Friday, May 2, 2014

Week 12 - Self-paced failure. And some thoughts for next year.

Self-paced Failure.
Ok, so maybe not a total failure.  There were many students who thrived.  But, overall, I'm definitely not going to do it again, at least without some MAJOR tweaks.

So, here are the details:

Students had 8 school days to master the content from Units R and S.  The suggested pace was one WSQ and corresponding PQs a day for 6 days, and 2 days to work on the exam in class.  Students were encouraged to work ahead, especially with AP testing beginning Monday.  They were told that they could start the test as soon as their WSQs and PQs were done, and if they finished before Friday, May 2nd, they would have the rest of the week to just study for their other classes.  It sounded like a great deal to me!

I had 2 students show up on Monday (4/28) to take the test and spent Tues-Fri burying themselves in their AP US History notes.  About 10 others took the test on Wed and Thurs, leaving Friday to themselves.  But, all the rest waiting until the "suggested deadline" of Thurs/Fri for the test.  And, 13 students never finished the practice work and were "forced" to take the test Friday so at least they'd have something.

On the first day of self-paced work, I had probably 20 students show up having watched the video and the rest of them watched it in class.  This put them automatically a half day behind of the suggested pace from the beginning.
After the first week, I had 10-12 students who had only completed one or two WSQs, despite having four class days up to that point.  After an additional day of warning (and still not completing more), they received consequences, many with the complaint that it wasn't fair I was putting a pace on them since it was a self-paced week.  I tried to emphasize that "your self pace turned into no pace so now you are on Mrs. Kirch's pace" but that didn't make them happy.  

Ok, so how did they do come test time?

The results out of 106 students:
Unit R - 57 students with A's or B's [54%]
100% - 6, 9, 4 [total: 19]
A's but not 100% - 2, 5, 13 [total: 20]
B's - 9, 6, 3 [total: 18]
Unit S - 58 students with A's or B's [55%]
100% - 4, 6, 6 [total: 16]
A's but not 100% - 5, 9, 8 [total: 22]
B's - 4, 9, 7 [total: 20]

Okay, so the results don't seem that bad.  Over half of the students got A's or B's on the exams.  But, I haven't mentioned yet that it was a partner test (although about half the students chose to work alone, which was an option I gave them), and that it was fully open note.  Many of the problems on their test could be solved simply by looking through their PQ work and copying it down.

I've gotten frustrated over many things these last two weeks that I have little or no control over.  Things like:

  •  How can you not be motivated by knowing you could have time off from math class if you just get your work done early?  Doesn't that seem like a nice perk?  Something to strive for? A reward at the end of the tunnel?
  • How can you not be motivated knowing you could (if you wanted) spend three or four days on the test to make sure you got it right?  Especially at the end of the year, when the semester is winding down and you need to do well on the all of the remaining exams?
  • How can you not learn from your last experience with an open note/ partner test that doing your PQs neatly, organized, and correctly (meaning you actually take the time to check your answers!) will pay off?   Remember when most of the test was straight from your PQs?
  • How can you do hours and hours of math practice and NOT check your answers to make sure you were doing them right?  How do you not see that as a waste of time to just do them but not learn from them?
  • How can you spend the time typing up your WSQ summary knowing that you don't understand it and then refusing to ask for help in class even though your teacher checks in with you and asks you if you had a question about anything?
  • How can you not look at a period of time (in this case 8 days), listen to a suggested plan, make your own plan, and then actually follow through with it?  How can daily reminders of where you should be (and warnings of the consequences for falling behind) continually fall on deaf ears?
My husband's answer to all of those questions?  "They're teenagers.  That's what they do."

And, that answer may just be fairly accurate.  I just wish at this point in the year my students would have come around... would have learned some of the (life) skills I am trying to teach them in addition to the math.  I just feel like I really can't get across to some of the students, no matter how hard I try or how many different methods I use.  But, I will keep working and keep trying new things.

I want my students to take responsibility for themselves and their learning.  I want them to work hard and ask questions when they are confused.  I just feel like I am pulling teeth this year trying to get some of my students to put in that extra ounce of effort needed to truly succeed.  There have been so many days when I have walked around to each group to check for questions and discussions and every student will tell me they don't have any questions (and I purposely don't probe further just to test them).  I can make it around the entire class with no questions even though there were plenty submitted on the online WSQ the night before.  So, I will talk to the class about that, and bring up the questions I was waiting to be asked... and then it will happen again the next day.  I just don't know what to do.

When it comes down to it, a student who wants to learn and finds some sort of motivation (extrinsic or intrinsic) will.  My student who had a 30% all first semester and finally decided to start really working has been doing so well this semester and with this most recent test brought his grade up to a D for the first time all year.  He shows me that it can be done.  He is someone that probably didn't belong in this class based on his previous performance in math classes, but with hard work, focus, practice, and lots of tutoring, he is finding success.

Now the question is... how to reach the rest?

I'll end this section with another story.  I had a student four or five years ago.  He was either a freshmen or sophomore in my Algebra 1 class.  He failed everything, never did his homework, and was kicked out of school after one semester.  He came back today to say hi to a few of his teachers.  He came back to say hi to me.  I didn't remember his name, although his face was familiar (and much older than the scrawny freshman he was!).  But it gives me hope that some of these students who I just don't seem to be reaching, who seem to hate me for pushing them, holding them accountable, and not letting them slack off... that maybe I really am making a difference and that even if they don't realize it right now, they will someday.  I can live off of that hope...

From this experience (and the year in general), here are my ideas for next year:
  • More student accountability IN CLASS for completion of practice problems correctly. This may mean more peer instruction or another similar activity (peer instruction doesn't work well for all types of math problems students have to solve, especially in some of the trigonometry units).  This also may mean more time guiding the students through the PQs.  Maybe having the students in set groups where they rotate thru working with me, individually, and with their groups.  Class time just needs to be more structured to hold these students more accountable and more focused on their work.  I need to find a way to balance this with the students who thrive in the fully self-paced class, but maybe that can be taken care of in the groups that I create.
  • More modeling and training on the WSQ process and using the guided summary questions to actually guide their watching.  Finding a way to tie that into class time.  This year I went away from WSQ chats being "discuss your summary questions" and I think I went too far in the opposite direction to the point that we don't even look at them anymore.  There needs to be a balance.  I think that even though these are my honors students we really should start by watching the videos in class together, then in class in small groups, and then at home.  Slow transition and training might work better because I think I still have students who never really learned how to "Be FIT" when watching videos.
  • More clinics or boot camps for struggling students throughout the unit and for all students before a unit test.  I have done the boot camps for 3-4 units and they have been really helpful and it improves student performance on the test.
  • I love what I have been having my students do with their blogs this year but in honest evaluation, I think it was a failure.  I think for a lot of students it turned into busywork and a point of frustration or loss of hope. I would like to continue to use blogs but tweak the way that I use them.  I don't know if having partner or small group blogs might be an option.  I think it would also help to have students looking and commenting on each other's blogs more often.  If anything, I know we need to spend one day in the computer lab getting it set up together as a class because that was the point of a lot of students' frustration at the beginning of the year.  Instead of having so many different types of posts labeled with so many different things, I think they will just be called "Blog Post 1, Blog Post 2", etc and then details will be given as to what the post requires.  I need to do a lot of thinking over the summer for this.
  • The concept quizzes have also been a failure this year, but I think it ties in with this idea of self-paced.  I had so many students just never take the quizzes before the test.  Or, they would take them all the day before the test.  I need to put more structure back into the quizzes next year, even if it means taking away the self-paced part of it but still allowing retakes.  I need to think about it though, because I like the self-paced part of that... I just don't like when self-paced turns to no-pace and the students I have this year in general are way too good at the no-pace.
  • I started off the year never signing student WSQ charts or monitoring their practice work.  While that may seem small, that means their work was messy, disorganized, and crappily done.  I need to be on top of them at the beginning of the year, even just as a lesson in being organized and efficient (yes, my top in the school honors students still need to be taught this!!).  I need to find a way to balance between taking time to sign off WSQ charts and not taking away time from helping them with the content to do that.
  • Overall, in year three, I think I tried to give my students way too much FREEDOM without enough ACCOUNTABILITY and started fighting against way too many things that only got worse as the year went on.  The year was not a total failure, but it's the first year in a while that I feel very dissatisfied with myself and my classes.

We have six weeks left to go, and I know it will fly by.  The next two weeks are AP testing, so basically that leaves a month.  Student motivation is waning fast, and I only hope that my excitement for our last two units on Limits and Derivatives can help ignite a passion under my students to finish strong.

...and I'm sure several blog posts on class structure and tweaks for next year will be coming this summer.  My mind is brewing and I just need to get it organized...


  1. This sounds incredibly similar to what I've been up to in the past couple of weeks: I ran into a lot of the same issues, but I think the current unit is going better now, so there's hope!

    1. Hi Andy,
      Thanks for your comment. I've had this page and your blog post open on my browser for the last week and finally have time to sit down and reply.

      I really like your explanation of how you tweaked things. Do you set it up so students are mainly supposed to watch the videos in class, or is it completely "Get it done, whether it's at home or in class"?

      Thanks for sharing your ideas... lots of thoughts running through my head! I like it :)


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