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!

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