Sunday, May 24, 2015

My portfolio-very long post

I doubt many of you will want to read this in its entirety, but this is my portfolio I wrote this year instead of getting observed. Every other year (now every third year in my district) teachers undergo an evaluation year where the principal or vice principal comes in for two observations and then write up an evaluation of that teacher's performance. Your entire year is summed up in about 45 minutes of observation time. They are supposed to stay the entire class period, but to be honest, I've never had a principal stay bell to bell in my entire teaching career. They are very busy people and have meetings to attend and students to discipline. They can tell what the climate of your room is in the first five minutes of stepping foot in your classroom and if they are good at their job, they have been in your room numerous times throughout the year anyways. The 'formal' observation is just a formality. Just another hoop to jump through and box to check off on their long list of things to do in a day.

This year I decided to take the option of doing a portfolio. I went to the training class at the beginning of the year and was told I could choose a topic and make it about anything I wanted it to be. Since I am a mentor teacher for both BTSA (first and second year teachers) as well as a master teacher for student teachers, I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone and combine all three things and look at how well I was mentoring new teachers. I wrote up my proposal and bought a whole bunch of books on mentoring and submitted my topic. My Vice principal rejected my idea. After I was told by my union that I could choose any topic I wanted. Bummer.

To keep the peace and not ruffle feathers, because you all know how much I hate conflict :), I changed my topic to something my principal had talked about at one of our planning meetings, looking at student success, specifically how to decrease the D/F rate in my classroom.

It's something I try to do anyways, but this way I'd be forced to actually look at the data (hard numbers) rather than just how things felt and how things seemed to work for me. By having data to analyze, I could say at the end of the year, this strategy worked for this student and this one didn't.

I am far from finished collecting and analyzing data and will probably continue for the rest of my career so I feel like I got a lot more out of this year's portfolio than any other year of being observed. I know that what I do in the classroom makes a difference in the lives of students. Having the numbers to back it up, gives me ammunition when I face an argument with other teachers who have different teaching styles and also different results in their classrooms. I have fresh insights into why my teaching style is so effective and some new goals and strategies for the future.

I have some plans I hope will be implemented next year as well to help all of the struggling students at my school and hope that at least some of my ideas are considered. It looks like we will be having a 'changing of the guard' with a new principal coming on and that transition isn't always easy.

On a side note, after getting called into the office and getting chewed out for overstepping my boundaries. They ended up only interviewing our two student teachers and then hiring them both. After all of that, I was right. Of course, nobody apologized to me, but I wouldn't expect them to. My department chair kept telling me just how great these two student teachers were. I smiled and nodded. Do you know how hard it was not to say, "'I told you so?"

Portfolio 2015

The Portfolio assessment has been an interesting journey this year.  As a teacher, I have always been interested in improving student achievement and motivation in my classroom, but have never really taken a look at ways to improve achievement or keep track of data to see if strategies I use have been effective.  I’ve always thought that the things I use in my classroom were effective, but actually looking at the data and surveying students on what they feel is helpful makes sense when analyzing the effectiveness of these strategies.  Why keep doing things that aren’t really working just because I’ve been doing them for 24 years?  Why not focus on things that actually bring results.

The first thing I had to do this year was come up with some questions to guide me as I looked at student achievement.  I started off with these:

What strategies are most effective at increasing student achievement in my classes?
-Is there a difference between students in different ethnic groups in my classes?
-Are different strategies more effective for different ethnic groups in my classes?
-Is there a difference between the genders in my classes?
-Are different strategies more effective for the different genders in my classes?

Strategies I am interested in looking at include:
1. Emailing parents weekly with grade updates.  How many parents are receiving the emails and what is their response to those emails?
2. Using quizlet as a study guide before tests.  How many students take advantage of the premade quizzes and how often are they being used?  Are parents aware they are available?  Do students see value in them?  Should students make their own quizlet tests from a review sheet and would that be more effective?
3. How many students and how many parents use and what are their feelings about it?
4. Survey teachers for strategies they find useful for improving test scores in their classrooms-which Kagan strategies teachers find most useful and are used most often?
5.  Doing quiz-quiz-trade the day of a test, right before the test as a review
6. Sign as many kids up for peer tutoring as possible-educate students and parents on what the peer tutoring program is about.

11/6/14 My idea involves
#1 becoming aware of the students who are struggling.
This morning I made a list of all of my D/F students.  I have 17 in all my classes.  That’s 10.4% of my students who are not doing as well as Sandi would like.  Out of those, 5 have F’s and I believe 3 only have a tiny chance of passing.  One of those students rarely comes to school, one is a foster kid who came to me late in the year and one didn’t pass most of his classes last year and won’t do any work.  He has  a twin brother who is the same way.
Becoming aware of each student in class and knowing what is causing the grade they have is the first step in identifying how to help each one.  I went through today and printed out a list of missing assignments.  I talked to each student about their situation.  Some told me they had the same conversation with their counselors today.  Great minds think alike!
#2 is making that connection with those students.  Checking in with them at least weekly to make sure they are on track.  Checking on their progress and touching base with things going on in their life.  I have one student with anxiety issues.  I talked to her today about coming in at lunch to make up some missed work from her absences.  She said she didn’t think she would be here because she had a headache and her mom was coming to get her.  She uses the bathroom almost every day during my class and I’m sure she called her mom to come get her.  I talked to her about the need to drink more water and how that would help with her headaches and the importance of staying in school so she doesn’t get even further behind.  I’m not sure I’m going to be able to help her be successful because her mom is enabling her to miss out so much, but maybe making that daily connection and taking that extra minute will make a difference.  I’d like to see.
I’d like to see if I could get a couple other teachers to try this out in their classes and see if it makes a difference, either with the same students, or other students.  I know the idea of mentoring students was tried in the past, but that was with teachers mentoring students they didn’t already have a relationship with and had no connection with on campus.  There was no time for them to meet on a regular basis.  This idea I believe can work because I see these students every day.

During the first semester, I identified at risk students in my classes who had a D or F at the first quarter and then tracked them throughout the rest of the year to see what I could do to help motivate them to improve their grade.  I cannot improve student grades, they have to do the work, but perhaps there was something missing in the way I presented materials to these students, or there was something lacking in their study habits that I could supplement in the classroom so they could become better learners.

There were 21 students identified at the end of the first semester who had D’s or F’s who were followed throughout the year to track progress and see if closely monitoring them would make a difference in grades by the end of the year.  Of those 21 students, 3 students left Vanden, 3 students had a decrease in grade, 6 students had an increase in grade and 9 students’ grades stayed the same.

With such a small population of students it is hard to judge if my strategies were successful, but having a larger population of students with only one teacher makes things more difficult as well.

The things I found to be most helpful in motivating students also took the most time.  Ideas I had at the beginning of this portfolio, such as emailing parents, and using quizlet are great ideas for most of the kids who are already motivated to succeed, but for the students who are struggling, the best strategies were the one on one conversations I had.  The students who showed improvement in grades were the ones I was able to make a personal connection with through those conversations.  My talking to them and finding out about things going on in their home lives, I was able to understand their struggles with getting homework finished and turned in on time and so could accommodate each of their personal situations and give them extra time or tell them to come in at lunch to make up their missed work.  It is difficult to make a personal connection with 21 students on a daily basis.  

Sending a grade home to a parent who doesn’t check email isn’t helpful.  Telling a student to study on quizlet when they don’t have access to a computer or smart phone doesn’t help them get a better grade on the test.  When that student has to miss school to help their guardian by babysitting their nieces and nephews, the last thing they need is a detention for missing homework.

For me, teaching has always been about building relationships with my students.  When they feel they can trust me and feel safe in my class, they are more likely to put forth a better effort, even if it isn’t a subject they are in love with.

Strategies I used with the six students whose grades improved include checking up on those students often, especially when there is homework to make sure they received the work assigned and then make sure they returned the work when it was due.  If they did not do the work, I would encourage them to come in at lunch to complete it, or at least talk to them about why it wasn’t finished.  They knew they would have to have a conversation with me about the homework so for most of the students it was just easier to do the work than to have to come up with a story as to why it wasn’t finished.  The students who were successful were all signed up for and received the text reminders.  They all said it was helpful for getting the homework done.  After the survey I sent out in February, I started sending out messages earlier in the day, around 4:30 pm instead of 7:00 pm because that was a common comment in the survey.  They wanted to have more time to get their homework finished and having a reminder come so late in the day didn’t give them enough time to finish their homework.  Many students agreed that having the reminder come earlier was helpful in getting the homework finished.  I should probably send a reminder in the morning to remind them to put their homework in their backpack because one of the reasons for not returning homework was forgetting to put it away.  I think next year I will train a TA on setting up Remind texts because they can be scheduled for any time.  Sometimes I forget to send them and then half the class forgets their homework.

I would also check in with those students (as well as the students whose grade showed no grade change or whose grade dropped) while they were working in class to make sure they were on task.  They often needed extra encouragement to complete a classwork assignment.  I would try to talk to them about things other than science, to make that personal connection because life happens outside my classroom and they need to know they are important.  

Of the three students whose grade dropped, two were in the student teacher class and one was in my 4th period class.  I wasn’t able to spend much time with the two students in the 2nd period class, but tried to talk to them before class as often as I could.  One of the students moved several times this year and lived with different relatives.  I know that having an unstable home life made doing homework almost impossible for her.  The other student is repeating science 1.  There is a small chance his grade will come up before the end of the year but he sees himself heading to TEC and it is hard to change a student’s mind once he sets himself on that path.  The student who is in my 4th period class is very quiet and does not share things with me.  He doesn’t do homework, but won’t come in to make things up either.  With the new text/quiz section for science 1 it makes it harder for students who don’t do well on tests to recover from a very bad test grade unlike in the past, they do have to pass tests now in order to pass the class.

The strategies I tried with my classes worked well in general for the whole class.  Students who used quizlet before a test found it useful and felt it was worth the time they spent studying.  

Parents were appreciative of the weekly emails they received from aeries and  liked being kept up to date on their child’s grades.  I never received an email from a parent asking what their child’s grade was or why they had the grade they did because every week they got a report.  I think that as long as parents know often their child is or is not doing work, they can deal with it at home quickly.  Most parents do care and want to help and probably the question I got asked the most from parents is “How can I help you at home?”  Parents cannot come into the classroom to discipline their child or make them do the classwork, but when they see missing homework assignments, and there is a Remind text coming home saying there is homework, the parent doesn’t have the excuse of they didn’t know about homework.  By empowering parents, we get them on our side and make learning a team effort.

In elementary school so much more information comes home from school and at the high school level, many teachers seem to leave parents out of the equation.  Some parents are grateful for that because we are tired!  But many parents still want to help their child.  When teachers contact parents at the end of the semester and the grade is already a D or F, it is too late to make any changes.  By contacting weekly with grades and nightly with homework reminders parents are kept abreast of what is going on in the classroom and can step in quickly if they want to make adjustments.

Achievement Gap
Beyond the scope of my initial questions, I read an article called School to Prison Pipeline

which got me thinking about the achievement gap and if anything can be done about it.  Everyone knows it exists and everyone wants to dance around the problem.

In my small population of 21 students, 7 are black, 8 are white, 2 Hispanic and 4 Asian.  

Vanden High School Student Race Distribution
American Indian

With the population at Vanden of 40% white and 19% black, this shows how the the gap is present even in my small population of struggling students.

We all know it is a problem, but what can be done about it?

I started doing a lot of research on the achievement gap and what can be done.  We all know it exists.  We all complain that we can’t follow the students home.  We look at lists like the NEA puts out on decreasing class sizes and getting training and increasing our budgets and laugh/cry because we all know none of those things will happen in our lifetimes as teachers in California where resources are stretched too thin and more is being asked of us each day.

This article about Dr. Ogbu from UC Berkeley talks about how the Black Culture is sabotaging itself when it comes to the achievement gap.  In his study of black and white students with similar economic backgrounds and how they performed in the same schools.  Black students consistently underperformed and when Dr. Ogbu asked why, they answered they didn’t want to be seen as ‘acting white’.  Their role models were rappers and entertainers rather than their parents who were often doctors or lawyers and often weren’t sure how their parents made it and were successful.  

I remember when I was in high school and my biology teacher told our class that girls didn’t do well in science.  I looked around at my class and thought, HOW RUDE.  You can’t say that about me!  I will prove you wrong.  When I look at my students in honors Biology, I see three out of every four students is female.  I think when you come out and tell people there is a problem, there are some who will step up from within and make a change.  If we are all too afraid to tell people there is a problem and let the people who can fix the problem do something about it, the problem will always exist.

I believe we have a lot of untapped resources in the community that could help us bridge the achievement gap.  By inviting community members on campus to mentor students and do some after school tutoring, I think we could provide role models the students could look up to.  I will discuss this more in my Ideas for the Future.

I looked at data from TEC and TCDS and saw that indeed a greater percentage of black and male students were sent to those schools then were represented at Vanden.  After looking at the behaviors of the students, it’s easy to see that male students have more behaviors that would send them on the path to TCDS than female students (fights, assault, defiance, profanity towards staff, sexual harassment, drugs/alcohol).

There are more male students than female students at TEC and from my experience, students go to TEC due to not passing enough classes.  Our school system isn’t designed for the way boys learn. They are told to sit still and be quiet when what they need is to move around and make noise so they are going to be less successful.

They get in trouble for doing what comes naturally for them.  The ones who cannot adapt see themselves as failures and often give up by the time they reach high school.  These students need a different way of learning.  But that is a whole different portfolio study!

Special Ed Students

I also spent some time looking at the special education students and how we teach them in science.  Some resource students were placed in a co-teaching classroom and some were in a regular classroom this year.  I do not have an aide in any of my classes and have several special ed students.  Of the 21 identified struggling students 5 were resource and 2 were 504.  In my 3rd period class I had 3 resource and one 504 (2 resource students left Vanden) and in my 6th period class I have 2 resource students and one 504 student.  

Why were these resource students not selected to be in the co-teaching classes since 6th period is a Biology class?  I’m not sure how students were selected and why some were chosen and other not.  

Overall statistics for success of special ed students

You can see from the data, overall, the students in the co-teaching classes were not more successful than the students in my classes.  The three resource students I currently have, two have improved their grade (both are white) and one has the same grade (asian).  Of the two 504 students I have, one has improved his grade (asian) and one has kept the same grade (white).

So, how do you judge the success rate of the co-teaching class?  I talked with the teachers who co-taught this year and they all had the same impression of how the year went.  They all felt it was no more successful than having an aide in the classroom.  Perhaps it was because the secondary teacher was still learning the curriculum and after a year would feel comfortable enough with the material to modify it for students.  Those who had co-taught previously with the special ed students who had a back up class and more time to spend on making graphs or finishing the assignment felt it was more successful because they could work at a faster pace.  They felt like they were constantly having to go slow so the resource students could finish the work and that the non resource students were bored with the repetition.  Since the co-teacher was not in the curriculum support class to answer questions the resource student had, they were not helpful to their students when they were needed.  The resource students were less likely to come in for extra help if they did not finish an assignment so the teachers all felt like they had to slow things down.  Consequently, they felt like they had to slow their other classes down because they didn’t want to have to prep for an extra class and they wanted to keep all of their classes on the same schedule.

SO, what is a co-teaching class supposed to look like?

There are many ways to organize a co-teaching classroom, but one essential ingredient that was missing this year was planning time.  As you know, we spend hours after school every week planning our curriculum, tests, labs and every lesson.  The special ed teachers were never present for any of this planning time and so were never able to give input into lessons and how to modify them for the students.  The first time they saw the lesson was when it was presented to the students.  It is difficult to modify a lesson on the spot.  At the very minimum, the special ed teachers should come to the common planning meetings to spend time with their co-teacher to plan lessons and curriculum.  Some of the teaching assistants who have spent years in the classroom could also help explain the lessons to the co-teachers if this model will continue in the future.

Where do we go from here?  What does the future hold?

I have some ideas for next year that I’d like to try.  With the new library being built and the old library still available for student use, there is room for a tutoring center on campus.  I would like to see it staffed by a teacher during the morning and after school hours (1st and 7th period).  We could tap into the community for volunteers such as seniors from the local senior center, college students from Solano or military personnel from Travis AFB, who could be available to students as well as have students serve as peer tutors.  Students are now TA’s who would better serve as peer tutors.  There are high achieving students who could sign up to be a peer tutor and learn valuable skills of mentoring others.

I see students assigned each quarter to a Study Hall class if they are failing at least 2 classes.  Each quarter they would have to go to Study Hall to get help with homework, study for tests, learn organizational skills or get mentored by one of the volunteers.  This would be a 7th period day for those students, but only for that quarter if they were able to bring their grades up by the end of that term.  If they were successful and could demonstrate passing grades at the end of the quarter, they would not have to come back, but would be welcome to.  Other students could drop in as needed to get help with homework or to study for a test.  Having a place to go before or after school where you know someone could help you figure out that algebra problem would cut down on cheating since often students cheat because it’s easier to copy then figure out how to do the problem on your own.  I believe overall test scores would go up on campus.

During the day, the volunteers could work in the Curriculum Support classrooms or math classes to help individual students and provide the one on one support they need to be successful.  Fewer students would need to be disciplined because many behavior issues are due to attention seeking.

If students are getting attention and help and feel good about themselves, they will cause less disruption in the classroom.

Peer Tutors could also be placed in the Curriculum Support Classes to help students with classwork and improve student performance.  Students currently serving as TA’s could be trained to help students complete assignments.  One of the complaints I got from my resource students in why they couldn't’ finish their work was they needed help and couldn’t get it in curriculum support.  They didn’t understand the assignment and there were other students with lots of questions.  In a class of 20 students all with different questions, even if there are 2 aides in the class, there is no way to help everyone at the same time.  Currently I tell them they should come to me during curriculum support if they need help finishing something in science.  But, they often have the same problem.  If I’m lecturing and they need help, I have to help them between giving notes and having students copy information.  Or, I have them come in during 7th period when the honors biology students can sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time so I can help them or have my TA help them understand something.  I use her as a tutor often to help my students if I can’t get a peer tutor to help out.

I would like to conclude the year with a final survey of students and parents to find out how they felt the year went.  Often students have a very different perspective and it’s interesting to see how they feel their efforts correlate to their grade.  Sometimes they think they are putting in more of an effort than their grade shows and often don’t see a cause-effect relationship between what they do and what happens on a test.  They feel like they can put in minimal effort and still earn an A in the class or that just turning in copied homework will somehow help them learn the material.  For them, it’s all about the points.  

I would also like to continue this study for a few years to see if the trend continues and to follow this group of students to see how well they do over the next several years if they continue in our district.  I’d be curious to see if the six students who showed an improvement in my class this year were able to carry any of the skills they learned on to other classes or if it was only as a direct result of the efforts I put forth.  

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