Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Presenting our Plan

We were asked to present our plan for implementing instruction at three levels at our Day 3 meeting.  Not sure why us or what part of it most people are interested in, but we met after school today to look over our plan again and discuss our presentation.

There are two main aspects of the plan:  assigning students and scheduling classes.  I will give some highlights of each below.

Assigning students to the Tier II and Tier III courses:

  • Students who have addition math instruction as a requirement of their IEP will receive Tier III instruction
  • Students will be identified for intervention (Tier II) using a variety of sources:  Algebra Aptitude Test, IA Assessments, Previous Course Grade, Teacher Recommendation.  We will likely choose a cut off for each of these and then flag students who are on the list for 3 of the 4 identifiers.  This may include IEP and non-IEP students.
  • Our principal, the math team, the special education instructor, and AEA representatives will all participate in selection process
  • Currently we have no official universal screen or progress monitoring in place
Scheduling, Planning, and Instructing Tier II and Tier III:
  • We are on a 7-period day, with 51-minute class periods (and a 17 minute homeroom)
  • As the Algebra teacher, I will give up all my non-Algebra classes next year (currently consisting of 2 periods each day) to provide tier II instruction.  So I will teach 4 periods of universal instruction and 2 periods of intervention.
  • I have requested that the tier II classes be schedule at the beginning/end of the day so that all students in the class will have had same universal instruction
  • My dropped courses will be taken on my the 2 other mathematics teachers we have by increasing enrollment in advanced classes and no longer offering Pre-Algebra
  • Tier III will be given to students during their Guided Studies time.  It will mean of their 51 minutes of GS, 30 minutes each day will be Algebra instruction given by the Special Education instructor
  • I will be planning (with the help of all my peers in this project) the universal, tier II, and tier III instruction
  • We have requested 1 day each week to collaborate on the instruction for tier III students
  • Students will receive elective credit for tier II and tier III algebra.  Will be unable to shift in and out of course as needed (not seen as a potential problem).
  • We have a special education associate who will be able to facilitate instruction during universal, tier II, and/or tier III
Why?  I honestly think that is what some people want to know.  "Why are we willing to go to all these lengths to provide something like this?"  I would have to say because I can see that my students need it.  I have many students in Algebra currently that I desperately wish I could provide this opportunity to.  I see the need and I address as good as I can, but without the additional time and the smaller class sizes I cannot do all that is necessary.  

These are the ideas we are going to try to get across within our 10-minute time frame, as well as providing an opportunity for others to ask questions.  I hope this will help others find a way to make this successful in their schools as well.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 2

Our second meeting (also known as "Day 2") was packed full of thought-intensive analysis of multiple things. We started by discussing "Understanding by Design" lesson planning, where focus begins with the desired result.  There are 3 stages of this planning method:  the Desired Results, the Assessment Evidence, and the Learning Plan.  This process can be challenging because only after a long time looking at the standards and choosing an assessment method can the instruction planning actually begin.  As teachers it is hard to wait so long to plan instruction!

After discussing this method, we broke into groups and began unpacking various standards from Unit 1 of Algebra 1 as defined by Appendix A of the CCSS with this template to guide us.  This is really challenging!  At first we were supposed to base it off of our professional understanding of the standard (which is not always clear), and discuss our understandings.  Then we could look to some other documents, but there are few resources available from the authors of the CCSS to help us unpack them.  We spent all morning doing this!  It felt very unproductive to me for two reasons.  First, because we were working in groups with people we didn't know very well, and so it was hard to respectfully critique each others' ideas.  And secondly, because we did not define "understanding" and "knowledge" prior to getting started.  All in all a challenging morning for me.

We were actually supposed to do one more thing before lunch.  Choose one of the practice standards to focus on for the rest of the year--yikes!  I remember hearing someone say that the first four are the most important, so we chose to go with #1:  Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.  Then we had the opportunity to change the rubric for it.  The rubric we were given was not structured the way I like to have rubrics structured, so I redesigned it with the help of my coworkers present at the meeting.

After lunch we created a proposal for how our district should implement Tier II of the instruction.  We had already had quite a few conversations with our principal and other math teachers in our district, so I felt as though the proposal was just formalizing all of those conversations.  The goal/plan is for me to teach only Algebra next year.  Four periods of Algebra (tier I) and two periods of Strategies (tier II), while a special education teacher would teach the students receiving tier III instruction during their guided studies time.  My hope is that I can have the "strategies" courses at the beginning/end of the day, so that the students have had the same instruction from the Algebra class.

Once we completed that, we discussed the benefits of standards based grading.  My district is already in the process of developing standards based grading, so we have an idea of what it is, what it might look like, the benefits, and the drawbacks.  However I still found this conversation to be very rewarding.  I jumped into standards based grading this year without all the background work that teachers in my district have done, so it was good for me to step back and remember why they chose to move in this direction.

The last thing we did is to split off as Algebra teachers (special education teachers did something else) and look through 7th and 8th grade standards that we might have to teach during the transition to the common core.  These are the standards that are necessary to meet the Algebra standards, and may not get mastered in 7th and 8th grade.  I think it was important to acknowledge that it is a transition to the common core, because at times I feel pushed to move my students over to it too quickly.  It is important to get there, but we also have to remember that we are in a transition time.

So when I left Day 2, my brain was working in many different directions, but I felt that all were beneficial for the future of our students and their mathematical learning.  I sometimes just wish that it didn't take so much work, but in the end it really does.  In which case it is important to remember the purpose--student learning!