Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Thoughts on State Testing

...And the SMART Balanced Assessment in CA Schools



It is that time of the year again in many states across the country - state testing. Some people are indifferent about it, but most people I know have strong opinions either in support or against it. Honestly, since I started teaching 7+ ago, testing was already part of the education system. I started in Florida teaching third grade. I later moved to CA (2009) and testing was happening in both Florida and California.

Florida and the F.C.A.T (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test)
Teaching third grade was not every teacher's dream back in Florida. WHY? Because if third graders did not pass the reading portion of the FCAT, children would be retained  - than meant that a child had to repeat third grade ALL over again because of his/her reading scores. However, to be fair and to report on this as fair as I can possibly can, children were given several opportunities (3 in all if I do not remember it wrong).

Some children as young as 8 would have panic attacks because of the pressure that was put on them. Testing time was not my favorite time of the year, and to actually have to tell a child that he/she would NOT move on with his/her classmates was devastating. I am not sure how much or if anything has changed since I moved to CA in 2009, but the FCAT was brutal. I remember once a student told me that he knew the 'real' meaning of FCAT. I curiously asked what that was, and his response was "Forget College After This."

State Assessments in CA and Now the SMART Balanced Test*
Fast forward 5 years and things in CA have not changed much since I moved here in 2009. The traditional paper and pencil tests were given still up to last year (2012-2013 school year). I was not fan of them, the questions and the reading passages were plain boring for the most part. And yet we expected children to sit for hours 'bubbling in' answers.

Here is the thing - I GET IT...states, schools and teachers need to be held accountable in some manner. I am not sure that the "one size fits all" is the best way though. It is plain torture having to watch a child who is in fourth grade and reading at a second grade level (for whatever reason/learning disability, or just plain behind) to have him/her 'pretend' to understand what he/she is reading and then answer questions that I KNOW will be answered incorrectly (assuming he/she got lucky and got some of them right).

*Haga click aquí para encontrar mas información en español sobre el SMART Balance Test.

Some Good News.....
I am somehow relieved that this year's assessments in CA will NOT be counted toward students' actual record. This year the state is just 'testing the test' to make sure that when it really counts (next year) all things are running properly. At least my students and I will get a feel for what we are in for. For now - I am hoping that my students are somehow proficient with technology to be able to navigate the test (which at this point I am more concerned with than with the actual content).  We start testing next week (April 22nd and will do it for 3 days - 2 days of math and one day of ELA).

My Final Thoughts...
The Common Core State Standards are guiding much of our instruction nowadays. Some people hate them. I? I know they are not going anywhere so I try to equip myself and my students with the tools we need. With the CCSS or not, a teacher should be able to make learning meaningful, interesting and engaging. I try my best and love what I do...I really hope is enough for now. I am not sure what to expect when it comes to the actual content (even though I have completed some practice tests myself), but I am not the one taking the test. I will have a better feeling next week once we make it through. Again, teaching is about giving our students the tools and teaching them the skills they need....I do not love assessments, but they are here and instead of lamenting I have decided to run with it (hoping that I do not fall!)


What are your thoughts on assessment?



Photos thanks to Pete (Comedy_nose) and StuartPilBrow


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Task Cards in Spanish ( Tarjetas de trabajo )

Happy April!

A quick overview about the different things/items I have been working on lately (task cards that is!).








How do you use task cards in your classroom?


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Minds in Bloom: Reading Informational Text and Doing Research in t...

I am so excited to be a guest blogger for Rachel over at Minds in Bloom. In her blog, I am sharing many strategies I use to teach children to read inforational text and do research. I would love if you could stop by and leave a comment either there or here.



Minds in Bloom: Reading Informational Text and Doing Research in t...: Please welcome Kelly of  Learning in Two Languages .  Today she gives us a wonderful peak of how she teaches reading informational text and ...


Friday, March 21, 2014

Math Night - Inviting parents and others to see what we have been working on all year

Noche de matemáticas - invitando a padres a ver en lo que hemos estado trabajando

Students using a pre-made board game but with questions they wrote (in both English and Spanish)

My students' version of 'Are you smarter than a fourth grader?

Last week I had written a post about how I teach math in my classroom and this week our school hosted Math Night - the timing was perfect I guess. Much to my surprise (since it was the first time I had hosted math night at my new school) Math Night was really-really fun and I was not only impressed but also proud of my students' work.

As I had mentioned before my math period works following the workshop model (including technology, games, partner work and work with me); however, there IS a curriculum I follow called Math Trailblazers. The curriculum is entirely written in Spanish and even though I am not too fond of set lessons, I am pretty surprised at the way the lessons develop. The lessons are pretty engaging and there are TONS of hands-on experiments that children do throughout the year to learn about averages, volume, mass, multiplication, and more.

Our math night centers around our students and how THEY take ownership of the experiments/presentations they do for visitors (parents, parents from other classrooms, friends, family, etc). This year I was not sure what to expect so I let my students guide me as to what they had done before (off course I asked questions and admin was great with support), but I wanted 'primary sources' (no pun intended!). We brainstormed a few things and after days of work, we were able to pull it off. And since I am a big believer that pictures speak louder than words, here are a few for you to see.


Charts with the different steps parents/visitors had to follow


Drafting questions


A student working on questions for a game
  








Adding the final details



Do you have math night at your school? If so, what do you do? I would love to hear.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Teaching Math in Spanish Using the Workshop Model

Enseñando matemáticas 100% en español
Working in smal groups


A students working with technology while others practice math skills using a math game

For a few years, I had the opportunity to teach just reading and writing. My grade level was departmentalized and I loved it. I felt that I could really concentrate on what I was doing and not trying to plan it all. The best part? I was able to do each lesson 2 times; therefore, the second time was usually better than the first one. When it was time to grade...well...not so much. I would usually have to read TONS of pieces and assessing students on reading levels was not fun either. But, I could live with it. I truly felt that I got to practice and get better at teaching both reading and writing.

Then...two years ago I moved to third grade and the entire story changed. I was now required to teach ALL subjects (honestly I did not know what I was getting into and boy...I sweat it!). It was not only at a new grade level, but on top of that I was now responsible for science and mathematics. In a way, teaching reading and writing using the workshop method really helps you differentiate - it is build that way (differentiated as each child reads at their independent level). Now, when it came to math I knew I had to do something. The typical lesson of "Open your book to page 5, read and then solve problems 1-20" was not cutting it. I was getting frustrated and my students felt the same way. Teaching math in this 'traditional' form was boring. The worst part? 1/3 of my students got it, 1/3 was lost, and the other 1/3 was bored to tears because they could do what I was 'trying' to teach without my help.

I spent hours. Ok, let me rephrase it: COUNTLESS hours doing research. I knew that there had to be a different method for teaching math. I came across tons of sites and after buying some books, reading some more, and doing more research I decided to change the entire way I was trying to 'teach' math. I tried using the math workshop method. One day I just moved things around, armed myself with courage (which you need TONS of) and off I went. Two years later, I have not looked back (maybe a few times....and every time I have even tried to go back the old ways it ended up backfiring).

So, how do I teach math?

First, it is ALL IN SPANISH (oh my! I have had to study the terminology and vocabulary in detail). The lessons in math follow the same format as that of a mini lesson in reading or writing (12-14 minutes). Then, students practice the new skills with a partner (on the rug) and slowly I dismiss students to either work independently or to join a math station.

A sample of how stations are organized (this was a chart at my old school)


What do I do?

I meet with 4 groups throughout the math period - about 10-12 minutes with each group. While I meet with small groups, my students are either working independently, practicing math using different math games, or using technology (Jiji and Xtramath). Thank you donorschoose.org for helping me put more technology into my students' hands.

A student working on Xtramath

Super concentrated!


Are students really independent?

Each child has a math partner (and this is HUGE and crucial to the success of the math workshop). Each partnership is trained to work together and to really help each other - NOT just tell/or give answers. We practice this a lot at the beginning stages of the workshop method.  Why partners? Because I need to be able to meet with everyone and help as many students as I can. I cannot just have children rely on my. They need to learn that their classmates are 'teachers' too (in a way).
Partners working together


The curriculum we use is VERY hands on (I love it!)


Students rarely just work at their desks. They move ALL the time (couch, floor, rug, etc)


What do we do in small groups?

Our math groups are dynamic (meaning they change often). This helps me in two ways:

-The stereotype of 'gifted' is taken out as some children may be really successful in one math concept but struggle in another
-The 'I am in the lower group' is diminished as well because I move things around

Small grouping really gives me the ability to differentiate and challenge those who are ready for the next step and help those who need addiditonal support.

All in all....math workshop is how I do it. It was terrifying at first, but it all has been WORTH it. And as always, I am curious to know how you teach math. What is your style and what works for you?


 
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