Paper Trails

So blog peeps, we have been discussing sbg, vocabulary, warm-ups, exit slips, guided notes, and learning logs.

And YOU have posed some great questions:

  • What to do with the paper trail?
  • What if all this writing in math limits/scares away students who aren't good at writing?
  • How is it even possible to assess all of this writing?
  • How to fit all of this in 45 minute periods?
  • Could the vocabulary be part of their learning log?
  • Aren't you overwhelming yourself with these ideas?
  • Shouldn't you include verbal vocabulary practice too?
    While I am predicting that this post will multiply quickly (math is everywhere), I'm going to try to address these questions first, then explain where I'm coming from and where I'm headed, and also reflect on teaching, learning, and what I want to accomplish in the classroom. Now that I am done narrating my blog post outline, we shall begin!

    What to do with the paper trail?
    I'm thinking of stealing @samjshah's binder idea. Sort of. He has students bring a folder to class and a binder in their locker. My thinking is, current unit's work in folder, which is transferred to binder at the end of the unit. Then the binder has everything we've done all year without the hassle of lugging it around. Students could even keep the binders in the room. I'm thinking the warm-ups and exit-slips are going to be using the clickers. Maybe. Well warm-ups definitely. Exit slips, I think I want to give them a problem and the answer and they have to show me their work. Which still involves writing and therefore, paper. I do have individual student whiteboards. I guess what it comes down to, is what do they truly need to be writing for understanding, practice, reflection, and mastery? (That's a post all of it's own I bet) I like the method of teaching a concept then doing a bunch of examples, then adding a twist to the concept, more examples, application problem, exit slip, learning log. It just works out so nicely in my head!

    I want to do a lot of practice in class where I can guide and correct. Also, because I'm not giving practice as homework. I want to give students time to work on their learning log in class but not too much time, I only have 45 minutes! So basically that becomes their homework. But will they do it? I need some Shawn Cornally input here! Ok, so maybe I don't like the folder and binder idea anymore. Do they need to keep exit slips? I know they need to be writing down example problems and steps of the process and such. Should I create guided notes that incorporate vocabulary, examples, steps, exit slips all in one? Then they just need a notebook for learning logs and a binder for giant note packet and past assessments? Ok, I am accomplishing nothing on this question.

    What if all this writing in math limits/scares away students who aren't good at writing?
    I've honestly never considered this point of view before. But to me reading and writing are just two life skills you are going to need no matter what you do. Especially in high school. If practice makes perfect, then shouldn't more time writing (i.e. in math) improve students ability? Aren't students blogging, e-mailing, and texting (which are all forms of writing) more than ever? I learn and reflect more on this blog than anywhere. Because as I am writing, I am processing. I don't know any other way to create that opportunity for students. It's just not practical for me to rely on technology at this point. My students don't consistently have internet access anywhere and my administration is not fond of technology. I will leave it at that right now. I also want to be clear that by learning logs, I mean a place where students can write, draw, record, reflect, and process their own learning and mistakes in learning. This will not be daily essay writing. It will be graphing, making a table, drawing, giving steps in a process, analyzing errors, etc.

    How is it even possible to assess all of this writing?
    This is not something I can fully answer yet. I want to assess and give feedback. I also don't want to die. So, here are my ideas so far:
    • Random grading: have students roll dice or draw card from a deck. Depending on the math  I want to use: multiples of 3, face cards, snake eyes, even number, odd number, etc will determine if I collect and grade that day
    • Verbally assessing: call on random students to read theirs out loud or me walking around the room and reading as they complete warm-ups; I can give personal verbal feedback at that time.
    • Weekly rotations: I could collect the learning logs for that week from one class to assess and give feedback on over the weekend; I could rotate one class per weekend so I don't get overwhelmed.
    • Trade and grade: students could trade with a partner and write one positive response and one question/improvement response.
    • Class blog: students could take turns typing their favorite entry from that week on a class blog. Each time it is their turn, they have to comment on someone in their class's previous entry and one from another class as well. ( I just made that up. See? Processing!)
    • SBG Prerequisite: For students who come in to practice and reassess a la sbg, I can ask them to show me their learning logs as a way for me to assess their understanding and look for errors.
    • Use time wisely: I could use my homeroom, intervention, or planning time to just sit down and read. And even take it home and grade like other teachers do. (*gasp*)

    Notice that none of these ideas mentioned a number grade but reading, response, and feedback. I don't know how or if I should give a number grade. What do you think? Shawn says that by assigning points, the focus becomes points not learning. I like this idea by my friend @PersidaB:  

    Can I make this transition to detailed, written feedback as opposed to a number?  

    Will my students buy it? 

    To be continued... 


    1. Wow, I'm overwhelmed just reading all that you are planning on accomplishing in 45 minutes (but then I have to remind myself that you have about 1/3 of the students that I have and that makes me feel better).

      My comment is on the exit slip/question: why does it need to have a "label," as in, "This is the exit slip problem that you need to do on a separate sheet and then I will check?" I usually give them one or two practice problems at the end of the notes, then go around and check. Depending on how well everyone is doing, I'll either give out the homework as a class or give it out individually as I check each person's work.

    2. You're right, I do have pretty small classes.

      The exit slip is just a way of summarizing the concept we learned in class and for me to see if everyone is understanding or not.
      I'm not giving out homework but more like a thinking/reflecting prompt for them to write and process in their learning log.

      So hopefully through the examples we did in class and the 'exit slip', I can fix misconceptions so that they can accurately log their learning. I am not necessarily going to call them 'exit slips' or 'learning logs' with my students but I am labeling them as that here so that everyone knows what I am talking about.

    3. I'm still concerned about the "learning logs". I know I would have hated that in high school, and my son would about to start high school would to. In fact, one of the reasons that we did not place him in the "Math Academy" was because the emphasis was on large written projects and group work, rather than on learning the math. (Another reason was that he was already 3/4 of the way through that program, and they wisely did not take people into the 2nd year without the first year indoctrination.) He'll start with trig as a freshman instead, since his algebra 2 class went too slowly to get that far.

      Writing is one way to process difficult material, but it is not efficient for everyone. I find it much easier to do math than to write about it, by at least an order of magnitude. A few exercises on writing about math may be good, where the intent is specifically to teach how to write mathematics, but a day-in-day-out grind of keeping a log would have driven me crazy.

      Knowing my son, he would refuse to do such a pointless thing, no matter how many points you assigned to it. He'd also lose all respect for a teacher who assigned such busywork. Give him some cool problems to work on: great. Demand that he show his work: ok, but minimal compliance. Ask him to teach the class how to solve a particular problem: great. Ask him to write out the same level of detail to someone who already knows how to do it: major resistance.

      If you want the students to write about math, you have to give them a genuine audience. Almost none of them write for themselves and writing for the teacher is not genuine communication: no information is transferred from writer to reader. Better to have them write to each other or to students in lower-level classes, where they would have something to communicate.

    4. If you set the precedent that students will write in your class, they will. My students all know I have a degree in English and that I teach English at a local college. They also know that I expect them to write nearly every single day. If nothing else, they all write a legitimate summary of the lesson at the end of their cornell notes every day. I do not grade it, but I come around the room and read every one before class is over. If it does not actually summarize the lesson or explain what they have learned, they know they have to re-write it. I really only get hesitation when students are being overall lazy, not resistance to writing only.

    5. Here is my 2 cents worth:
      Greek poet Hesiod (c.700 bc)said: ‘observe due measure; moderation is best in all things’

      What is wrong with sometimes assessing for a grade and sometimes not? What is wrong with having an exit ticket one day and not the next?

      I just try to mix things up. :) The balance keeps things fresh and the kids enjoy it. Routine is nice as well, but there is no 'pattern' to learning.

      Absolutely love the idea of writing in math. Writing to learn is a powerful philosophy. But don't let the learning method over power what you are learning to a point that kids hate it or rebel against it. (Why are my friends not doing this in their teacher's class)

      Like anything in teaching we are half instructor and half used car salesman. Whatever you sell the kids just believe in it and let them know it's for their learning. They should go along if they see it too.

    6. When I disaggregated my learning skills for sbg, I included one for "Writing about Mathematics." So, that's how I am going to try to answer the grading component of that. I am only requiring a once a week response to an online blog topic or journal prompt. We don't really have any other out of class assignments, so I'm gonna try it. We shall see if it works...

      I'm taking the rubric that is used in the English department for writing and modifying it. Plan to use it in a streamlined form to assess but will probably be yelling for a lifeline from my English peeps from time to time. The format of that rubric is something that I think (hope!) will fit well with mathematical writing.