Tuesday, June 16, 2015

School Year Highlights (2014-2015)

at 10:40 AM
I realize it has been almost an entire year since my last update. 2014-2015 was a hectic awesome year. Actually, probably my best teaching year so far. So, I'll just give you the highlights here.

For starters, I took over Yearbook this year. We went to a yearbook camp put on by our awesome Josten's Rep and a few of her coworkers at UC Santa Cruz. It was 3 days of fun-filled learning and I got to bond with my new editors. Both were very sweet, smart girls. Though within the first day of knowing them, Emily came up to me 5 different times, saying, "Ms. B... I almost died!" This became a running joke throughout the year, and we decided to keep a tally. The Emily Tally ended at 204, but we're pretty sure there were many occurrences that didn't get updated. My first year as adviser went very well. My editors were a wonderful help and I will miss them greatly. My little "sev-ies" are going to be great, too! We're already excited about next year. This year we went with a clean, simple, back to school theme. We used our mascot and school colors, and incorporated our PBIS mottos (more on that, later). We didn't sell out, but we did break even! And to top it off, we started the year out with an almost thousand dollar debt from two years ago... my little kiddos fundraised and totally cleared that debt in January!
Overall, this was a great first year as YB adviser, and I'm super excited for camp this year!

This year we started a program called PBIS district-wide. PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Intervention System. The idea is to reward positive behaviors, as well as assign consequences for negative behaviors. The basic premise is something most good teachers naturally do in their own classroom everyday. The catch is that it needs to be a school-wide commitment. That means teachers have to agree and have buy-in and ALL teachers have to enforce the same rules the same way. This is the big struggle we've been having this year. But it's opened up the table for some serious and deep discussions, and created a necessity for a lot of personal reflection of pedagogy.
Parts of PBIS include creating a catch motto of basic rules. Ours became "Respectful, Responsible and Ready to Learn." So then we create matrixes for each area of school. What responsible looks like in the hallway, what respectful looks like a lunch, and what ready to learn looks like on the bus. Then, teachers work on creating a matrix of the 3Rs for their own classroom. I struggled this year with aligning my GLAD strategies rules (Be Respectful, Problem Solve, Make Good Decisions) with our 3Rs. By the end of the year, after much more exposure to PBIS throughout the year, I've realized you can't have two separate sets of rules. So I'll be creating my PBIS matrix anew this summer and when I do I'll post it on here. I'll add the GLAD rules into my matrix, I think.
As a school we still have a long way to go. There was a misunderstanding between the Tiers of consequences in PBIS within our district that caused some drama. But I think we're on the right path and I'm excited to see how it goes.

4-Point Rubric
Last year in March I went to a conference on assessments put on by Solution Tree. Solution Tree is a big name in the PLC community (Professional Learning Communities) and our district is all about PLCs. We even have time built into our school-day schedule for collaboration and planning. There were many interesting things that happened during that conference, but what I came away with was a whole new view on grading.
My first few years of teaching I struggled with the way I was grading, and often felt like students didn't have the grades they deserved. I graded based on completion sometimes, gave project grades, and took away points for late assignments. I thought I was teaching them responsibility, but I really wasn't.
This year I completed changed my grading system, and it worked. It work so well, I'm never going back.
First, I stopped grading homework and classwork. As someone pointed out at the conference, that's the practice. You don't grade practice work. The assessments are what matters. We're big on learning objectives in our district, and I simplified mine this year. My objectives were "Today I'm..." and every day was either "learning," "practicing," or "showing mastery of." When we're learning, it's a focus lesson, usually involving notes. When we're practicing, it's worksheets, comprehension questions, group work, partner work, games, etc. Showing mastery of a standard is via a test, project, essay, or presentation.
One might argue that knowing that practice work wasn't graded would decrease work completion. I actually noticed a drastic increase in work completion this year. I explained that in order to do well on tests, you had to practice the skill, and 8th graders are old enough to understand that logic (most of them).  For others, it was the constant parent communication that helped. We have a truly game-changing program called Teleparent. It's a website that allows me to call home for students by clicking on their names and the message I want to send. There are thousands of messages available, including grade progress, attendance, behaviors (positive and negative), informational (upcoming project due, tutorial next Thursday, etc) and so much more. The best part is that it will call home in the student's home language. Every time work was due, I sent home a message. It was either "completed their homework" or "failed to complete an assignment." Knowing this, students who won't do work for works' sake, still turned in their work.
The second part to this was instant feedback. Even though I didn't grade their practice work, I went over every answer. Students were expected to correct their wrong answers in order to study for the tests. Going over answers right away helps make connections. If students have to wait for the answers, they're likely to forget why they made the choices they made. This makes it more relevant.
Another part of my change in grading was switching from the traditional 100% scale to a 4 point rubric. A 1 is an F, a 2 is a C, 3 and 4 are A's. The speaker at the convention gave a % breakdown, because computer grading programs need that to work correctly. It's taken some effort to wrap my brain around the new percentages, but the counselors have been working with me to make it understood to parents and students.
Work completion went up, and F's went down. I call it successful.

Literature Circles
This year I did lit circles for the first time at this school. During my job at the charter school I taught three separate books in my 9/10 combo class because I had such a range of ability from low 9th grades to should-be-GATE 10th graders. This year I did it for much the same reason. The past two years we've taught Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry whole-class. It took 2.5 months, because we had to go at the pace of the students reading at 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade reading level. It wasn't fair to my students reading at a 10th or higher level. And to be honest, it was boring to me. This year our Scope and Sequence allowed for some other favorite books of mine, so I included all of them. I split students into groups of 3-4 by reading levels. The lower readers read Roll of Thunder, the middle level read Ender's Game and the high-school level readers read A Midsummer Night's Dream. Each group had a packet of comprehension questions, vocab practice, a character chart, and a theme chart. Groups were able to plan out their reading and packet work in their agendas and were given an accountability grade for keeping each other on pace. Groups that were behind their schedule but all at the same place got a higher score than groups where one was way behind and one way ahead. Working productively in groups is one of their standards in Common Core. Each group also had 2-3 projects based on the books. The projects were individual grades, mostly. Ender's Game had a group project, and Midsummer Night's had the option of doing something as a group. At the end of the book, they took an individual test that was open packet.
It was amazing to hear my students reading Shakespeare. One group even rapped it! The Ender's Game groups enjoyed the idea of creating "space-age" diaries. My Roll of Thunder kids actually did poorly on their tests overall, but the rest did awesome. As an experiment I think it was a success. I'll need to tweak some things in the packets for next year, but I think I'll do it again.

My first year at this school, fights and gang issues were an almost weekly occurrence. Last year, the big issue was weed. This year, it was alcohol. I had three students suspended for alcohol within a two week period. It broke my heart.
Another problem we had this year was fire alarm pulling. Alarms went off between passing periods, the last five minutes of class, and during testing. It was annoying, chaotic, and kinda fun. My students were always well-behaved, and we had some fun with ladybugs while waiting for them to sort things out. Our school bought the blue dye for the alarms, so we shouldn't be having this issue again.

Yoga Balls and Stress Balls
I had a student who refused to sit up in class, always slouching. Then, I babysit and watched a hyper boy sit on a yoga ball while watching a movie and realized it allowed him to be active while focusing on something. So I bought a yoga ball for class. My bouncy kiddos were them able to bounce and focus in class without driving me crazy by getting up and down and flipping chairs. I also used it for my slouchy kid. With no back, he couldn't slouch.
Stress balls are my favorite to stop the tapping of pencils. I have some students who ask to use them, some I throw them at when they're tapping, and it seems to work.
Interventions like these help me keep my classroom calm and focused while not suppressing the energy of my kiddos.

Overall, there was a lot different this year and a lot of good. I'm looking forward to next year!


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