Class size

Jason Buell tweeted this article recently:—-and-the.html

And just a few comments down, a middle school social studies teacher claimed that he had the same results with 52 students in a class as 12 students.  I believe this, and immediately I have a measure as to how poor of a teacher this guy was.

How can you not squeeze out way more with a class of 12??  I mean think of the possibilities!  Individual conferences.  Having each student answer during class.  Total accountability.  Being able to take data on student achievement DURING class!

That’s just the easily measurable stuff.  Then there’s how much more you as a teacher can shape the dynamics of a class.

I have two Algebra II classes.  One has 31 students (seriously!) and the other has 15.  In that class of 15, they came in with the lowest achievement out of all 46 students.  But because I can individually interact with each student during a class, and as a result we have a much healthier classroom culture.

For example, wednesday’s lesson was pretty well written, but I screwed the pooch by switching their seats as soon as they walked in the door.  Nobody likes their new groups.  They never work with “those people.”  But because I could interact with all 4 groups, by the end of the class we had total engagement & cooperation.  Those subtle (and not so subtle) interpersonal moves that I made are almost impossible once the class size gets above 20 kids.

So in short – class size does make a difference, if you’re the kind of teacher that takes advantage of the smaller size.  If you’re a lecturing windbag, nothing is going to save your students.


SBG issues

Sam Shah was posting about some downsides to SBG.  And Riley responded.

I feel like there is something important missing here.  Standards Based Grading is a grading system.  It’s not a teaching system.  My instruction is mostly independent of the grading system.

I am assessing my students with greater frequency, accuracy and precision.  And the feedback they receive from their assessments is far more informative than before.  But let’s not think that standards based grading is a revolution in teaching.  It’s a revolution in grading.

Instruction is so much more than a grading system, and I’ve been very fortunate to have an incredible Math Coach help me learn good solid instruction.  Those links between topics, they happen because I’ve designed my instruction to pull those links out.  We have discussions that I have carefully guided towards my greater goal.  It’s important that I teach those overall topics.

For instance, my student teacher and I sat down and came up with the three big ideas of Algebra II.

1)  Functions
2)  Inverses
3)  Symbolic manipulation to highlight aspects of other representations

Those big ideas aren’t going to show up on any assessment as a standard.  But if I’ve done my job right, then they’re not able to master all of those lower skills without approaching those big ideas.  If they are only focused on learning the procedures, and you’re only assessing the procedures, what does that say about your instruction?

Professional Distance

Professional distance is often cited as essential for teachers.  Do not take it personally if they fail.  Do not take their behavior as a reflection on you.  Leave work at work.


First, this is almost impossible if you like your students.  Of COURSE you’re going to care, and you’re going to care too much.  You can lose sleep over your students that are failing, because you SHOULD loose sleep, comma.  Them failing means you’re not a perfect teacher, and you can improve.  You should be thinking about how to be a better teacher.

It’s called passion, and if you don’t have passion for teaching and improving, you shouldn’t be teaching, comma.  Maybe it’s because I teach in a school with a high poverty population, but to me it’s total bull for any student to not get the best possible teachers.

And yes, their behavior, their inability to learn is a reflection on you – personally as a teacher.  That student that always misbehaves in your class?  That’s for a reason.  It might not be you in particular, but if you’re not trying to figure out something to remove that behavioral impediment to their learning, then you’re not doing your job.  Those students, those teenagers, they always have some reason for behaving the way they do.  It’s probably based on some totally messed up premise, but that logic is there.

Why today?  Well I had a rough time today with one student, and in conversation with another teacher, I heard some of my own words come out of their mouth – “that’s just what student does.”  And it disgusted me.  Student doesn’t do anything without a reason, and hearing it come from their mouth, made me realize just what makes me a better teacher now:  I improved my understanding of the student.  I have some idea why student decided to act that way, and I reacted to the cause.

So the moment I don’t lose sleep over failing students, I need to get out of the classroom.  Someone better is waiting to do the job right.

First true formative assessment

I was full of crap for all of those years.  I kept saying that quizzes were formative assessments because the students got them before a test.  I also said that homework was a form of formative assessment because I would assign some problems with answers in the back.  But I was wrong.

I am in the process of grading the third quiz from my Algebra II students.  The first two questions are repeats of a standard that was on the last quiz.  Using a recursive formula to make a sequence, and writing a recursive formula from a sequence of numbers.

At first, I thought there might be rampant cheating.  Quiz after quiz, 4/4.  But there were still three or four students (who would not think twice about cheating) who didn’t know what they were doing.  Students that were sitting by themselves and usually struggle were nailing the questions.  To me it’s conclusive:  that first quiz was a proper formative assessment.  They looked at what they did, figured out how to write formulas correctly, and this was supported by some of the lessons we did after the first quiz.

After grading the first page, I feel that this has become the nail in the coffin for traditional grading in my classroom.  I’ve finally caught and rewarded all of those students who came to learn just a bit later than the first assessment.