Class Openers

Class Opener – Day 13 – Serenity Now!

Is Mr. Lochel asleep?

Today is the first major test for my freshman classes, and for all of them it is their first big test as high schoolers. And after a Back-to-School Night the evening before where I discussed some study strategies for the 9th graders, it’s a pretty stressful day for the young ones.

As students entered I heard the usual cacophony of frenzied papers being shuffled and concept cramming. It’s just too much noise and too much distraction before a test. Time to change the culture some with a video:

5 minutes of restful waves and ocean breezes to clear the mind. But it took a few minutes to take hold. At the start, as I sat in the front, eyes closed, silently contemplating the day, most students continued their frenzied studying. But eventually a few joined in, resting their heads, shushing each other, and taking advantage of a few moments away from math.

I’m hoping that today’s test will mark improvement for a number of my struggling students. I find that students coming from middle school often suffer from a similar mindset when it comes to taking math assessments: every problem must be done rigidly, teachers grade with an eye for missign nuance (arrows at the ends of lines, that sort of thing), papers are returned and go into a folder, and we move on.

This cycle isn’t good enough if we want students to reflect on their progress and grow.  The usual test study formula, where students shuffle through notes and seek more practice problems, isn’t sufficient. And while it is difficult to cause students to completely change study habits, I provided some tips for students as they progressed through the unit:

  • Every time you encounter a sticky classroom or homework problem, place a star next to it. In the days leading up to a test, redo these problems. Have the concepts had time to marinate? Are you now able to complete these problems with less difficulty?
  • Reflecting upon past classroom quizzes is essential. This year, my students are required to re-do all missed quiz items (excluding minor errors) as homework and attach them to their original quiz. I’m happy that a handful of students visited to discuss their corrections, while many more re-visited their previous math sins.
  • Deep breaths and long pauses matter. Undo obsession over that one test question, the one you have been working on for 20 minutes, is probably not healthy. Think about the warm ocean breezes, move on to items you CAN do well, and remain upbeat.

Redos and Retakes – #sbgchat on twitter

These days, all of the “cool kids” in twitter chats are checking in at 9PM on Wednesday evenings, where #sbgchat (standards-based grading chat) is growing quite an audience.  After just a few weeks, I am hooked into the discussions, and look forward to more challenging discussion from hosts Tom Murray and Darin Jolly.  This past week, the hot topic was redos and retakes.  Before the chat, I enjoyed videos by Rick Wormeli, whose ideas pumped me up to learn more, not unlike a football coach motivating his athletes.

Rick Wormeli on “Redos, Retakes and Do Overs”:  part 1 and part 2

This week’s chat featured some fantastic discussion about redo’s and retakes, with the following questions:

  1. Should students be given the opportunity to redo formative assignments, why or why not?  How about summative assignments?
  2. How should a redo or retake be altered from the first opportunity?
  3. What steps should occur prior to the retake of an assessment for the student and the teacher?
  4. How should the number of redos factor into a student’s grade?

If you have never participated in a Twitter chat, be prepared for information overload.  But the wonderful thing is that you will always find someone to share your ideas with, and you can always go back to the archives to pick up on pieces you missed.  You can check out the chat archive and review the ideas, and perhaps make some new Twitter contacts.


My advice to anyone considering redos in their classroom is to do some reading, think about your goals, and discuss your ideas with colleagues.  Perhaps you will find teachers in your own building who already have begun a system for retakes, which you could attach yourself to.  Or create a PLC in your building to think about how a system of redos or retakes would work.

One of the best resources for gettting started is the November, 2011 issue of Educational Leadership, which focused on effective grading practices.  You will need to be an ASCD member to access the article.  If you aren’t, contact your administrator and hopefully they can help you with access.  Rick Wormeli’s article on “Redos and Retakes Done Right” contain many of the same ideas seen in the videos, and a great starting point for thinking about your own classroom philosophies.

HOW TO DO IT: here are resources on retakes and redos from teachers who have implemented them in your classrooms.  Hope you find something you can use!

A Principal’s Reflections – blog by Eric Sheninger, with a how-to guide from one of his building’s math teachers.  Includes a contract for retakes, and a classroom policy to share with parents.

Dan Meyer’s thoughts on assessment – personalizing assessment and keeping track of skill progress in math class.  What I really enjoy about Dan’s thoughts here is the amount of responsibility students begin to accept for their own progress, and in making good choices.

Cybraryman’s List – a comprehensive list of grading practices.  From articles providing rationales for differing grading procedures, to classroom look-in, there is something for you to think about here.

The Solon District in Iowa has a implementation guide for Stanards-Based Grading.  Check out the sections on student re-takes, and how students initiate them.

Dan Longhurst – On his blog, Dan shares his experiences with Standards-Based grading and his classroom experiences with embedding redos into assessment on newer material.  Dan is a physics teacher, and his ideas are easily transferrable to math classrooms.


Instantly Grade Google Docs with Flubaroo

Back in February, at the annual ASCD conference, I saw a presentation by Google, where they demonstrated a number of tools your can use with their documents.  One of those tools was Flubaroo, which I just now had my first opportunity to test drive.  If you are comfortable with making a Google Doc quiz, then Flubaroo is simple script you can use to provide student feedback.

To test it out, I created a short quiz, and shared it with colleagues.  The video below steps you through how I used Flubaroo to grade it:

Think about some of the ways we can use this:

  • Have students submit homework or quick quiz responses.
  • Have a few computers with a Google Doc quiz serve as an activity in a learning center
  • Allow students use phones or laptops to respond to short prompts.
  • Provide daily basic skills assessments, instantly graded

I’d love to hear how others are using this tool.