Friday, October 31, 2008

Roman Soldier

Friday is Halloween. And we were studying the Roman empire and more specifically the "Roman Soldier." I took advantage of the day...

We had a good time Friday as we learned about the life of a Roman Soldier in class.

The kid's reactions were pretty funny! Some went crazy. Others looked at me like I was just appearing to them as the very same guy with a tie and shirt on like every day. Weird.

I love teaching. Such a great job.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Philosophical Chairs - "Athens or Sparta?"

Today was a really great day. We had a block or 90 minute class period day. (We do on Wed/Thu) So I showed about 10 minutes of NBC Nightly News last night to catch students up on the election. There was also a great story about the war in Afghanistan. Gripping viewing. Then I introduced our Religion Project and Chapter 5 - The Roman Empire.

For the last 1/2 hour we did "Philosophical Chairs." It is just another reason I love AVID. I learned Philosophical Chairs through my training as an AVID elective teacher. The process works like this, you raise a question for debate that has two choices. The students write their response on a piece of paper and then they take a side of the classroom and debate ensues.

There are 5 simple rules:
1 - Stay in the hot seat (or undecided seats) for only 1 minute
2 - Repeat or Rephrase what the last person said
3 - Wait 3 seconds until that person is finished to be sure they are done with their comment.
4 - You must wait until the 4th person to speak again. (generally speaking, someone on your side must speak before you can speak again. the comments move like ping-pong back and forth)
5 - Move your 5 toes and get your feet walking. You show support for comments made not by talking, but by moving from your side of the room to theirs. It does not mean you have completely changed your mind, you just are giving them support for their argument.

The question today was, "Where would you rather live - Athens or Sparta?" This is such a compelling question. The kids really get into it. We have already investigated the roles of men and women in both societies and we took our test on the chapter yesterday. So today they were really ready to debate.

Our building principal came in during 5th period today. She stood wide-eyed as the students went back and forth about the question. The bell rang and I sprinted to the door to collect their notes and reflections. She told me later that students walked by her while I was waiting in the hall and said, "I just LOVE this class!" One of the students gave me her sheet and said, "This is such a great class... my favorite ever." It was from a young lady who was so much trouble for me at the beginning of the year. I almost started to cry. It really got to me and made me feel good.

I am really lucky to be a teacher. It is such a rewarding and incredible job.
Using Philosophical Chairs

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TV Interview - AVID

Here is my interview on our cable educational access channel about AVID.

AVID Interview from fordee on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Grading for Learning - Presentation to Faculty

My presentation to the faculty went pretty well. I was a little worried because some of the grading scenarios and a few of the new ideas can be seen as a little radical. All my hope was going in to it was that people would walk away having thought a little deeper about how they assess their students. Could they then make a few changes this year?

These grading changes have produced a profound effect for me. It has resulted in a different mentality and outlook for myself and my students. Not that my grading system has been turned upside down or is completely different. It is and it isn't. But, my breakthrough has been in the approach that I have had with students. No longer do I look at my kids and think, "Why isn't this kid reading his book?" or "Why didn't this student bring his book to class?" or "Why isn't this kid taking notes!?!"

Now I turn my attention to the only thing that really matters anyway - "What is this kid learning?" or more appropriately: "Has this student learned what we targeted today?"

This nuance goes a long, long way towards the approach I have with kids. I no longer raise my voice. It's not really needed. My sights are on our goals and our learning target. It's a singular focus. The kids weren't bringing their books to class... so last year I said, "Leave your book at home. You will be reading it at home during the night." Our book is huge. Bringing it to class is a pain - for real.... In their backpacks! It's World History - so it has a lot in it! This decision of keeping the book at home though and never bringing it to class comes with a responsibility -- homework. Now their book should be at home and ready to be read and worked on in the evening.

But, I also changed my homework policy as well over the past couple of years. I no longer ask for a little work every night, instead I have a long term assignment. It is usually a ten days to two week assignment. Same number of questions, just spread out over time. This gives everyone a chance to get them done. No excuses. Plus, I go over about 1/2 of them in class as 'practice.' This means the kids get guided help on just how to answer the questions and how to attack them. Again, no excuse, low pressure, but high reward --> did the student learn it?

My grading is essentially the district guideline and standard, but with an elevator or motivator. The district standard is the assignment is for full credit (100%) on the day that it is due. The second day it is graded for 1/2 credit (50%) and the their day it is a zero.

What I have added to it works like this - students can come in for tutoring and raise any grade to an 85, as long as they have shown strong evidence that they have learned the material. With a quiz grade the students can come in and retake a quiz. (I usually have 2 or 3 versions of tests or quizzes. Same questions, different answer choices to cut down on cheating. So when they come in for the requiz or retest I give them one of the alternates)

For any reassessment opportunity they must meet certain prereqs:
* Must be done in tutoring and on their free time - not during class.
* Must have completed all homework assignments to have the opportunity.
* Must have evidence of notetaking from the book or from class to retake a test or quiz.
* For homework, you must submit it to me during tutoring and I will ask a series of oral questions to check the learning. At the end of the session I ask, "What grade (up to an 85) do you think you earned? We negotiate a grade that matched their learning. Often it is NOT as high as an 85. That is rare.
* You get one chance per graded assignment. And you can not retake a test, quiz or homework after we have taken the next test. (then it is getting too late and we are beginning to learn and be responsible for new material)

So what have these grading changes (essentially grading FOR learning) done for me and my students? We don't look at each other like we are in some kind of "gotcha" game. Where Mr. D is going to jump up at the end of the unit and say, "Why didn't you learn this or that? Why didn't you read more?" The students know what is expected and what is to be learned. If they didn't learn it, there is an opportunity for relearning to occur. So students view me as someone who is working with them to help them learn and I am no longer the enemy in any way. (although I really wasn't before, there wasn't as much trust)

This has REALLY helped with my projects. I give a project each six week's period. There is always a product, presentation, and paper. With each part, students have begun to bring those into me for advice on whether or not they are on track. So I read over their presentation or paper and give them feedback. This has resulted in much better quality work. And it has resulted in students who feel more confident about what they are doing and learning.

Some teachers tell me that it is too much work to do all of that grading, but essentially it is less! I don't have to read their papers as thoroughly on the final day when I do put a grade on it. If I've already read it a few times, it is easier to grade and far more interesting for me to read. And I don't have as many papers where I am ready to tear apart the paper and think, "WHY DID THEY DO THIS?" Or... "Where is the THESIS statement!?!?!!!" We've already checked over that.

This is a lot more to what I have changed, but they are more subtle adjustments in how I work with my students. A quick example is using peers in class to do some feedback and grading. When a quick assignment in class (like an "exit ticket" - designed to get some reflection at the end of the period. they must have it to leave the class) results in my knowledge of how closer the students are to learning what was intended, I can make adjustments for the next class. They really don't understand the Three Estates of France? I retouch it the next class and be sure it sinks in. They totally get Hitler's Two Big Mistakes? Then I move on.

Any ideas?
I would be certain that most teachers would not understand what I am doing or think, "What is the deal, I could NEVER get away with that?" But, I am lucky to be at a school that is quite progressive and is pushing this initiative. Or else I probably wouldn't feel as confident in trying new things out.

Again if you are interested in the full presentation, you can view it here:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Reflections on the 2007 - 2008 School Year

This year I created a video for each one of my World History classes. I had 5 gigs of pictures and video from the year. So I divided the pictures up by periods and then created a 15-20 minute video for each class.

We watched them at the end of the year and enjoyed the look back. I have my World History Period videos password protected (if you are really interested in seeing them, email me and I will send you the password - I do not want it open to the public to view).

This was my "Introduction" video. It is pretty short but shows some 'school pride' kind of things. It was a great year.

1_Introduction: AHS 2007-2008 Video Intro from fordee on Vimeo.