Monday, July 28, 2008

Passive Learning

I picked up the AP Calculus exam scores for my students, and while I had a good number pass, there weren't as many passing as I expected or knew that COULD pass. This made me reflect over the school year and day-to-day activities and behaviors of the students. For the ones that didn't pass (but that could have), I see a pattern. They were seemingly attentive in class. They did their homework. They did reasonably well on tests. However, they did not pass. I think a big key is the "seemingly" attentive in class. They learned to play the game and knew to make the "paying attention" actions, meanwhile, maybe for a large portion of class, their minds were elsewhere. (this also goes for my other, nonAP classes).

I've never consistently had daily assessments at the end of class (of some form or another) to see who's getting it, and who's not. Yes, I've walked around class and they practice the skills. Yes, I know who's struggling. Yes, I suggest they come in for help. BUT. There was no consequence to them whether they followed up or not. My tests were structured in such a way that they could do corrections and earn back some points, and that was enough of a safety net for students.

On the plus side. Many (all?) of my students care about their grades, so I've started thinking. There are 6 weeks in a marking period. On block schedule, that means I see them roughly 15 times. Each day I could have a quick assessment (5 minutes?) at the end of class. Everyone getting a different problem (or at least everyone in one group of 4 getting a different problem) ... or 2 problems ... based on the day's topic. This could be worth 1 test point and so by the end of the 6 weeks, totally, this would add up to approximately 1/2 a "normal" test. They'd get 100% if it's correct. If anything is wrong, they have the option of coming after school to make it up. Each time it takes them to make it up (to 100%), their grade goes down to a B then a C, etc. Their tests are weighted about 75% of their total grade, so this would be significant enough to make a difference.

This way, they'd have more of an incentive to ACTUALLY focus and learn during class time because they'll be held immediately accountable for the information.

Possible "cons":
1. more paperwork (though it's only 1-2 problems per student and maybe I can have a limited # of total problems and put the problems on the overhead so they just have to have paper).

2. Would it have the desired affect? (well, I think so, and won't know until I try it) ... maybe I have to incorporate other things, too.


  1. Anonymous10:08 AM

    It sounds a little heavy on the paperwork and preparation side to me, but hard to know without knowing the classes, the kids, the school.

    Why not try it for a marking period? You can always change your mind later, right?


  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Yes, that's what I'm thinking, but I haven't thought of another effective way to hold kids accountable DAILY for learning. Any suggestions would be welcome.

    Ms. Cookie

  3. I really believe that students need to be responsible for themselves. If we (teachers and parents) do everything and hold hands forever, then they don't fail. I firmly believe that we all need to be able to handle failure. I really love Love and Logic guys. If you haven't had a chane to read their books, I'd highly recommend either parenting or teaching. Children who are constantly saved have little knowledge in their true abilities. Do you really think that they prepared themselves enough to take the high stakes AP exam?

    I too am concerned about the number of students who fail core classes - like my physical science and biology classes. So this year I'm using more formative assessments so that each student can see what they are doing well at and what they are not yet understanding. Page Keeley has a formative assessment book that I jsut ordered this morning and it has great little tools that can be used in any class.

    I really enjoy reading your blog and seeing that someone else has similar thoughts as I do. I'll be curious to see what you decide to do. Good luck!

  4. Anonymous1:40 PM

    I agree with you, Becky, on the allowing them to fail business, and I too agree with the "Love and Logic" book. If a child is always protected, then they don't develop necessary skills for later when they will/should fail at things to make progress.

    Thanks for the formative assessment tip. It looks like something along the lines of what I need. I'll look into it.

    Good luck with your year.

    Ms. Cookie

  5. My AP class did exceptionally well this year--20 5's, 20 4's and 12 3's. I was pleasantly surprised. The few 1's were gotten by my non English speakers.

    I give exams based on the AP test all year. Long problems are 9 points and short answers are worth one point. During the spring therm they lose 1/4 point per wrong answer. I tell them the class average and base a curve on that. So far, so good. I also give lots of take-home "exams" which are really just more practice and homework that I mark.

    Your method of daily quizzes seems like too much work. Besides the work from your end, these quizzes will take away from instructional time and will you have time to go over them? I have two classes of close to 34 kids each. I could not imagine giving individual quizzes.

  6. Anonymous7:09 PM

    Ms. Cookie,
    I also enjoy your blog. I had really good results with both my AB and BC students. But I was tough. They had cumulative quizzes once a week, multiple choice, no partial credit. They had take home FR questions, in addition to regular homework. All their scores corresponded to their AP scores. Tough - but either they are up for it or they're not. They can smile and pass in homework all they way, but they will fail if they don't know what they're doing.

  7. Anonymous8:34 PM

    Thank you to the last 2 commmentors for your feedback. I, too think it's a bit of work, and I'm thinking of ways to combat it (kids grading them on the spot, 0% if you grade by helping or hurting the actual person's answer, only one "basic" question per quiz, ...).

    This was more to make sure kids were paying attention daily. I DO also have to address the AP issue and readiness for the test. BUT I was finding that kids without any of the basic skills were slipping under my radar too late in the year to help them.

    Ms. Cookie

  8. I am usually in favor of giving quizzes at the end of class, but sometimes get a lot of back-lash from students because they need to "study the material by themselves" before being assessed.

    While mathematics deserves good, long, deep thought in order to process I do think that students use this "it's unfair to quiz me right away" argument to cloak the fact that they are not paying attention in class.

    Some of the AP exam is multiple-choice and I have given multiple-choice quizzes in the past to ease grading and to say that I am assessing their understanding accordingly to how they are going to be tested on it, so I don't think a multiple-choice question tied to the material you are teaching is out of the question.

    Some students are blown away by the AP format, so if they at least get used to the format then they are a bit ahead of the game. Also by starting this at the beginning they can see how cumulative the test is and how important it is that they pay attention to everything. Give them a few "freebies" in the AP format on days you don't cover too much material and I think you've got it made.

    To grade a m.c. quiz with 2 questions for a class of 45 takes me about 20 - 30 minutes (some of them don't put the answer choice on the answer line like I ask them to... and this turns into a search expedition for their answer).

    Since you did say you take some time in class to do AP test specific stuff, do you think this might cut down on that time a little? You can also ask them to put the quizzes in a binder and make it their "AP Calc Survival Guide" or make it a section of their existing class binder.

  9. Anonymous5:00 AM

    Thanks for the "backlash" heads up. I was sort of expecting it, so now I'll have a response ready.

    Ms. Cookie