Things I Said I’d Do: 3 Takeaways from Summer School, 2017

Made it through 4 and 2 half weeks of summer school, which now feels like forever ago.

Some context: 2 of the teachers who used to work at my school and have since gone to work for The District were in charge of running the summer school program for emerging multilinguals (English Language Learners) in our district. Many of those kiddos are kiddos I teach during the school year. So I said I’d teach for the summer. I’d always thought about it and it seemed as good a year as any (and if I didn’t like it, I could cross it off the list of Things I Said I’d Do and Now Don’t Ever Have to Do Again. Spoiler alert: I’d do it again.)

3 takeaways:

  • Try New Things: It was much easier to try new things in summer school. Perhaps it was because all of the kiddos had some United States schooling under their belt (as opposed to some of our kiddos from the school year whose sojourn in my classroom is their first educational experience in the United States). In all likelihood, it was because the program is shorter and things didn’t really have time to fall apart and I was less nervous about implementing systems that might potentially not work. At the suggestion of Summer Planning Partner, I did some random seating rather than assigned seats. Kiddos seemed largely ok with being placed with random other kiddos (until Week 3, when I think they swapped the popsicle sticks I was using to randomly assign seats). I started using ClassDojo to select kiddos at random to read classroom objectives and share answers (though I usually stuck with Mr. Pinsky’s participation quiz app for general classroom management stuff). We tried integrating project pages throughout our unit rather than just all at the end.
  • Get Observed (and be OK with it): I got observed a lot during the summer. Our program brought in some teachers who wanted to learn more about teaching emerging multilinguals. Various District people came by. I swallowed my pride and told all of my teacher friends (who I can’t usually observe during the year because we work the same days) that they could come observe me. And it wasn’t horrible. I still get super nervous when there are other adults in my classroom, even after 4 years, but I think I just got over it this summer. I’ve always known that I mentally overreact when there are other adults in the room. So I’m mostly learning to ignore that. In every debrief I had this summer, people either had questions, positive noticings, or they didn’t say anything. I’ll take it.
  • Be OK with What You Can’t Control: There are a lot of logistics that go into summer school. During the year, we have systems in place to deal with them. Plus I loop with many of my kiddos, so I know them from the year before – family situations, educational history, the works. This is all a bit more complicated with summer school. Enrollment is tricky and subject to change. We work with kiddos from high schools from all over the city and District information is often…patchy. Whereas we probably would have shuffled our students a bit more evenly during the school year, we didn’t get quite as much of a chance to do that this summer. We didn’t find out as much about our students’ school experiences over the course of 5 weeks. And it was all OK. Again, this might have been because the program was shorter. It might be because our kiddos are pretty darn resilient. It might be because things just work themselves out.

Week 4: We All Fall Down

This week’s Explore the MathematicsTwitterBlogoSphere prompt is awesome: You are going to write a blogpost about one mistake/error/failure you made, and proudly and publicly share that with the world. OR… and this is more ambitious but wow would reading this keep us glued to the screen… keep a log of teaching failures for a day, a few days, or even the entire week… and then publish it!

I love the vulernability of this prompt and am also terrified of answer it, partially because it’s embarrassing (but worthwhile) and partially because there are so many things I wish I could do over that it makes my head explore.


Monday: Solving Equations Group Test

We do a group test to prepare for the individual test on Wednesday. In general, the test runs short, which is actually OK, though I wish I’d added some more challenges to some of the problems. I also forget to give out the supplement – a half page on inequalities and equations with weird solutions (no solution, infinite solutions, x =0), which would have been a productive way for more groups to talk about interesting mathematics. During group tests, Curriculum Partner and I only allow groups to ask 2 group questions – if someone has a question, the whole group has to talk together and one person – the Resource Manager – has to call me over. I don’t do a great job setting this up or necessarily having kiddos follow through. I wish I’d made a bigger deal of it since it’s our first group test of the semester and so many of our kiddos are new. There’s at least one group where one team member is totally capable of doing the work, but seems to want to call me over. I don’t necessarily regret answering some of the questions in the name of relationship building and mathematical confidence, but I know this kiddo and I probably should have pushed them to talk to their group more.

Monday evening, I mean to look through the group tests. I skim through some from my first class and note that students aren’t always using the scripts we gave them to help with language and are sometimes not solving equations with negative numbers correctly (they subtract from both sides when they should add to both sides). I think about ways to address this on Tuesday…and then don’t.

I also make a mental note to write up the team meeting agenda for our Wednesday team meeting…and then don’t.

Tuesday: Test Review Day

Many of our kiddos either don’t really know how to study for a test or don’t have the time to do it, so we always spend a day reviewing in partners. Curriculum Partner and I explicitly explain that the groups are leveled – someone who knows more English and someone who is still learning. I don’t do a fantastic job framing this. One of our four school values is Act With Empathy. It’s a value that most of our kiddos recognize, though I’d argue that understanding empathy is harder. I wish I’d explicitly made more calls to that.

We also give kiddos a copy of the rubric to help grade their tests. It seems like kiddos understand that they should read through the rubric, which is a step up from earlier in the year. I wish I’d made the rubric more explicit. A part of me wants it to be general enough to guide the kiddos, but not give anything away. Another part of me needs to remember that, if we’ve gotten through the group test and are still confused about something, we need to step up the intervention and be more explicit.

I also find Racing Dots on Desmos as an extension. It looks awesome. Some kiddos try it. I don’t look at the results or really talk to or support the kiddos working on it. It’s an extension and there are kiddos who are still trying to make sense of the test (let alone all the study materials). I stand by this decision, but I regret it a bit, too.

Wednesday: Individual Test

The curriculum part of today actually goes as planned, largely because it’s a test day, so we spend most of the day taking the test. I do have one kiddo from last semester, who now has a different teacher, come in and say “I miss your class because you would always help me on the test.” I wonder if I’m giving too much help on the test.

Team meeting goes well despite me only having sent out the agenda and checked with facilitators the night before. The team meeting part of meeting (there’s also a student support meeting) is actually being facilitated by a different team member. Had it been strictly team meeting, I would have liked to have thought about the agenda more and sent it out earlier.

I think about grading when I get home, but end up not having time, partially because I have to buy flyswatters.

Thursday: Shapes Review

In preparation for our next unit on similarity, we do a bunch of different review activities. We draw shapes, we put names to the shapes, we find area and perimeter, we play the flyswatter game where I call 2 students to the front, name a shape and then have them swat the named shape with the flyswatter. This activity also actually goes relatively smoothly. Except for the one class where the Instructional Coach lovingly has to ask us not to be so loud when celebrating. #IRegretNothing

I take a phone from a student who is taking a selfie with their entire table when they should be doing the opening. This is followed by about 20 minutes of bickering with another student who says it’s not fair and they should have gotten a warning (it’s the first time anyone has taken this student’s phone; they will have many more warnings).

I have an interaction with a student while explaining our work for today. “But this is middle school work,” says the student. I continue reminding students that we have a range of abilities in our class and are doing review to help everyone learn. I make call to act with empathy and then start class. Do I wish we had talked more about why we’re reviewing for a range of abilities? Do I wish I had specifically drawn attention to the fact that this student attended solid schools in their country while some students struggled to even attend elementary school? Answer unclear…

I do have a cranky interaction with a coworker in the staff room in the morning, which is what happens when everyone is trying to do everything in the morning. I wish I had just backed away and asked to talk about it later, but couldn’t quite get my brain to process that fast. We talk about it at lunch and things are better.

I drop the ball a bit again after school. I have 2 meetings and am relatively unable to help Curriculum Partner print out materials for Mondays, though we are able to finish most of our planning during prep.

3 Takeaways from 2015-2016

It’s hard to believe that the school year is over (thank you, school district, for starting early and ending early).

3 Takeaways from This Year:

  1. Group roles: Many teachers in our district use group roles so that all students have something to contribute and so that no one can or has to do all the work. I actually feel like simplifying the process made it easier to use. Instead of posting roles on chart, I just assigned roles based on which seat students sat in. Less complicated and clearer for students (and me). Most students know their role title (Task Manager, Group Manager). I’d love for them to own those roles and use them to productively move their groups forward.
  2. Belonging in the Classroom: One of my takeaways from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference was students’ mathematical identities and sense of belonging in the classroom. I think our school does a pretty good job of this already, but I’d like to keep thinking about how to, well, think more about this. Look for this. Measure this. This feels especially important since some students feel so scared of mathematics and because some students enter saying they love mathematics and then get scared away by the English.
  3. Standards: I’m pretty sure I say this every year. I feel pretty OK about what we’re teaching, but need to think more about how it relates to and fits with Common Core. Especially for students who struggle and for students who need more of a challenge, looking backwards and forwards in the Standards and Progressions might be the way to go.

    2016-05-21 20.12.33

    This is how I’m starting my summer.

3 Takeaways: NCTM, Day 1

Spending the last part of the week at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

3 Takeaways:

  1. Rochelle Gutièrrez‘s talk on Mathematics Teaching as Subversive Activity: I’m thinking about how mathematics affects student’s identity and the idea that mathematical ability is a perception but the trauma and status it affects are very real. Also, language-wise, I’m trying to get myself to say “emergent bilinguals (or trilinguals!)” and “mathematics” rather than “math” (I can’t quite say “maths” naturally yet). I think of Emilio, one of our kiddos who left school this year. I didn’t fully realize it, but English was actually his third language – he primarily spoke Mam, a Guatemalan indigenous language and learned quite a bit of Spanish in his time at our school. The idea of Emilio framed as an emergent trilingual sounds much more glorious than Emilio as a struggling student.
  2. The “Lessons from our Students: Stories From Railside High” alumni panel was AMAZING. I’ve heard so much about this school where Complex Instruction (challenging, structured groupwork with attention to student status) brought huge cultural and academic changes to the math department before it was crushed by district testing needs. But this was the first time I’d actually met any of the students. And it was AMAZING. They were all able to speak eloquently and thoughtfully about their experiences (one even brought all of her old math notes). It was also fascinating to see at least 3 of them involved in various aspects of education – policy, teaching and administration and to know that the experience they had their has really left a lasting impact. I only hope that my kiddos might be able to fully reflect on their mathematical experiences in such a similar way. (I also realized that many people might doubt Railside High as it is a pseudonym and therefore not Google-able.)
  3. I somewhat arbitrarily went to Mardi Gale’s “Algebra Intervention, Rigor, Problem Solving, and CCSM” as our school is struggling to raise scores on the mathematics SBAC. This talk got me thinking about how important it is to have multiple representations (which I try to think about often, but often drops off as the year wears on) and make explicit connections to prior knowledge. This feels especially important for supporting our kiddos who have interrupted formal education or had less rigorous schooling.
  4. The “Improving Student Outcomes through Family and Community Engagement” session by the Alameda County Office of Education is pushing me to think about what parent engagement can look like at home (rather than Back to School Night or homework help, as it is often envisioned). I’ve been putting off doing a survey of students about their home lives and should probably just do it.

Day 2, here we come.

The One With the Fall Semester Lists

Did I fall off the blog again?

Hard to believe it’s December already. Hard to believe Portfolios have come and gone (though I need to remind myself that fall semester is shorter and goes faster than spring semester).

Photo: State of My Room Before Break

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Note to self: request to get the light in the back corner fixed. This was after I did intense post-portfolio cleaning (but not as much as I usually do).

Fall Semester By The Numbers

I always mean to publish a “by the numbers” (math teacher and all). So here’s where we are:

  • Our team currently teaches 80 students, divided more or less evenly among 4 sections. (In contrast, we had about 60 students between 4 sections at the beginning of the year).
  • Our team teaches students who speak 8 different languages (not counting Mam, an indigenous language from Guatemala, counting “Chinese” rather than “Cantonese” or “Mandarin”, which I’ll be the first to admit is not right, and not counting the Mayan language Tzetal or Portuguese, as the students who speak these languages also speak Spanish)
  • My advisory is currently 16 students, including 2 students who came during our last week of portfolios. I started with 12 and lost 2 during the year (one transferred, one dropped out).

This Break

I like to tell people who ask that I am planning to spend this break being a real, live adult.

Current plans include:

  • Plug drafts in the apartment (somewhat successful; rain two days ago meant the temperature in general was warmer…darn you, confounding variables!)
  • Read through Common Core Progressions. The Common Core Progressions tell you what you should learn K-high school in Common Core. A big take-away from a recent conference is that when students struggle or have gaps in their learning, looking back at the progressions should help you fill in the gaps. Pretty obvious in retrospect, but it was good to hear.
  • Write a couple grants for materials and professional development (NCTM, chromebooks and Cantonese conversation classes through City College)
  • Read. Goal is 3 books, but I’ll be lucky to get through the one I have to give my mom for Christmas on Friday.
  • I am planning to go back and at least post a picture and a sentence for every day this year. We’ll see how this goes.

Day -2: The One With the Laminated Group Roles

Staff development week is quickly winding down. I’m fairly certain that two days ago (Wednesday) will mark the day I was actually over my head, followed by yesterday (Thursday) as the day I started breaking all my School Year’s Resolutions to leave by 6, followed by today (Friday), where I will hopefully adhere to leaving by 6 out of a sense of guilt and hope.

(Yes, the week before school causes all the emotions)

Photo: Laminated Group RolesLaminated group rolesCurriculum partner and I are revising curriculum from 2 years ago rather than writing our own, which is much less stressful and is helping us to really think about past lessons and rework them so that they (hopefully) accomplish what we actually want them to do.

It’s also been a weird walk down memory lane back to my first year of full-time teaching. The way we plan and think about lessons has changed quite a bit and so many of our structures are different (though we’re also trying to revive a lot of them). Some of my lesson plans are filled with less relevant details and even less relevant formatting (Me: “What is this?” Curriculum partner: “I think I wanted to tell you not to waste time on formatting, but figured you’d get the idea after doing it once or twice.”* *They were really nice about it and totally right.)

First-Year-Teacher-Me also went and laminated 4 different versions of Complex Instruction group roles***. First-Year-Teacher-Me was kind of a naive dweeb. That being said, Third-Year-Teacher-Me is now taping down those laminated roles, so…good work First-Year-Teacher-Me?

(Complex Instruction is a structured form of groupwork aimed at helping all students to contribute to the learning of the group. One way to do this is to assign each group member a different role. Some teachers tape the roles to the table so that all Group Managers sit in corresponding positions, all Resource Managers sit in corresponding positions, making it easier for the teacher to identify and reenforce roles in Complex Instruction. One of our goals this year is to authentically use roles, so…)

Where I’m At and Where I Need To Be

Things I’m thinking about these days:

Trying to stay on top of grading. I feel like I’m behind on grading. Students keep asking about their grades (which are not quite up to date). And I feel like every day I don’t hand back a graded quiz, homework or project is a day where the feedback becomes less timely and less helpful. That being said, I have a solid block of grading time ahead of me tonight and I know which quizzes/projects and classes to prioritize. I also try and grade with other teacher friends to keep me on track (though admittedly, I spent this time planning today, which leads me to…)

Trying to stay on top of planning: Fortunately, this unit (area) is based on a unit that my curriculum partner inherited from another (fantastic) teacher two years ago (we are writing/revising this 2-year curriculum as we go). So while we’re still planning day-to-day, we have a stronger sense of what we’re doing. We’re about to plan a reciprocal teaching day (her students teach mine and vice versa) and a unit project, which shouldn’t be as intense as the previous unit, but should still be engaging (I hope). I’m trying to be better about fleshing out day-to-day lesson plans. This helps me think better on my feet and helps me better connect what we’re doing now to what we will be doing in a few days.


Fortunately, I am not trying to balance elephants.

Language Support: I go back and forth on how I’m doing in this area. Sometimes I think I’m oversupporting students in their native language (either by speaking to them in Spanish or putting them next to a student who can translate) and sometimes I think most of the struggles in class are due to a lack of language support. I think I’m finding a balance and I know which students I can push and where. At the very least, I am expecting them to be able to say important vocabulary words and numbers in English. (for context, my entire school is English Language Learners)

Metaphors: There are so many metaphors for the stage of the first year that I’m at now. The math teacher in me tries to relate everything to whether the graph of how I feel is concave up or down (I think the second derivative is positive now). I may have texted a friend that the honeymoon between my students and me was over, but we’re comfortable putting our feet up on the table and eating cold pizza. I think the best description is from a fellow first year teacher who said that he had struggled for a few weeks and although he didn’t quite have everything under control, he felt like he could see where he and his classroom needed to be in a few months. Which I think is a good description of where I feel like I’m at, too.