the link and become a follower so you can get updates when I post new products.

I hope these stems are helpful for you in your classroom. You can use them as discussion starters, for traditional (multiple choice) assessments, or for extended responses. You can even give them to students and have them make their own questions from various literature. If you purchase the bundle (or any single stems documents), please be sure to review the product!

ccss stems grades 6-8 bundle

CCSS Stem Bundle

And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my football freebie since the Buckeyes showed Sparty who’s boss in the Big Ten!