Something New

Note: This blog is part of the #MTBoS12Days challenge, led by Druin and Pam Wilson, to blog 12 times over break.

Prompt: Share something new you tried (or still want to try) this year in your classroom.

You as the teacher have power and influence and students pay attention to this. If you keep calling on the same kiddos, those kiddos gain status. So how do we make sure that we help all kiddos gain status? At some point in grad skool, one of our professors talked about how the importance of randomness in alleviating status within the classroom.

This year, I’ve finally started making more concrete steps towards using randomness to attend to status. Specifically, I’ve started using ClassDojo to call on kiddos at random for low stakes answers. I had used ClassDojo once my first year of teaching (everybody was doing it, so…). It didn’t go that great. Kiddos paid attention to it, but they spent more time watching the screen than doing their work and a lot of time arguing with me that they deserved more points (to be fair, I think they still do this, but I’m better at selectively ignoring them. Ha).

I use ClassDojo mostly at the beginning of class. A student starts class by asking people to read a specific set of things: the day, the date, the content objective, the language objective. It’s super easy and super low stakes and even kiddos who don’t generally like to participate, will participate (it also helps that everyone knows the routine and is generally super keen to help others). I’m trying to take it to the next level to call on kiddos during class debriefs (done exactly once) or whenever I want to hear opinions from kiddos. I’m hoping the low stakes-ness of the opening sequence will carry over to the rest of class. We’ll see!

(Side note: While randomness works for calling on kiddos, while checking in on groups, I’m trying to be as procedural and predictible as possible. It’s literally like: Group 1, Task Manager: Does your group understand? Or do you need help? Group 2, Task Manager: Does your group understand? Or do you need help? Currently theory is that predictible check-ins help kiddos to realize that I’m asking everyone for help and not just them.)


My Favorite: Group Roles

It’s always hard for me to think of something that’s my favorite that a) feels like it’s something I feel I’ve used enough to call it “mine” and b) is related to mathematics.

I’m rather fond of the 4 group roles we’re currently using in mathematics class (9th and 10th grade algebra and geometry). It’s hard to trace where the roles started from, but I’m fairly certain they’re from CPM and have been used frequently by folks from Grad Skool and in the Complex Instruction schools in our district. We’ve put our own emerging multilingual spin on them. Most of the credit here goes to my awesome Curriculum Partner and our Teaching Coach.

Here’s how it goes:

I seat kiddos in groups of 4 (or 5, if we’re getting stuffed to the gills, which, surprise, we are, right now). Each kiddo is given a role:

Task Manager: Responsible for getting the group started. Asks “What do we do?”

Group Manager: Responsible for making sure everyone understands. Asks “Do you understand?” (I lean on this one heavily; there have been disputes over whether such a closed question is useful, but I find it easy to ask and understand)

Communications Manager: Was responsible for making sure people are writing. I think I’m going to rewrite this one to make people put things in the middle of the table or helps with translation. Currently asks “What do we write/say?”

Resource Manager: Calls the teacher for group questions (if no one in the group knows and all resources have been exhausted). Says “Excuse me, we have a question.”

(Side note: I love the use of “excuse me”. So polite and makes it ok to ask other people things even if they look busy. Also the use of “we” rather than “I”.)

Evolution of How I Use Roles

I used group roles when student teaching and tried implementing them unsuccessfully for about 2 years.

The gamechanger was actually taking away structure. I used to assign each manager a role and them make them sit in a specific seat. Somewhere during Year 2 or 3, I gave up on assigning roles and just told all the kiddos in one corner of the table that they were Task Managers and went from there. I also taped the roles down on the table and one of my super awesome coaches taped the sentences on them.

It’s been a game changer. Mostly because I’m able to name and call different managers. Even if the kiddos don’t remember their roles (they often don’t), they are visible enough on the table that some of the more on-point kiddos can remind them.

How We Made the Roles

At some random District planning day, Curriculum Partner, Coach and I randomly decided to pick apart the roles. We knew about them and had tried to use them, but weren’t entirely sure about them. We decided that there needed to be a tension between someone who pushes the group ahead (Task Manager) and someone who slows the group down so everyone has access (Group Manager). We’ve always needed a Communications Manager and a Resource Manager, so those roles stayed.

(I teach mathematics at a high school entirely for emergent multilinguals who are recent immigrants. Groupwork is heavily encouraged in all classes.)Laminated group roles

Day 21: The One With Simplifying Algebra Tiles and Perimeter Challenges


Curriculum partner and I sensed that 10th graders and students who had seen more simplifying with Algebra Tiles were getting restless, so we split the kiddos into homogenous groupings. We always try to frame this as letting students challenge themselves with students who need similar challenges.

FASCINATING to watch some of our newer students who frequently hide in the shadows start to step it up (and also to see 10th graders using tiles and expressions in a more meaningful way).

Photo: “We don’t speak any English!” said one newbie (in Spanish). But that didn’t stop them from a) using the tiles and b) saying the names of the tiles in English.2016-09-13-10-45-24-2

Spent about 45 minutes after school with the Littlest Advisee, revising a quiz. It’s a slow process that (currently) involves me reviewing the problems they missed and then them showing me they can do the problem (with help). If they can do the problem, I’ll give them half credit (up from 0, in this case). If they can do a different version of the same problem, on a different day, I’ll bump their score up as if they had just taken the test.

Spent another few minutes helping one of last year’s kiddos with his homework. Compound interest. What is that even? #PleaseHelpCantMath



Bowtie Tuesday. Because yes: