My Newest CIM: RL.7.3

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.7.3 resource. With this, I’ve also made a bundle with RL.7.1, RL.7.2, and RL.7.3, so you can save money if you are interested in all 3.

What is a CIM? The acronym “CIM” stands for “Continuous Improvement Model.” It is one name for the research-based strategy that follows the “I do,” “we do,” “you do,” teaching model. 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.

This product is a 3-5 day tool for teachers to instruct, assess, and reteach skills and concepts associated with the RL.7.3 standard: Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot). It also aligns with Florida’s standard: LAFS.7.RL.1.3, because of how Florida adapted their standards. It may also align with your state’s standards if your state doesn’t use CCSS.

The only Common Core practice I’ve 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 works by Hawthorne and Maupassant), 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!

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Newest Resource Reveal!

I’m excited to announce the completion of the entire grade 8 ELA Common Core (and LAFS, for Florida) CIM series bundle! It’s taken me about a year to complete, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve been able to create for you. In the bundle, there are 17 different resources. Each targets an individual standard with three mini-lessons. Each CIM uses excerpts that have been adapted to be (or were, in their original format, already) appropriate for 8th-grade readers. This was assured through the use of the Lexile® analyzer as well as several other online readability calculators (Flesch, etc.).

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. The only Common Core practice I’ve 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. It even includes suggestions for differentiation and extension!

I know many of you have been just waiting for me to finish the rest of the bundle, and now it’s finally ready for you! Buying the bundle instead of all the individual CIMs will save you a, well, bundle! If you’re looking for a quick, targeted, and easy resource for these standards, come check them out!

ALL RL.8 RI.8 Bundle

Why I Decided to Teach Certain Math Skills in My English Classes

As the third quarter comes to an end for many schools, I wanted to take the time to share why I, as an English teacher, spent time showing my students a very specific math skill: calculating GPA. I did this when I was teaching 9th & 10th grade English, although I also did a modified version of it this year with my 7th grade math students. However, middle school transcripts aren’t as focused on GPA – at least not in my district – so it depends on your circumstances whether or not you’d want to do this as a middle school teacher.

GPA

As a non-math content area teacher, I had to really weigh the pros and cons of taking an entire class period to go over a math skill. All our curriculums are over-packed. We don’t have days to “waste.” Was I ready to give up a day of curriculum to teach a skill that wasn’t directly related to my own curriculum and standards? Well, honestly, the first time I did this, I hadn’t intended to take an entire class period. My goal was to put up the grade calculation chart to show my students how their 3 grades (quarter 3, quarter 4, and final exam) worked together to get their final semester grade. That was only supposed to take maybe 10-15 minutes. I knew I could spare that. I knew I had to. But, as the conversation took a turn to GPA and how that is calculated and how “bad” one grade can be for a GPA, it didn’t take long to figure out that my students had zero idea how to calculate their own GPA.

deer in headlights

This was a serious problem since I worked with freshman. Those of you who work with underclassmen are well aware of the thought process these students have. So many of them don’t think their grades matter. They don’t realize the damage a bad grade in 9th or 10th grade can do to a GPA. They don’t understand that they will spend the rest of their high school career fighting to repair a GPA that has been devastated by a “C” or, heaven forbid, a “D.” Let’s not even talk about the “F”s. When I tried to quickly explain the GPA calculations, my students immediately took an interest. They demanded I slow down so they could take notes. Seriously, I had students who rarely paid any attention to a single word I said and when I started talking about their GPA they were like, “Woah, woah, woah, Miss! Slow down!” They cared about this. What shocked me was not so much that my students didn’t know how a GPA was calculated – after all, it would be unlikely that they would have learned that in middle school, given the emphasis (or lack thereof) placed on GPAs in middle school – it was that their math teachers hadn’t taught them this when they started high school.

GPA 2

I realize now that I shouldn’t have been surprised. As teachers, we assume a heck of a lot of knowledge for our students. We assume they just know things because we know them. We forget how we learned. It doesn’t occur to us to teach things we ourselves know and/or expect our students to know. And I’m not talking about curriculum concepts, I’m talking about this type of stuff: GPA calculation, test-taking techniques , how to bubble a freaking Scantron sheet correctly. So I taught them how to calculate their GPA. The first time, I had to fly by the seat of my pants. I had to guess how much our district weighted honors and AP classes. I let them know that my assumptions could be wrong and they should do their own research to figure out how their specific class load would work out. But the next time, I was prepared. I did my research and found the district’s weighting system and how GPA was calculated. I budgeted a full class period for it, and it paid off. And my students were enthralled and thankful. It honestly changed a lot of perspectives. I know a lot of my students changed their attitudes towards their effort in classes because of this lesson. I know because they told me themselves. I saw some students improve their efforts in my class, and I know other teachers saw improvements in theirs. They might not have known why, but the improvements were there.

GPA 3

You might think that the kids who cared were only the college-bound ones. The kids who knew they had no shot might not care about anything except graduating. Why bother with trying to get “A”s and “B”s when all you need is a 2.0 to graduate? Or maybe they were planning to drop out; why should they care about a GPA as a freshman when they knew in just 2 years they’d be out of school anyway? Well, what I’ve noticed is that students who think they can’t control something often become apathetic towards it. If a student thinks a GPA is some sort of magical number over which they have no control and no influence, they have no reason to devote any time or energy towards caring about it. But, if you show a student – any student – that THEY control this GPA, it changes a lot. Really, this is true about many things for students. They don’t have a lot of control over things. Give them a little bit of control and it empowers them. It engages them. And that’s what this lesson did for my students – all of them, even the low-performing, unmotivated ones. It gave them the knowledge that THEY controlled their GPA. And that changed everything.

GPA 4

Are You Testing Me? Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on assessment.

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.

1. Make sure your questions are just that: questions. While it is acceptable to craft an item so that the answer completes a sentence (this is popular in college entrance exams and AP exams), classroom assessments tend to be more valid and effective (and you learn a bit more about your students’ comprehension) if your items are all worded as questions. Here are some examples.

5-21b

– “a” is the preferred item style.

– “b” is acceptable, but not ideal. Note: If you are going to use this format, be sure the “blank” students have to fill in is at the end of the stem (so, not “____ was the first President of the US.”).

– “c” is unacceptable; it isn’t a question, and students might be confused because they’re not entirely sure what you’re wanting them to do. Plus, it’s not even grammatically correct.

2. Use arbitrary order in your distractors (answer choices). We have human bias when we create answer choices. Statistically, we choose B or C as the correct answer more often than A or D (or E, if using 5 answer choices). This is a problem because if students figure out your bias, they can guess with higher rates of accuracy, which defeats the purpose of assessing what concepts or skills they actually know. If you use arbitrary order, this eliminates bias (or lessens it). Here are the common ways to arbitrarily order answer choices:

a. Alphabetically (when answer choices are one word)

b. By length (when answer choices are more than one word)

c. By the order in which the answers appear in the text (for example, line numbers in poetry or quotations from various paragraphs)

d. Chronologically

e. Smallest to largest (numerical values)

3. Number 2 depends on one thing, though: your answer choices should be roughly the same length. We like to make the right answers either the shortest or longest. It takes some practice and skill to make all your distractors the same length. Students pick up on this bias easily and will often guess an answer choice that is considerably longer or shorter than the others.

4. Punctuate your answer choices correctly. A sentence contains a subject and a verb. Sometimes the subject is what we call “understood.” For example, an imperative sentence (an order), “Clean up this mess!” is a sentence because the subject is understood to be “you” – as in, “You, clean up this mess!” It also has a verb: “clean.” There are also one-word sentences like “No.” and “Yes.” And “Stop.” If an answer choice has a subject and a verb, it should be punctuated as such: capitalize the first word and put an end mark (most likely a period) at the end. If it is NOT a sentence, do NOT capitalize the first word and do NOT put a period at the end. And in this vein, make sure all your answer choices (for a specific item) are the same, grammatically: either all are sentences or all are not. Additionally, make sure they are all consistent in terms of parts of speech, verb tense, point of view, etc. Here are some examples:

5-21a

– “a” is problematic because while “i” and “iv” are correctly punctuated sentences, “ii” is not a sentence, and should not be capitalized and ‘iii” is not a sentence and should not be capitalized or contain a period. Also, “iv” is much longer than the other 3 choices. Furthermore, all 4 answer choices are inconsistent.

– “b” and “c” are both equally acceptable. “b” uses complete sentences for all the answer choices, punctuates them correctly, and they are all roughly the same length. They also use the same verb tense (present). “c” uses a single word or phrase for all 4 answer choices; none of them are capitalized (nor should they be); none of them have end marks (nor should they). Additionally, all 4 are the same (and correct) part of speech (noun).

– “d” is problematic because although they are not sentences and are correctly (un)punctuated, they are not all the same (or appropriate) part of speech. “i”, “ii”, and “iv” are adjectives but “iii” is a noun.

5. Having 5 answer choices isn’t statistically different from having 4 answer choices, in terms of what you learn about your students’ knowledge. Anything less than 4 choices, however, is problematic because it doesn’t allow for differentiation among student mastery levels. Lesson: if you’re doing a multiple-choice assessment, go with 4 answer choices. 5 if you feel you absolutely must, but never less than 4. Side note: if you are going to follow the trend where there are multiple answer choices, you must follow this ratio: for 2 answer choices, you must have 5 or 6 options; for 3 answer choices, you must have at least 6 but not more than 8 options. You should not design a question where there are more than 3 correct answer choices.

6. Make your answer choices reasonable. You won’t learn anything about your students’ mastery if one or two of the answer choices are so outlandish that only a monkey would choose it. And don’t try to trick your students. Think about what you want to learn from their answers. Make your distractors (the incorrect answer choices) things that your students would choose if they had certain misconceptions. For example, if your question is (-2) + 3(8 x 3) / 4(5-7), then make your answer choices options that students could get if they dropped a negative, didn’t follow order of operations, etc. This way, you’ll actually gain useful information from students who get the wrong answer. You’ll know why they got it wrong and it can help you target re-teaching.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, which will be posted next week. I would love to hear from you! Please comment or leave a question about this blog entry using the form below!